The Top 50 College Football Teams for 2010
The 2009-2010 season is has, unfortunately for all you college football crazies, sadly ended.
In fact, National Signing Day is over now too.
Oh, what a sad time it is when Americans are forced to watch basketball, the occasional Winter Olympics, or even spring baseball.
It is a time when the only hint of college football talk in the air is concerning next season, oh so far down the road.
To me, that sounds like it's time for 2010 preseason rankings!!!
So, without further ado, here is my first (and hopefully somewhat acceptable) take on college football's top 50 teams heading into the offseason!
The Best Of The Rest (Some Non-BCS Love)
Central Michigan – You can’t finish one season ranked and not even get recognized the next. Even if you did lose your head coach and almost all of your production…
Air Force – This team would win nearly every other non-BCS conference. It’s a shame, really.
Troy – Nothing special jumps out at you when watching this perennially talented team. They just get things done.
Middle Tennessee – This team was one of only 21 teams to reach double digit wins last season.
Iowa State – They play in a BCS conference, just the weaker half of it. That means opportunity for Paul Rhoads and the young Cyclones.
No. 50: South Florida
Key Losses: Nate Allen (S), Jerome Murphy (CB), Kion Wilson (LB), Chris Robinson (LB), George Selvie (DE), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Carlton Mitchell (WR), Moise Plancher (RB), Matt Grothe (QB), Aaron Harris (OT), Mark Dile (OT), Matt Huners (OG)
Impact Returners: Mistral Raymond (CB), Sam Barrington (LB), Sabbath Joseph (LB), A.J. Love (WR), Dontavia Bogan (WR), Mike Ford (RB), B.J. Daniels (QB)
Top Recruits: Todd Chandler (DT), Terrence Mitchell (CB)
I’m counting on Skip Holtz and a few years worth of decent recruiting classes to come through for the Bulls.
This young South Florida team will play a fairly strenuous schedule in an underrated conference. Their record at the beginning of 2011 will not reflect true ability.
No. 48 and 49: Washington and Michigan (Tie)
Neither one of these teams is quite ready to compete just yet, if you ask me. However, both have too much young talent not to at least make this list.
Either of these teams could come out and beat 90 percent of the names above them on any given day. However, Michigan crumbled like none other than KU itself down the stretch last season, and rarely have I seen a team as inconsistent as Washington.
I’m not quite ready to hop either’s bandwagon, but, thanks to very good recruiting classes and quality coaches, that could easily change.
No. 47: Northwestern
Key Losses: Brad Phillips (S), Brendan Smith (S), Sherrick McManis (CB), Corey Wootton (DE), Andrew Brewer (WR), Zeke Markshausen (WR), Sidney Stewart (WR), Mike Kafka (QB)
Impact Returners: Brian Peters (S), Jordan Mabin (CB), Nate Williams (LB), Quentin Davie (LB), Vince Browne (DE), Drake Dunsmore (WR), Arby Fields (RB), Drake Concannon (RB)
Top Recruits: Paul Jorgenson (OT), Trevor Siemian (QB)
I’m an offensive line buff. Offensive linemen don’t have ‘bad days’ to the extent that skill players do, and they make the rest of the offense better. Northwestern brings back all five of theirs, if I’m not mistaken.
The Wildcats will still lose more talent than they’ll gain this offseason, but that offensive line, a few young runningbacks, and an unpredictable conference keep Northwestern in play.
No. 46: Arizona
Key Losses: Cam Nelson (S), Devin Ross (CB), Xavier Kelly (LB), Chris Hall (LB), Sterling Lewis (LB), Vuna Tuihalamaka (LB), Earl Mitchell (DT), Donald Horton (DT), Terrell Turner (WR), Mike Diaz (OT), Adam Grant (OT), Herman Hall (OG)
Impact Returners: Robert Golden (S), Trevin Reed (CB), Ricky Elmore (DE), Juron Criner (WR), Delashaun Dean (WR), David Roberts (WR), Keola Antolin (RB), Nic Grigsby (RB), Nick Foles (QB)
Top Recruits: Kirifi Taula (DT), Trent Spurgeon (OT)
It’s a good thing the Wildcats return a bulk of their offense, because that defense may turn out nasty. The offensive line will miss key pieces as well.
Nick Foles will have to step into a true leadership role if Arizona wants to earn this ranking. The 2010 Pac 10 has me thinking bottom half for a quality group of Wildcats.
No. 45: Notre Dame
Key Losses: Kyle McCarthy (S), Sergio Brown (S), Darrin Walls (CB), Golden Tate (WR), Jimmy Clausen (QB), Paul Duncan (OT), Sam Young (OT), Chris Stewart (OG), Eric Olsen (C)
Impact Returners: Gary Gray (CB), Robert Blanton (CB), Darius Fleming (LB), Manti Te’o (LB), Harrison Smith (LB), Brian Smith (LB), Kapron Lewis-Moore (DE), Ethan Johnson (DT), Ian Williams (DT), Michael Floyd (WR), Kyle Rudolph (WR), Armando Allen Jr. (RB), Ronald Hughes (RB)
Top Recruits: Louis Nix (DT), Tai-ler Jones (WR)
There’s a lot of talent built up here from three great Charlie Weiss recruiting classes if the right coach understands how to use it. The Fighting Irish have a pretty good class coming in this year, too.
I think the defense will actually be better, and the offense returns a great supporting cast. Brian Kelly just needs to select a quarterback that doesn’t mind being inexperienced-offensive-line-roadkill for a while.
No. 44: Cincinnati
Key Losses: Aaron Webster (S), Brad Jones (CB), Andre Revels (LB), Alex Daniels (DE), Curtis Young (DE), Ricardo Matthews (DT), Mardy Gilyard (WR), Tony Pike (QB), Jeff Linkenbach (LT), Chris Jurek (C)
Impact Returners: Drew Frey (S), Dominique Battle (CB), Walter Stewart (LB), J.K. Schaffer (LB), Demetrius Jones (LB), Derek Wolfe (DE), Matt Giordano (DT), Armon Binns (WR), D.J. Woods (WR), Isaiah Pead (RB), Zach Collaros (QB)
Top Recruits: Dyjuan Lewis (WR), Kevin Schloemer (OT)
New coaches plus new quarterbacks usually equal down years, but Cincy will sneak up on at least one or two unsuspecting teams. Butch Jones is a special coach, and we’ve already seen what Zach Collaros can do.
Last year, Brian Kelly replaced 10 starters on defense. This year, at least Butch Jones has a reliable linebacker core to work around. However, Florida exposed some awful secondary holes in need of immediate filling.
No. 43: UCLA
Key Losses: Alterraun Verner (CB), Kyle Bosworth (LB), Reggie Carter (LB), Korey Bosworth (DE), Jerzy Siewierski (DT), Brian Price (DT), Terrence Austin (WR), Chane Moline (FB)
Impact Returners: Rahim Moore (S), Tony Dye (S), Akeem Ayers (LB), Datone Jones (DE), Nelson Rosario (WR), Tyler Embree (WR), Jonathan Franklin (RB), Kevin Prince (QB)
Top Recruits: Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE), Jordon James (RB)
The Bruins have plenty of work to do, but I think they’ll come through for me. This was a super-youthful group last season, especially offensively, and the year of experience will do wonders for Kevin Prince and his offensive line.
UCLA hit some bumps mid-season in 2009, but got strong down the stretch. I anticipate continued improvement throughout 2010.
No. 41 and 42: Tennessee and Oklahoma State (Tie)
Like Michigan and Washington, on any given day we could be looking at two excellent football teams. However, both have to suffer through immense talent loss next season.
Tennessee is undoubtedly more talented (especially thanks to a special recruiting class). I don't have much faith in Derek Dooley as a coach yet, though. He'll have to prove me wrong.
On the other hand, Mike Gundy’s team has consistently improved each season. Years of solid recruiting will ease his draft/graduation woes.
If we matched both teams up right now, I’d take the Cowboys. However, by season’s end, the Volunteers will be the better team.
No. 40: Connecticut
Key Losses: Robert Vaughn (S), Robert McClain (LB), Lindsey Witten (DE), Marcus Easley (WR), Andre Dixon (RB), Mike Hicks (OT), Dan Ryan (OT), Alex LaMagdelaine (OG)
Impact Returners: Jerome Junior (S), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB), Scott Lutrus (LB), Greg Lloyd (LB), Lawrence Wilson (LB), Jesse Joseph (DE), Tywon Martin (DT), Kendall Reyes (DT), Jordan Todman (RB), Zach Frazer (QB), Cody Endres (QB)
Top Recruits: Leon Kinnard (ATH), Mike Osiecki (OLB)
Losing a portion of the offensive line really hurts what Randy Edsall and his Huskies like to do on the ground offensively. Past that, Uconn is steady quarterback play away from being pretty formidable on that side of the ball.
The D’ will be steadier this season, and the Big East should lack some of last year's deadly offensive firepower. All good news.
No. 39: Ole Miss
Key Losses: Kendrick Lewis (S), Cassius Vaughn (CB), Patrick Trahan (LB), Marcus Tillman (DE), Shay Hodge (WR), Dexter McCluster (RB), Jevan Snead (QB), Reid Neely (OG), John Jerry (OG), Daverin Geralds (C)
Impact Returners: Johnny Brown (S), Fon Ingram (S), Allen Walker (LB), Jonathan Cornell (LB), Kentrell Lockett (DE), Jerrell Powe (DT), Brandon Bolden (RB)
Top Recruits: Clarence Jackson (ATH), Tony Grimes (CB)
Why in the world did Jevan Snead decide to go pro now? Not that he would have had much to work with sans-McCluster, Hodge, and the interior of his offensive line next season.
It’s hard to gauge such a sporadic defense, but the Rebels appear to be a little more experienced on that half than last year. The special teams group has a few important holes in it, though.
No. 38: Rutgers
Key Losses: Zaire Kitchen (S), Billy Anderson (CB), Devin McCourty (CB), Ryan D’Imperio (LB), Damaso Muñoz (LB), George Johnson (DE), Tim Brown (WR), Kevin Haslam (OT), Anthony Davis (OT), Ryan Blaszczyk (C)
Impact Returners: Joe Lefeged (S), Khaseem Greene (S), David Rowe (CB), Steve Beauharnais (LB), Antonio Lowery (LB), Jonathan Freeny (DE), Alex Silvestro (DE), Scott Vallone (DT), Mohamed Sanu (WR), Joe Martinek (RB), Tom Savage (QB)
Top Recruits: Jeremy Deering (ATH), Rashad Knight (S)
The Big East isn’t necessarily, well, big. However, there seem to be several fairly talented teams in that select little group. Rutgers is by all means one of them.
Some big names are moving on to bigger and better things, but there are some quality leftovers. If Tom Savage makes positive strides then both he and Mohamed Sanu could have really big years.
No. 37: Houston
Key Losses: Carson Blackmon (S), Brandon Brinkley (CB), C.J. Cavness (LB), Tyrell Graham (DE), Carl Barnett (C)
Impact Returners: Roisean Haynes (S), Nick Saenz (S), Jamal Robinson (CB), Phillip Steward (LB), Marcus McGraw (LB), Zeke Riser (DE), Isaiah Thompson (DT), David Hunter (DT), James Cleveland (WR), Tyron Carrier (WR), Patrick Edwards (WR), Charles Sims (RB), Bryce Beall (RB), Case Keenum (QB)
Top Recruits: DeAndre Perry (WR), Terrance Broadway (ATH)
The Cougars are on everyone’s radar now, but I’m not sure they’ll need the element of surprise. Nearly one-hundred percent of last season’s mind-boggling offensive production is back.
The defense wasn’t special, and even the offense faltered a bit on the tail end of the year. This season, the added experience on both sides of the ball and weak conference will spell big things for Houston.
No. 36: Boston College
Key Losses: Roderick Rollins (CB), Mike McLaughlin (LB), Jim Ramella (DE), Austin Giles (DT), Rich Gunnell (WR), Matt Tennant (C)
Impact Returners: Wes Davis (S), Marty Bowman (S), DeLeon Gause (CB), Donnie Fletcher (CB), Mike Morrissey (LB), Luke Kuechly (LB), Alexander DiSanzo (LB), Dominick LeGrande (LB), Brad Newman (DE), Alex Albright (DE), Damik Scafe (DT), Colin Larmond Jr. (WR), Montel Harris (RB), Dave Shinskie (QB)
Top Recruits: Chase Rettig (QB), Shakim Phillips (WR)
The ACC looks to be tougher than it has been in recent years. Boston College is a lot better than their record at the end of the season will likely indicate. However, there's a lot to like coming back for the Eagles.
The offense is particularly youthful and promising. Montel Harris will have this team competing for at least third in the Atlantic half of the conference.
No. 35: Navy
Key Losses: Blake Carter (CB), Clint Sovie (LB), Ross Pospisil (LB), Tony Haberer (LB), Craig Schaefer (LB), Ram Vela (LB), Matt Nechak (DE), Matthew Pritchett (OT), Zach Gallion (OG), James Rossi (C)
Impact Returners: Emmett Merchant (S), Wyatt Middleton (S), Kevin Edwards (CB), Tyler Simmons (LB), Jabaree Tuani (DE), Marcus Curry (RB), Gee Gee Greene (RB), Vince Murray (FB), Alexander Teich (FB), Kriss Proctor (QB), Ricky Dobbs (QB),
Top Recruits: Joseph Champaign (DE), Vincent Mauro (OLB)
How can so many linebackers get so much playing time? Unfortunately, most of them are gone now, and with them goes the heart of the Navy defense.
On the other hand, who needs a defense when your offense can drag out a possession like Navy’s can? The return of nearly every significant contributor (barring some linemen) to this already super-disciplined offense should mean smooth-sailin’ for the Midshipmen.
Navy was the most underrated team in the nation last season. I’m probably making the same mistake placing them this low.
No. 34: Texas Tech
Key Losses: Jamar Wall (CB), Marlon Williams (LB), Brian Duncan (LB), Brandon Sharpe (DE), Rajon Henley (DE), Daniel Howard (DE), Richard Jones (DT), Edward Britton (WR), Marlon Winn (OT), Brandon Carter (OG), Shawn Byrnes (C)
Impact Returners: Cody Davis (S), Franklin Mitchem (S), D.J. Johnson (CB), Laron Moore (CB), Bront Bird (LB), Colby Whitlock (DT), Austin Zouzalik (WR), Lyle Leong (WR), Tremain Swindall (WR), Alexander Torres (WR), Detron Lewis (WR), Baron Batch (RB), Taylor Potts (QB), Steven Sheffield (QB)
Top Recruits: Jackson Richards (DE), Beau Carpenter (OT)
I like Tommy Tuberville, a lot, and he has some decent pieces of an underrated defense to work with. The real question is what’s going to happen to the offense?
Mike Neal has super pieces here for the spread, but I still just can’t help but feel that there will be some adjusting for this team.
No. 33: Texas A&M
Key Losses: Jordan Pugh (S), Justin McQueen (CB), Matt Moss (DE), Matt Featherston (DE), Howard Morrow (WR), Michael Shumard (OT), Lee Grimes (OT), Kevin Matthews (C)
Impact Returners: Trent Hunter (S), Dustin Harris (CB), Terrence Frederick (CB), Michael Hodges (LB), Kyle Mangan (LB), Garrick Williams (LB), Sean Porter (LB), Von Miller (LB/DE), Eddie Brown (DT), Uzoma Nwachukwu (WR), Jeff Fuller (WR), Ryan Tannehill (ATH), Christine Michael (RB), Cyrus Gray (RB), Jamie McCoy (TE), Jerrod Johnson (QB)
Top Recruits: Luke Joeckel (OT), Tony Hurd Jr. (CB)
The Aggies are just another one of those teams that just needs to overcome a medium turnover of offensive linemen. Their super-deep recruiting class may hold part of the solution, at least.
Von Miller and Jerrod Johnson will both be seniors who, when at their best, each have the ability to change the course of an entire game with a single play.
No. 32: Florida State
Key Losses: Korey Mangum (S), Jamie Robinson (S), Patrick Robinson (CB), Dekoda Watson (LB), Kevin McNeil (DE), Rod Owens (WR)
Impact Returners: Nick Moody (S), Ochuko Jenijie (CB), Greg Reid (CB), Mister Alexander (LB), Kendall Smith (LB), Nigel Bradham (LB), Markus White (DE), Jacobbi McDaniel (DT), Taiwan Easterling (WR), Jarmon Fortson (WR), Bert Reed (WR), Ty Jones (RB), Jermaine Thomas (RB), Christian Ponder (QB)
Top Recruits: Lamarcus Joyner (CB), Jeff Luc (LB)
Jimbo Fisher energy plus great returning experience plus a very good recruiting class equals success the Seminoles have not seen in quite some time.
I’m not about to get too excited, though. I think we’ve all overestimated Florida State before. This season they’re going to have to show me some proof they deserve to be any higher than this.
No. 31: North Carolina
Key Losses: Melvin Williams (S), Kennedy Tinsley (LB), E.J. Wilson (DE), Kyle Jolley (OT), Aaron Stahl (OG)
Impact Returners: Da’Norris Searcy (S), Deunta Williams (S), Kendrick Burney (CB), Charles Brown (CB), Kevin Reddick (LB), Zach Brown (LB), Quan Sturdivant (LB), Bruce Carter (LB), Quinton Coples (DE), Robert Quinn (DE), Marvin Austin (DT), Greg Little (WR), Erik Highsmith (WR), Ryan Houston (RB), Shaun Draughn (RB), Zack Pianalto (TE), T.J. Yates (QB)
Top Recruits: James Hurst (OG), Brandon Willis (DT)
The Tar Heels were about as up-and-down as teams come last season. Very solid returning experience should result in a little more consistency and maybe an added win or two in 2010, though.
I especially like North Carolina’s offense. There’s a spot or two open on the line, but the rest comes back intact. T.J. Yates will be surrounded in his senior season by a pleasant balance of returning talent.
No. 30: Utah
Key Losses: Joe Dale (S), Robert Johnson (S), R.J. Stanford (CB), Kepa Gaison (LB), Mike Wright (LB), Stevenson Sylvester (LB), Koa Misi (DE), David Reed (WR), Matt Asiata (RB), Zane Beadles (OT)
Impact Returners: Brandon Burton (CB), Lamar Chapman (CB), Derrick Shelby (DE), Christian Cox (DE), Dave Kruger (DT), Sealver Siliga (DT), Jereme Brooks (WR), Eddie Wide (RB), Terrance Cain (QB), Jordan Wynn (QB)
Top Recruits: Tyler Shreve (QB), V.J. Fehoko (LB)
Offensively, Utah has at least four quality guys on the O-line, a good runningback, and a solid receiver, too. The only real issue on that side of the ball is deciding which guy will take all the snaps.
This group doesn't jump out at me like those of years past, but I've underestimated the Utes several times before.
No. 29: Missouri
Key Losses: Sean Weatherspoon (LB), Brian Coulter (DE), Danario Alexander (WR), Jared Perry (WR), Kurtis Gregory (OG)
Impact Returners: Kenji Jackson (S), Jaspar Simmons (S), Jarrell Harrison (S), Kevin Rutland (CB), Carl Gettis (CB), Will Ebner (LB), Andrew Gackhar (LB), Aldon Smith (DE), Jacquies Smith (DE), Dominique Hamilton (DT), Jerrell Jackson (WR), Wes Kemp (WR), Derrick Washington (RB), Blaine Gabbert (QB)
Top Recruits: Nick Damien (OT), Mitch Morse (OT)
I like the look of this team a lot, except on defense. Sean Weatherspoon didn’t just bring intangibles to the unit; he was, overall, the most athletic guy on that side of the ball. The Tigers will miss him sorely.
Danario Alexander seemed to be the entire offense near last season’s end, but Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp, and Derrick Washington out of the backfield will be plenty for a more experienced Blaine Gabbert.
No. 28: South Carolina
Key Losses: Darian Stewart (S), Eric Norwood (LB), Clifton Geathers (DE), Moe Brown (WR), Lemuel Jeanpierre (C)
Impact Returners: Chris Culliver (S), Stephon Gilmore (CB), Shaq Wilson (LB), Akeem Auguste (LB), Cliff Matthews (DE), Ladi Ajiboye (DT), Alshon Jeffery (WR), Tori Gurley (WR), Kenny Miles (RB), Brian Maddox (RB), Weslye Saunders (TE), Stephen Garcia (QB)
Top Recruits: Marcus Lattimore (RB), A.J. Cann (OG)
If there’s one team that will make a surprising splash in the SEC, I think it could be this one.
Steve Spurrier is a special coach, he returns a full balance of good talent on both sides of the ball, and he’s just yanked in a top recruiting class. What more needs to be said?
No. 27: Brigham Young
Key Losses: Scott Johnson (S), Terrence Hooks (LB), Matt Bauman (LB), Coleby Clawson (LB), Shawn Doman (LB), Brett Denney (DE), Jan Jorgensen (DE), Dennis Pitta (TE), Andrew George (TE), Max Hall (QB), R.J. Willing (C)
Impact Returners: Andrew Rich (S), Brian Logan (CB), Brandon Bradley (CB), Jordan Pendleton (LB), Romney Fuga (DT), McKay Jacobsen (WR), Harvey Unga (RB)
Top Recruits: Jake Heaps (QB), Bronson Kaufusi (DE)
Non-BCS teams can be fun, but I rarely place much faith in them. This team is no different and has to prove that they've filled up the front end of the defense before I place them in my top 25.
Offensively, the Cougars have to replace a great quarterback in Max Hall and two tight ends, maybe the most underrated pieces of their system. Harvey Unga and five individuals with O-line starting experience are back, though.
No. 26: Auburn
Key Losses: Walt McFadden (CB), Antonio Coleman (DE), Jake Ricks (DT), Andrew McCain (OT), Ben Tate (RB), Chris Todd (QB)
Impact Returners: Zac Etheridge (S), Daren Bates (S), Neiko Thorpe (CB), Demond Washington (CB), Josh Bynes (LB), Craig Stevens (LB), Eltoro Freeman (LB), Antoine Carter (DE), Nick Fairly (DT), Mike Blanc (DT), Darvin Adams (WR), Terrell Zachery (WR), Mario Fanin (RB), Onterio McCalebb (RB), Kodi Burns (ATH)
Top Recruits: Michael Dyer (RB), Trovon Reed (ATH)
What few pieces Gene Chizik’s Tigers are losing happen to be fairly important ones. No one's recruiting class has lifted their ranking higher than Auburn's, though.
If this team toughens up, they'll be top 25 material. If not, however, they belong even lower yet.
No. 25 (it's the real deal now): Penn State
Key Losses: A.J. Wallace (CB), Josh Hull (LB), Navorro Bowman (LB), Sean Lee (LB), Jerome Hayes (DE), Jared Odrick (DT), Daryll Clark (QB), Andrew Quarless (TE), Dennis Landolt (OT),
Impact Returners: Drew Astorino (S), Nick Sukay (S), D’Anton Lynn (CB), Nate Stupar (LB), Bani Gbadyu (LB), Jack Crawford (DE), Derek Moye (WR), Graham Zug (WR), Stephfon Green (RB), Evan Royster (RB)
Top Recruits: Khairi Fortt (LB), Robert Bolden (QB)
The defense will still be Penn State-fundamentally sound in 2010, but it’s not going to win them games on it's own.
The offense may be in the same predicament. Daryll Clark is gone, and he’s taken his favorite runningback with him. This team could still be just a solid quarterback away from being nearly the same old Penn State quality we're used to.
Contributions from a very good recruiting class will be required if they want to stay in the Big 10 and Top 25 hunt down the road.
No. 24: Oregon State
Key Losses: Suaesi Tuimaunei (S), Tim Clark (CB), James Dockery (CB), Keaton Kristick (LB), Brennan Olander (DT), Demola Adniji (WR), Sean Canfield (QB), Gregg Peat (OG)
Impact Returners: Cameron Collins (S), Lance Mitchell (S), Brandon Hardin (CB), Dwight Roberson (LB), David Pa’aluhi (LB) Keith Pankey (LB), Gabe Miller (DE), Matt LaGrone (DE), Stephen Paea (DT), James Rodgers (WR), Jacquizz Rodgers (RB), Joe Halahuni (TE)
Top Recruits: Shaydon Akuna (LB), Sean Mannion (QB)
There’s quite a bit to like about the Beavers, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Sean Canfield will be tough to replace, but like others on this list, his successor will have useful tools around him.
However, some holes on defense, no quarterback, and an average recruiting class have me wondering if I'm about to overrate Oregon State yet again. Will they hold up?
No. 23: Georgia
Key Losses: Reshad Jones (S), Bryan Evans (S), Prince Miller (CB), Rennie Curran (LB), Kade Weston (DT), Jeff Owens (DT), Geno Atkins (DT), Michael Moore (WR), Joe Cox (QB)
Impact Returners: Brandon Boykin (CB), Akeem Dent (LB), Darryl Gamble (LB), Marcus Dowtin (LB), DeMarcus Dobbs (DE), Justin Houston (DE), A.J. Green (WR), Tavarres King (WR), Washaun Ealey (RB), Caleb King (RB), Orson Charles (TE)
Top Recruits: Alec Ogletree (S), T.J. Stripling (LB)
For the second straight year, Georgia is searching for a quarterback. Five good offensive linemen, two good runningbacks, and three good receiving targets will go a long way in helping out, though.
The secondary and the front line will be concerns defensively. A very talented (yet somehow unsatisfying) recruiting class has the answers to a few of those question positions, but it may take a while for the unit to mesh.
No. 22: Pittsburgh
Key Losses: Jovani Chappel (CB), Aaron Berry (CB), Adam Gunn (LB), Gus Mustakas (DT), Mick Williams (DT), Bill Stull (QB), Dorin Dickerson (TE), Joe Thomas (OG), John Malecki (OG), Robb Houser (C)
Impact Returners: Jarred Holley (S), Dom DeCicco (S), Elijah Fields (S), Greg Williams (LB), Max Gruder (LB), Jabaal Sheard (DE), Greg Romeus (DE), Myles Caragein (DT), Jonathan Baldwin (WR), Dion Lewis (RB)
Top Recruits: Todd Thomas (ATH), Anthony Gonzalez (ATH)
I like the balance returning to this team on defense. Filling the sizeable hole in the middle of the line and at cornerback are concerns, but the Panthers still have an underrated group on that side.
Speaking of sizeable holes, Pittsburgh needs some new guys on offense to create them up front. At least the Bill Stull replacement has Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin to work with.
No. 21: California
Key Losses: Brett Johnson (S), Syd’Quan Thompson (CB), Eddie Young (LB), Devin Bishop (LB), Tyson Alualu (DE), Verran Tucker (WR), Jahvid Best (RB), Mike Tepper (OT)
Impact Returners: Sean Cattouse (S) Josh Hill (CB), D.J. Holt (LB), Mike Mohamed (LB), Mychal Kendricks (LB), Cameron Jordan (DE), Marvin Jones (WR), Shane Vereen (RB), Kevin Riley (QB)
Top Recruits: Keenan Allen (ATH), Chris Martin (DE)
The Bears will be a big factor in the Pac 10 this season. Kevin Riley, Marvin Jones, and Shane Vereen could have a huge season behind an experienced line.
Defensively, the Bears will probably stumble along the way a time or two. Syd’Quan Thompson will be difficult to replace, but a high-quality recruiting class should help provide a solution.
No. 20: Arkansas
Key Losses: Matt Harris (S), Jerrell Norton (CB), Wendel Davis (LB), Adrian Davis (DE), Malcolm Sheppard (DT), Mitch Petrus (OT), Michael Smith (RB)
Impact Returners: Elton Ford (S), Tramain Thomas (S), Ramon Broadway (CB), Rudell Crim (CB), Freddy Burton (LB), Jerico Nelson (LB), Jerry Franklin (LB), Tenarius Wright (DE), Jake Bequette (DE), Zach Stadther (DT), Greg Childs (WR), Jarius Wright (WR), Joe Adams (WR), Broderick Green (RB), Ronnie Wingo Jr. (RB), Dennis Johnson (RB), Knile Davis (RB), D.J. Williams (TE), Ryan Mallett (QB)
Top Recruits: Cam Feldt (OT), Calvin Barnett (DT)
This team didn’t pile up the quality wins last season, but great returning talent and a deep recruiting class has nearly every Razorback hole filled. They’re not about to compete for the SEC title, but they do have a shot at finishing in the top half.
The recruiting class is uninspiring, but I love this team's depth. There are talented options at nearly every position, meaning Arkansas is ready for the SEC long haul. Just like last year, this group will get stronger down the stretch.
I have a really good feeling about this team (especially Ryan Mallett), but they also have plenty of potential to make me look really stupid.
No. 19: Texas Christian
Key Losses: Daryl Washington (LB), Jerry Hughes (DE), Joseph Turner (RB), Marshall Newhouse (OT),
Impact Returners: Tejay Johnson (S), Alex Ibiloye (S), Tyler Luttrell (S), Jason Teague (CB), Tank Carder (LB), Wayne Daniels (DE), Kelly Griffin (DT), Jeremy Kerley (WR), Jimmy Young (WR), Ed Wesley (RB), Matthew Tucker (RB), Andy Dalton (QB)
Top Recruits: David Johnson (DT), Sam Carter (ATH)
The defense is going to look quite a bit different next season. I couldn't just dump TCU out of the Top 20, though. Their only loss last season came to one of two undefeated teams. The losses are minimal in number, too.
The Horned Frog D’ won’t be a staple like normal, but Andy Dalton returns with all but one of his favorite weapons and a very good offensive line.
No. 18: Southern California
Key Losses: Will Harris (S), Taylor Mays (S), Josh Pinkard (CB), Kevin Thomas (CB), Everson Griffen (DE), Damian Williams (WR), Stafon Johnson (RB), Joe McKnight (RB), Anthony McCoy (TE), Charles Brown (OT), Jeff Byers (OG), Nick Howell (OG)
Impact Returners: Michael Morgan (LB), Malcolm Smith (LB), Chris Galippo (LB), Devon Kennard (DE), Jurrell Casey (DT), Ronald Johnson (WR), C.J. Gable (RB), Allen Bradford (RB), Matt Barkley (QB)
Top Recruits: Robert Woods (WR), Seantrel Henderson (OT)
Good luck, Lane Kiffin. You’ve lost your entire secondary, a lot of offensive talent, over half of your offensive line (two-thirds if you count McCoy), and not only could your school face recruiting violations, but the Pac 10 is improving all around you as well.
Things aren’t all bad, though. You coach at the most famous (and infamous) football school in America, the talent pool is always deep, and you’ve brought some recruiting gems of your own.
No. 17: West Virginia
Key Losses: Nate Sowers (S), Reed Williams (LB), Ovid Goulbourne (LB), Alric Arnett (WR), Jarrett Brown (QB), Selvish Capers (OT)
Impact Returners: Sidney Glover (S), Robert Sands (S), Brandon Hogan (CB), Keith Tandy (CB), J.T. Thomas (LB), Pat Lazear (LB), Julian Miller (DE), Jock Sanders (WR), Noel Devine (RB), Ryan Clarke (FB),
Top Recruits: Ivan McCartney (WR), Barry Brunetti (QB)
Noel Devine and company returns almost entirely intact. Whoever becomes the next signal caller will have plenty of weapons around him to work with, and should just focus on avoiding mistakes.
An average defense returns the bulk of its contributors but will need a few fresh faces to contribute. Consistency this season is vital or they'll be out of the Top 25 in a heartbeat.
No. 16: Louisiana State
Key Losses: Danny McCray (S), Chad Jones (S), Chris Hawkins (CB), Jacob Cutrera (LB), Harry Coleman (LB), Perry Riley (LB), Rahim Alem (DE), Trindon Holliday (KR/PR), Brandon LaFell (WR), Charles Scott (RB), Keiland Williams (RB), Ciron Black (OT), Lyle Hitt (OG)
Impact Returners: Brandon Taylor (S), Patrick Peterson (CB), Kelvin Sheppard (LB), Drake Nevis (DT), Terrance Toliver (WR), Jordan Jefferson (QB)
Top Recruits: Travis Dickson (TE), Eric Reid (S)
The defense has some rough edges, but the Tigers also have a nice balance of talented returners on all three levels. Add in a few four-star recruits that look ready to contribute, and ultimately Les Miles will make yet another athletic defense out of this crew.
The offense, however, could be ugly from time to time. The top receiver, tight end, two backs, and two linemen are gone from an already average group.
No. 15: Stanford
Key Losses: Bo McNally (S), Richard Sherman (CB), Kris Evans (CB), Will Powers (LB), Clinton Snyder (LB), Ekom Udofia (DT), Toby Gerhart (RB), Chris Marinelli (OT), Andrew Phillips (OG)
Impact Returners: Delano Howell (S), Shayne Skov (LB), Chase Thomas (DE), Tom Keiser (DE), Ryan Whalen (WR), Chris Owusu (WR), Stepfan Taylor (RB), Andrew Luck (QB)
Top Recruits: Blake Lueders (DE), Devon Carrington (S)
Things look good for Jim Harbaugh’s up-and-coming Cardinal. Andrew Luck must play a much bigger role this season behind a solid-enough offensive line and with his top receiving targets all back.
A super tough coach and an impressive recruiting class will be more than enough to fix the vacancies left on defense. If Oregon has a misstep or two, Stanford will be ready to pounce.
No. 14: Georgia Tech
Key Losses: Morgan Burnett (S), Sedric Griffin (LB), Derrick Morgan (DE), Demaryius Thomas (WR), Jonathan Dwyer (RB), Brad Sellers (OT), Cord Howard (OG)
Impact Returners: Mario Edwards (S), Jerrad Tarrant (CB), Mario Butler (CB), Steven Sylvester (LB), Brad Jefferson (LB), Julian Burnett (LB), Anthony Allen (RB), Josh Nesbitt (QB)
Top Recruits: Ryan Ayers (CB), Shawn Green (DT)
The Yellow Jackets have to get better up front on defense. After losing Michael Johnson last year and Derrick Morgan this year, I wonder if they will simply plug in another elite talent.
On offense, Josh Nesbitt returns a decent core of runningbacks and most of his offensive line to work with. Finding a receiver or two to replace his only true target in Demaryius Thomas is priority ‘A’.
Clemson gets the nod over the Yellowjackets here primarily because of defense.
No. 13: Clemson
Key Losses: Crezdon Butler (CB), Chris Chancellor (CB), Kavell Conner (LB), Kevin Alexander (LB), Ricky Sapp (DE), Jacoby Ford (WR), C.J. Spiller (RB), Michael Palmer (TE), Thomas Austin (OG)
Impact Returners: Rashard Hall (S), DeAndre McDaniel (S), Marcus Gilchrist (S), Brandon Maye (LB), Andre Branch (DE), Da’Quan Bowers (DE), Brandon Thompson (DT), Jamie Cumbie (DT), Jarvis Jenkins (DT), Andre Ellington (RB), Jamie Harper (RB), Kyle Parker (QB)
Top Recruits: Martavis Bryant (WR), Gary Peters (ATH)
The depth at the front and back of Clemson’s defense is impressive. The recruiting class is impressive. Their returning talent and experience? Also impressive.
The main downfall is that Kyle Parker will be without a lot of his former offense in just his sophomore season. The defense may give him plenty of chances to win games, and he has good backs and a solid O-line to work with, though. How far will he take his game?
No. 12: Wisconsin
Key Losses: Chris Maragos (S), Jaevery McFadden (LB), O’Brien Schofield (DE), Garrett Graham (TE)
Impact Returners: Jay Valai (S), Niles Brinkley (CB), Culmer St. Jean (LB), Chris Borland (LB), Blake Sorensen (LB), J.J. Watt (DE), Nick Toon (WR), Isaac Anderson (WR), John Clay (RB), Montee Ball (RB), Lance Kendricks (HB), Scott Tolzien (QB)
Top Recruits: Frank Tamakloe (S), Beau Allen (DT)
The defense wasn’t spectacular last year, but they will field a balanced group of veterans and youthful talent next season. Other than losing O’Brien Schofield, the Badger D’ should only get better.
In only losing Garrett Graham on the other side of the ball, the Wisconsin offense should be as consistent as ever. If this ground game gets going and Scott Tolzien plays smart, the defense will have little to worry about.
No. 11: Nebraska
Key Losses: Matt O’Hanlon (S), Larry Asante (S), Phillip Dillard (LB), Barry Turner (DE), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Jacob Hickman (C)
Impact Returners: Eric Hagg (S), Prince Amukamara (CB), Alfonzo Dennard (CB) Sean Fisher (LB), Will Compton (LB), Pierre Allen (DE), Jared Crick (DT), Niles Paul (WR), Roy Helu Jr. (RB), Rex Burkhead (RB), Zach Lee (QB), Mike McNeil (TE)
Top Recruits: Andrew Rodriguez (OG), Chase rome (DT)
The Cornhuskers will suffer from the biggest singular loss in all of college football next season, Ndamukong Suh. Fortunately, Bo Pelini has rarely had trouble revamping a defense.
The offense was spotty at best last season, but returns every key player outside of center. Consistent quarterback play and another good season from Helu Jr. would really help a young defense.
No. 10 (now we're in the big time): Miami
Key Losses: Randy Phillips (S), Sam Shields (CB), Darryl Sharpton (LB), Javarris James (RB), Jason Fox (OT), Matt Pipho (OT), A.J. Trump (C)
Impact Returners: Jared Campbell (S), Vaughn Telemaque (S), Brandon Harris (CB), DeMarcus Van Dyke (CB), Sean Spence (LB), Colin McCarthy (LB), Allen Bailey (DT), Leonard Hankerson (WR), Travis Benjamin (WR), Graig Cooper (RB), Damien Berry (RB), Jacory Harris (QB)
Top Recruits: Storm Johnson (RB), David Perry (DE)
The offensive line needs a big band-aid or two. Outside of that, Jacory Harris has a great supporting cast all around him. The Hurricanes have a chance to be special on this side of the ball.
Speaking of special, this defense loses one of the great linebackers in America. They return a great balance of talent and experience to every level, though. Brandon Harris could have a huge year.
No. 9: Oklahoma
Key Losses: Brian Jackson (CB), Dominique Franks (CB), Keenan Clayton (LB), Ryan Reynolds (LB), Auston English (DE), Gerald McCoy (DT), Chris Brown (RB), Jermaine Gresham (TE), Sam Bradford (QB), Trent Williams (OT), Brian Simmons (OG)
Impact Returners: Sam Proctor (S), Jonathan Nelson (S), Quinton Carter (S), Austin Box (LB), Travis Lewis (LB), Frank Alexander (DE), Jeremy Beal (DE), Adrian Taylor (DT), Ryan Broyles (WR), Dejuan Miller (WR), Brandon Caleb (WR), DeMarco Murray (RB), Landry Jones (QB)
Top Recruits: Tony Jefferson (ATH), Austin Haywood (TE)
Just imagine if there were no early entries. This would, without a doubt, be at least the number three team in college football. As it is, having them this high is giving them the benefit of the doubt anyway.
Landry Jones will have most of his line and all but one of his familiar weapons back next season. With a year under his belt (and a very good defense behind him), I think he will take big strides forward in 2010.
No. 8: Iowa
Key Losses: Amari Spievey (CB), Pat Angerer (LB), A.J. Edds (LB), Trey Stross (WR), Tony Moeaki (TE), Brian Bulaga (OT), Kyle Calloway (OT), Dace Richardson (OG), Rafael Eubanks (C)
Impact Returners: Tyler Sash (S), Brett Greenwood (S), Shaun Prater (CB), Jeremiha Hunter (LB), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Broderick Binns (DE), Christian Ballard (DT), Karl Klug (DT), Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (WR), Marvin McNutt (WR), Adam Robinson (RB), Brandon Wegher (RB), Ricky Stanzi (QB)
Top Recruits: C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE), A.J. Derby (ATH)
After just sniffing the edge of the preseason polls last year, Iowa won’t have the benefit of being the underdog this season. A defense that returns eight starters will have to keep the Hawkeyes competitive.
However, inexperience on the offensive line could be the death of this team. A run-based offense with an already-erratic quarterback cannot afford to have a shaky o-line.
No. 7: Virginia Tech
Key Losses: Kam Chancellor (S), Dorian Porch (S), Stephan Virgil (CB), Cody Grimm (LB), Nekos Brown (DE), Jason Worilds (DE), Ed Wang (OT), Sergio Render (OG)
Impact Returners: Davon Morgan (S), Rashad Charmichael (CB), Lyndell Gibson (LB), Jake Johnson (LB), Barquell Rivers (LB), Jarrett Boykin (WR), Ryan Williams (RB), Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Top Recruits: Nick Dew (S), Theron Norman (S)
The Hokies’ defense appears to be as athletic as ever, but finding replacement ends and a leader at linebacker are musts. There are a few holes on special teams, too.
ACC defensive coordinators will have nightmares about Beamer-ball this season. The right side of the line is currently vacant, but Tyrod Taylor will still have his favorite targets in front of him and one of the best young backs in the nation behind him.
This many ACC teams will never last together so high in the polls. If I have to pick just one, though, I'm picking the Hokies hands-down.
No. 6: Boise State
Key Losses: Kyle Wilson (CB)
Impact Returners: Jeron Johnson (S), George Iloka (S), Brandyn Thompson (CB), J.C. Percy (LB), Winston Venable (LB), Aaron Tevis (LB), Ryan Winterswyk (DE), Billy Winn (DT), Titus Young (WR), Austin Pettis (WR), Jeremy Avery (RB), Doug Martin (RB), Kellen Moore (QB)
Top Recruits: Troy Ware (WR), Matt Miller (ATH)
I don't care what conference you play in. If Boise State goes undefeated last season and loses just one starter, Boise State is in the Top 10.
I do have one question, though. How long can they stay on top with a bulls-eye on their back and without compiling deep recruiting classes?
No. 5 (on to the biggest of the bigs): Oregon
Key Losses: T.J. Ward (S), Will Tukuafu (DE), Blake Ferras (DT), Ed Dickson (TE)
Impact Returners: John Boyett (S), Javes Lewis (S), Eddie Pleasant (S), Talmadge Jackson (CB), Spencer Paysinger (LB), Casey Matthews (LB), Kenny Rowe (DE), Brandon Blair (DT), Jeff Maehl (WR), LaMichael James (RB), Jeremiah Masoli (QB)
Top Recruits: Lache Seastrunk (RB), Dior Mathis (CB)
This truly is the most dangerous team in the west. Jeremiah Masoli has every tool he needs back at his disposal, including five experienced offensive linemen and a stellar runningback in LaMichael James.
The defense was erratic last season, but the Ducks have only gotten more talented and experienced on that side of the ball. The biggest issue will be filling the vacancies on the front line.
In fact, the only thing going against the Ducks will be a grueling Pac-10 road schedule. That is a big ‘only thing’ though.
No. 4: Texas
Key Losses: Earl Thomas (S), Roddrick Muckelroy (LB), Sergio Kindle (DE), Lamarr Houston (DT), Jordan Shipley (WR), Dan Buckner (WR), Colt McCoy (QB), Adam Ulatoski (OT), Charlie Tanner (OG), Chris Hall (C)
Impact Returners: Blake Gideon (S), Chykie Brown (CB), Aaron Williams (CB), Curtis Brown (CB), Keenan Robinson (LB), Emmanuel Acho (LB), Sam Acho (DE), James Kirkendoll (WR), Tre’ Newton (RB), Cody Johnson (RB)
Top Recruits: Jackson Jeffcoat (DE), Jordan Hicks (LB)
The Longhorns lose plenty of talent this offseason, yet somehow look as if they could make yet another title run.
Because I'm a huge fan of fully-loaded offensive lines, Florida gets the nod over Texas at number three because of the large hole in Texas' front and the fresher face behind center.
If that all gets patched up, then look out, SEC. We could have another tremendous National Championship clash on our hands.
No. 3: Florida
Key Losses: Major Wright (S), Joe Haden (CB), Brandon Spikes (LB), Ryan Stamper (LB), Carlos Dunlap (DE), Jermaine Cunningham (DE), Riley Cooper (WR), Aaron Hernandez (TE), Tim Tebow (QB), Maurkice Pouncey (C), Brandon James (KR/PR)
Impact Returners: Will Hill (S), Janoris Jenkins (CB), A.J. Jones (LB), Brandon Hicks (LB), Jaye Howard (DT), Deonte Thompson (WR), Jeffrey Demps (RB)
Top Recruits: Ronald Powell (ATH), Dominique Easley (DT)
The special teams will need revamped and there’s a lot of experience gone. The nation’s best recruiting class will be the biggest key to keeping the Gators on top, especially defensively.
The offense will be interesting to see without Tim Tebow at the helm. Quarterback John Brantley will have four starting returners on the line and a stash of good backs to make his transition easier.
I'm not sure where this team is ranked without what is arguably the most stellar single recruiting class... ever.
No. 2: Ohio State
Key Losses: Kurt Coleman (S), Anderson Russell (S), Austin Spitler (LB), Thad Gibson (DE), Doug Worthington (DT), Ray Small (WR), Jim Cordle (OT)
Impact Returners: Jermale Hines (S), Chimdi Chekwa (CB), Devon Torrence (CB), Ross Homan (LB), Brian Rolle (LB), Cameron Heyward (DE), DeVier Posey (WR), Dane Sanzenbacher (WR), Brandon Saine (RB), Dan Herron (RB), Terrelle Pryor (QB)
Top Recruits: Roderick Smith (RB), James Louis (WR)
Terrelle Pryor has to take big steps forward or Ohio State will never deserve this ranking. He has good weapons all around him, a good line in front of him, and a good coach behind him. It’s time to maximize on that potential.
The defense has a few vacancies, but a combination of solid depth and a quality recruiting class should mend those wounds.
The Buckeyes are my number one team mostly because this group is loaded with hungry veterans coming off a Rose Bowl season. I think this is the year Ohio State returns to the top.
No. 1: Alabama
Key Losses: Justin Woodall (S), Javier Arenas (CB), Eryk Anders (LB), Cory Reamer (LB), Rolando McClain (LB), Brandon Deadrick (DE), Lorenzo Washington (DE), Terrence Cody (NT), Colin Peek (TE), Drew Davis (OT), Mike Johnson (OG)
Impact Returners: Mark Barron (S), Nico Johnson (LB), Julio Jones (WR), Marquis Maze (WR), Mark Ingram (RB), Trent Richardson (RB), Greg McElroy (QB)
Top Recruits: DeMarcus Milliner (CB), Phillip Sims (QB)
Both this year’s and last year’s stellar recruiting classes will have to step up in a big way to fill so many vacancies on defense and special teams. Nick Saban is the perfect guy to make it all happen.
The offense returns eight starters including Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Finding Julio Jones a little more often would keep defenses more honest and make Ingram's life a little easier. Other than that, there's absolutely no concerns here.
The biggest reason they get to be number one is that little bit of a National Championship they won last season. There’s a lot of talent gone from that squad, but because there are no clear-cut favorites, I’ll give the champs the benefit of the doubt.