Update 07/018/08: here is the links to parts 2, 3 and 4:
I hope everybody had a great Fourth of July. I set off colorful explosives just as our founders intended. I am going to release my preseason ranking today for my top five teams. I will publish the rest of my Top 25 sometime in the next week
Preseason rankings, as a general rule, are more important than some fans give them credit for. While any team can climb high and low after the rankings are established, most teams are able to play their way into (or out of) any bowl throughout the course of the season.
However, if there are more than two undefeated teams come bowl selection in December, where they placed on the AP list at the beginning of the year matters (see Auburn 2004).
I have picked these teams based on, first and foremost, how strong I think the team is and in a distant second, whether I think they will or will not beat the teams they are facing.
I think anyone who makes rankings looks at what others have done.
I did not copy any sets of rankings, in fact, I included rankings from Athlon, Phil Steele, Stewart Mandel (Sports Illustrated), and Mark Schlabach (ESPN), to show you what they thought.
I made my own decisions, agreeing with some and not with others.
Stewart Mandel’s rankings are current as of May 1 and Mark Schlabach’s are current as of Jun. 25. I do not think either has produced a more recent version.
Without further ado, the first annual Colin Clark preseason rankings:
1. Ohio State (Athlon No. 2, Phil Steele No. 2, SI No. 2, ESPN No. 2)
Overview: Face it, no one actually wants to see these guys in the chase for the crystal football again.
However, they have the best team by a close margin. They have three Heisman candidates—RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, LB James Laurinaitis, and QB Todd Boeckman.
While the Heisman probably will not go to a defensive player (the last one was Charles Woodson from Michigan in 1997, the last one before that was Leon Hart from Notre Dame in 1949) Laurinaitis is probably the best linebacker in the nation.
Ohio State has all the pieces from last year (10 returning on offense, nine on defense) minus Vernon Gholston, the lone OSU player to go early to the NFL.
Opponents: In their favor is a relatively easy slate this year, besides a date with USC on September 13.
I also think they are a hungrier team than this year’s Pete Carroll incarnation and will win convincingly. Their game at Wisconsin provides a great upset opportunity for the Badgers. Finally, look forward to another unhappy Thanksgiving in Ann Arbor.
(Prediction: 12-0, Big Ten Crown, BCS National Title Game—Believe it)
2. Georgia (Athlon No. 5, Phil Steele No. 9, SI No. 1, ESPN No. 1)
Overview: Even though other writers may disagree, this was an easy pick for me. This team significantly heated up over the course of last year and looked like it deserved to be in the SEC championship game even though Tennessee beat them.
They won their last six games last year straight and by no less then ten points. These wins included four ranked teams. Their dominating victory over the (Rainbow) Warriors of Hawaii last January convinced many that they deserved a shot over LSU in the BCS championship game.
While I personally thought that that was a stretch, they looked solid. They return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, as well as the vast majority of their play makers .
Look to Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford to lead the Bulldogs to the Promised Land.
The receiving unit looked like the weakest link last year (lots of drops early on in the season), Mohamed Massaquoi (who himself had only one drop all season) will lead this receiving unit that returns few starters and could make or break an otherwise impressively strong team.
Opponents: I don’t know if you heard, but Georgia has a tough schedule. Like Tennessee’s 1998 championship squad and LSU’s 2007 team, a tough schedule will make voters more forgiving and will harden a team and will help them play better in tough situations.
Look forward to a loss at LSU and a win at Florida at this years’ Cocktail Party. While Arizona State will play tough and try to steal a win from Georgia, I don’t think it will happen.
I also predict they will go to Atlanta and win the SEC this year and land a berth in this year’s championship game against Ohio State.
(Prediction: 12-1, SEC Crown, BCS National Title Game)
3. Oklahoma (Athlon No. 3, Phil Steele No. 3, SI No. 6, ESPN No. 3)
Overview: This is a tough looking team. First off, Sam Bradford was the most efficient passer in the game last year as a first-time starter. They return three of four defensive linemen, including the best two DTs in the game, DeMarcus Granger and Gerald McCoy.
In total, they return eight starters on offense and five on defense. Last year was another example of a tradition that has started in Norman: win 10 or 11 games and choke in January (they have lost four of five, the lone win being the only non-BCS appearance).
I feel the chip on the shoulder of this team gets bigger every year. Bob Stoops, who seems to have become underrated nationally as a coach, is excellent at player development and will finally bring home a large trophy.
Opponents: The Big 12 is easily the second-best conference this year. What may keep the Sooners from another BCS berth is a hiccup against Kansas, Texas Tech, or Texas.
While the schedule favors the Sooners (the aforementioned teams play them in Norman) my hunch says that the Red Raiders will stun the Sooners.
The conference strength of the SEC will probably keep a Big 12 team out of the championship game if an SEC team is No. 2 and a Big 12 team is No. 3 and they have the same record. Sorry, Big 12.
(Prediction: 12-1, Big Twelve Champ, Fiesta Bowl Berth)
4. USC (Athlon No. 4, Phil Steele No. 4, SI No. 3, ESPN No. 4)
Overview: Pete Carroll has a recruiting stranglehold in California. Not only has he already got the best QB for next year, Matt Barkley of Mater Dei in Santa Anna, California, that player may well be crowned the top recruit of the 2009 class.
However, herein lies the problem with USC. They are three-deep at every position of kids who would start anywhere else. What kind of team does that create?
Think of our past Dream Teams at the Olympics (Basketball, yes I know, just follow along for a minute). They always seem to be the most talented squad on the floor, but they either win the gold or go home based on how well they play as a team.
The first two Dream teams played well together, the second two… not so much. I feel like this team will not play well enough together to win it all. Will I be surprised if they do? Not in the least.
There is no reason to go through their lineup. They are deep. Trust me.
Opponents: More like opponent. Ohio State. September 13. The media says that the winner of this game is going to be in the National Championship game. And I think they are right.
Besides this gargantuan game, if they hold together, I think they could run the table. Visits to Virgina and UCLA and hosting Oregon, Cal and Arizona State could provide upset potential.
In my heart of hearts (I will be rooting for them over Ohio State) I think Ohio State will win, even though they are playing at the Coliseum.
Both teams have fantastic talent, but I think Ohio State is a more cohesive team and wants the win more. They have more to prove.
(Prediction: 11-1, Pac-10 Champ, Rose Parade Berth)
5. Texas Tech (Athlon No. 18, Phil Steele No. 11, SI No. 8, ESPN No. 8)
Overview: If Texas Tech is ever going to go to a BCS Bowl, this is their year and they know it. Graham Harrell is a legitimate contender for the Heisman and is the best pocket passer in the country, whether that is because the Texas Tech system makes it so irrelevant until NFL draft day or not.
Michael Crabtree, another (sophomore) Heisman candidate, will also lead the Red Raiders catching passes. They return ten starters on offense (ranked No. 2 overall in the country last year) and eight on defense.
Will their defense hold up? I think so. Texas Tech quietly led the Big 12 in defense over their last eight games last year after the debacle at Oklahoma State. They also showed poise in the Gator Bowl by coming back late and beating the best Virginia team of the last few years.
Opponents: This is where the Red Raiders have the opportunity to do very well. They have a cupcake September schedule—E. Washington, at Nevada, SMU and UMass—and they pull Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor at home.
I still think they will lose to Oklahoma. Their road visits include Kansas State, (a not very good) Texas A&M, and Kansas. I think they will beat Kansas, mostly because I believe that Kansas will not score enough points to win.
Look for Texas Tech to attack Kansas corner Kendrick Harper and free safety Justin Thornton, who will probably not live up to their predecessors. Could this game go the other way? Sure. But the smart money is on Texas Tech.
(Prediction: 11-1, BCS at large berth)
Next: My picks No. 6 through No. 10