Welcome to Part 2 of my five-part series unveiling my preseason top 25 - check out Part 1 here and check out Part 3 here:
Here is Part 4:
Today I will write about my picks from No. 6 through No. 10. Here we go:
6. LSU (Athlon No. 9, Phil Steele No. 13, SI No. 5, ESPN No. 12)
Overview: Just so you know, I am going to LSU and I am a fan. However, I do not think I am overrating my Tigers. Les Miles and his pair of large, crystal footballs below his belt returns as one of the best (or luckiest) coaches in the game.
Also, LSU returns one of the best defensive lines in the country this year, including the best pair of defensive ends in the game, Kirston Pittman and Tyson Jackson. Filling in for Glenn Dorsey is the National Title Game MVP, Ricky Jean-Francois.
While there were heavy losses in the secondary from last year, LSU defensive backs have been fantastic over the years. Whether the young LSU secondary can step up over this season will determine the defensive fate of the Tigers. LSU will be able to shut down most teams’ running games with their defensive line and standout middle linebacker Darry Beckwith.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ciron Black anchors an impressive offensive line that will be able to relieve the LSU quarterback from constant pocket pressure. Both offensive and defensive lines were ranked No. 2 in the country by Athlon.
The quarterback situation is shaky. The problematic and oft-suspended Ryan Perrilloux was kicked off the team this spring, which will benefit the Tigers in the long run.
However, who will be under center come August 30? Freshman Jarrett Lee or Harvard transfer junior Andrew Hatch will have three cupcake games to begin the season to prove himself able to lead the Tigers.
Fortunately there are many weapons at their disposal, namely running back Keiland Williams and receivers Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell. Trindon Holliday, track star extraordinaire, fell just short of representing our country in the Olympics. He is Les Miles' secret weapon on offense and a great kick returner.
The number of returning starters on a unit can be deceptive. The defensive unit only “returns” four and the offensive unit “returns” five. However, injuries, suspensions, and a number of other circumstances led to a bench that got a huge amount of playing time on both sides of the ball. Ricky Jean-Francois and Keiland Williams are good examples.
Opponents: Whether LSU can solve their problems at quarterback and in the defensive secondary will decide whether or not they can defeat Auburn on September 20.
I believe the winner of this game will earn a trip to Atlanta in December. The Auburn/LSU matchup has been thrilling the past few years and will have immense SEC implications, as it is beginning to have every year.
The other two big games on the slate are a trip to Florida on October 11 and a visit from Georgia on October 25. LSU could quickly become a national title favorite if they can pull off wins in all three games.
Do I think the Tigers can do it? Maybe. I think they will drop one of the three games mentioned above.
My prediction is that they will lose to Florida, win the SEC West title, and lose to Georgia in Atlanta (after beating them in the regular season). But hey, you never know—they might win it all again.
Prediction: 11-2, SEC West Champs, Sugar Bowl Berth
7. West Virginia (Athlon No. 7, Phil Steele No. 6, SI No. 14, ESPN No. 7)
Overview: Now that the whole Rich Rodriguez thing has finally died down, for the most part, Mountaineer fans can concentrate on what should be an exciting year. As much as I like the Mountaineers, though, I think they will lose a game or two that they should win.
Bill Stewart led VMI to a career 8-25 record and was kicked off the team for using a racial slur. While I do think the guy is talented, I do not think he will be able to lead this team as effectively as Rich Rod. I think he will make costly decisions that will negatively affect his talented team.
However, the talent level in Morgantown is extremely high. Pat White leads an offensive unit that returns nine starters, and he already has his Heisman website up and running. He is my favorite to win it this year, provided Stewart does not give Noel Devine too many carries and steal the spotlight.
West Virginia has one of the best offensive lines in the nation, which will make the Mountaineers offense extremely powerful. The weak link on offense is the receiving corps, which may have a bad day and cost WVU a ballgame.
Defensively, the Mountaineers return four starters. Two of those returning, linebackers Reed Williams and Mortty Ivy, had the first and second-most tackles last year. The defensive line will also be decent thanks to a transfer or two.
The big question mark is a secondary that returns one starter. A talented receiving corps may be able to throw defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel into fits.
Opponents: Like I said before, this is a team that will lose a game that it should not because of mental mistakes and blown coverages. Will it be in Morgantown against Rutgers on October 4? Or against a UConn team that shared the Big East title last year on November 1? Time will tell, but it will happen.
WVU’s big non-conference game against Auburn in Morgantown on a Thursday will be watched by every hardened college football fan in the country. Look for an Auburn spread offense that will confuse this young defense and convincingly win in a high-scoring matchup.
West Virginia, however, will pull themselves together at the end of the season and not only beat Pitt in the Backyard Brawl (revenge from last year) but also knock out USF in Morgantown on December 6 to seal the Big East title. This will not be a pretty year for the Mountaineers, but they will still win a lot of games.
Prediction: 10-2, Big East Title, BCS at Large Berth
8. Missouri (Athlon No. 6, Phil Steele No. 7, SI No. 4, ESPN No. 9)
Overall: Chase Daniel, last year’s 4,000-plus-yards passer with 33 TDs and 11 INTs, becomes the Missouri offense along with WR Jeremy Maclin. Missouri lost RB Tony Temple and looks to three of last year’s second-stringers, including Derrick Washington, to pick up the slack. The offense only returns six starters from last year's squad.
While this may seem daunting, “Daniel to Maclin” will become the mantra that Missouri lives and dies by. Missouri lost two four-year starters on the offensive line, but the three upperclassmen returning should provide an anchor to what should be a stable, strong offense.
Is a predictable offense necessarily a bad one? Tiger fans do not seem to think so, and neither do I. Whether this is a championship-caliber squad is another question entirely.
Defensively, the Tigers return nine starters that did a relatively mediocre job last year (ranked 59th in total defense and 96th in passing defense, both in terms of yards allowed). Unlike Florida, the Missouri defense did improve over the course of the year, but that does not mean that this should become a stalwart unit overnight.
If (and that is a big if) the defense improves, I can see Missouri making a run for a Big 12 championship and a national title.
Opponents: If I were a Missouri fan, I would love this schedule. Of all the years to have Oklahoma and Texas Tech off their Big 12 slate, this would be the one. Additionally, their neutral-site games bookend the season and will make for some fantastic television.
Kicking off the season, Missouri takes on the Fighting Illini of Illinois in St. Louis. While I think Clemson/Alabama is the best game in August, this one has to be a close second, only because of my ACC and SEC allegiances.
While the Illini still have Juice Williams (but no Rashard Mendenhall) and a decent team that took them to the Rose Bowl last year (where they were thrashed), I simply believe that Illinois will be outclassed by a hungry Missouri team.
If (and I think they can) Missouri can take advantage of Juice’s inability to maintain composure in tough situations and force a few interceptions (Juice’s career touchdown to interception ratio is 22 to 21), this game could be over by the start of the fourth quarter.
With the exception of the Ohio State game last year, Juice did not throw more than one touchdown in a game last year without throwing an interception.
While there might be upset potential at Nebraska on October 4 and hosting Oklahoma State on October 11, I believe this Missouri team will be undefeated into their game at Texas on October 18.
Many prognosticators over the years have been made a fool by counting out Texas. I am not one of them. I believe that Texas, coming off their season’s first loss against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl the week prior, will be fired up and beat this very talented Missouri team in Austin.
Missouri will then win the rest of their games, including the Border War in Kansas City. They will win that game even though Kansas is hungry for revenge. Kansas simply does not have the talent this year that Missouri has.
The Big 12 championship will go the way it is supposed to go (Oklahoma will win for the same reason why Kansas will lose to Missouri) and land Missouri as the best team without a BCS bid.
Prediction: 11-2, Big 12 North Title
9. Clemson (Athlon No. 10, Phil Steele No. 5, SI No. 11, ESPN No. 6)
Overall: This looks like a championship team. Offensively, the trio of QB Cullen Harper and RBs James Davis (decided not to go pro) and C.J. Spiller look like the most impressive backfield in the country, bar none.
While losing three starting linemen from an underachieving squad last year looks like a tremendous obstacle, Tommy Bowden has quite a bit of talent in the stable if he can develop it effectively (most notably Chris Hairston). The unit returns seven starters total.
This year’s Clemson defense returns eight starters from a defense that was ranked number nine in the nation. I say this is the best secondary and defensive line in the ACC.
Where the problems crop up is linebacker. Graduations, suspensions, lawbreaking, etc. have whittled the unit down to the likes of redshirt freshman Brandon Maye and sophomore Scotty Cooper. This unit is unproven and decidedly shallow.
If they can solve off-the-field issues, this may be the best defense Clemson has seen in years.
Opponents: The Tigers start off strong in traditional Clemson fashion. They play the Crimson Tide of Alabama in Atlanta on August 30 in the game of the month.
While this may surprise some less educated SEC fans, Alabama’s squad is not as talented as Clemson this year, mostly due to age/big game experience and fewer breakout stars. Tommy Bowden and Clemson are not known for early season meltdowns, and this will be no exception.
I love the ACC (I went to UVA undergrad). Now this may not be breaking news, but the ACC has not been all that great recently. Clemson actually has an easier slate overall than any other team in my top ten.
Also, Clemson is by far the cream of the crop in this year’s ACC and will punish the likes of Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Boston College. Can they beat Wake Forest and Jim Grobe on October 9 in Winston-Salem? Maybe.
Clemson is known for a lot of things: Howard’s Rock, Death Valley (II), bright orange, Tiger in the Tank (greatest drink ever), etc. They are also known for tragic and catastrophic meltdowns later in the season.
If I could predict the weekend where the perpetually ticking time-bomb that is Clemson explodes, I would tell you. But to be honest, I am not sure. It may be Wake Forest, Florida State, South Carolina, or even Virginia (really).
Mark my words—Clemson cannot win the national championship because they have not found a way to finish a season strong since 1982.
While I still think they will get to the Orange Bowl, they have to prove to themselves that they can win consistently before they believe in themselves enough and have the confidence to get to a national title game.
In the end, Tommy Bowden’s coaching job will be saved by an ACC title over Miami.
Prediction: 11-2, ACC Title, Orange Bowl Berth
10. Florida (Athlon No. 1, Phil Steele No. 1, SI No. 7, ESPN No. 5)
Overall: There are always one or two teams that the media hypes beyond the bounds of common sense and decency. This is one of them (Virginia Tech and Penn State are the others).
Did anyone else actually watch the Capital One Bowl? I am not going to believe that the Florida secondary has improved until I actually see it improve.
Tim Tebow, Heisman winner and dual-threat quarterback extraordinaire, returns as the undisputed leader of this team. While he probably will not get another Heisman (that has not been accomplished since Archie Griffin in 1974-1975, and Emmanuel Moody and Percy Harvin will probably have too many carries), he will certainly be a force to reckon with.
If Tim Tebow gets hurt, this team will go the way of Oregon quicker than you can say Dennis Dixon.
Percy Harvin at receiver/offensive weapon and Emmanuel Moody (USC transfer) will give Tebow more options than his one-man offense last year. Last year’s “offense” (give the ball to Tebow) produced enough quarterback carries to lead me to believe that Tebow is tempting fate.
Also, I read at ESPN that Percy Harvin has not been 100 percent since his heel surgery. If Tebow and Harvin can remain healthy this season, they certainly have a shot at the SEC championship.
Florida’s offensive line returns three, including the brother of a returning starter (Maurkice Pouncey moves from guard to center, and his brother Mike will start at guard). The offense, in total, returns seven starters.
Defensively, I have a few problems with Florida being a national championship contender, even though they return eight starters. They lost their two best defensive linemen, Clint McMillan and Derrick Harvey, and will start two sophomores and a junior. Sophomores Carlos Dunlap and Lawrence Marsh were highly recruited, but are yet unproven.
While the secondary returns all but one starter, SS Tony Joiner, their back seven is still young. In fact, they will start one senior in the entire defense (DT Javier Estopinan).
Like I said before, I will not believe the dramatic progress that Phil Steele, Athlon, et al. believe will occur until I see it. The Gators will have to prove me wrong.
Opponents: While Hawaii and Miami will be fun to watch to open up the season, I do not think that they will come close to beating Florida. Hawaii lost almost everything they had going for them, and Miami is still in rebuilding mode (although, if they keep Miami/Florida games coming every year, this will be a marquee game in three or four years).
The Gators' trip to Tennessee on September 20 will be their first big test. Everybody in the SEC knows that the rivalry here is not usually front-page news, but it is certainly fierce. If you have not read the Dixieland Delight by Clay Travis, he gives an excellent synopsis of the rivalry. I suggest you pick up that book. The Florida Tebows will probably give Tennessee a run for their money and come out with a close win.
A visit from LSU on October 11 and the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville with Georgia on November 1 loom large. Simply put, I think Florida may beat LSU but will most likely lose to a more talented (overall) Georgia team.
The other loss I predict on the schedule is a stunner by South Carolina. Steve Spurrier haunts Florida fans and is coaching an up and coming team that will surprise a lot of people this year.
I think Florida will be an injury-riddled team late in the year that will not prove to be quite as deep as some other SEC teams (Georgia and LSU come to mind), and some Spurrier magic will catapult his team to a last-second victory. You heard it here first.
Oh yeah, and they will beat Florida State to cap off a slightly disappointing season for Florida.
Sorry, Gator fans.