College Football: My Preseason Top 25, Part 3

Colin ClarkCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2008

This is Part 3 of my five-part series unveiling my preseason Top 25 teams. 

In other news, I am going to my first Nationals game this weekend.  I hear the new stadium is pretty sweet.


Here are the links for Parts 1, 2 and 4:


Here we go:


11. Auburn (Athlon No. 8, Phil Steele No. 12, SI No. 9, ESPN No. 10)

Overall: Florida and Auburn’s bowl games last year, more than most teams, seem like harbingers of what is to come this season.  Auburn hired Tony Franklin last December, and he installed a spread offense for the Peach Bowl (AKA Chick-fil-A Bowl).

This is the same offense that is the backbone of his consulting business (which earns $150,000-plus a year).  This version of the spread turned Troy’s offense around overnight (109th in the country to 16th in the country in one season) when he was the offensive coordinator there.

While Auburn did not score lots of points against Clemson in the Peach Bowl (they beat Clemson 23-20), it did prove effective enough to win.  Tony Franklin is a proven winner and will make this offense tough to beat.

The spread can take some getting used to, to be sure, and there will be mental mistakes along the way.  While the offense returns a hefty number of starters (eight), I do not think they have the right personnel yet for a championship worthy spread offense.

For example, this year's projected starting offensive line weighs an average of 292 pounds, which is too heavy for the demands of a lighter, quicker spread offense.  While sophomore QB Kodi Burns can run fairly quickly, he threw two interceptions last year (in 26 total attempts).  Both INTs were against Mississippi State in an embarrassing loss.

While Burns may have the talent for the Franklin system, does he have the poise and composure?  Can he throw the ball downfield effectively?  Could junior college transfer Chris Todd be a better fit then Burns?  These are questions that Auburn has left unanswered thus far.

Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, and Tristan Davis will lead a relatively unspectacular but effective running game.

Last year, Auburn was ranked 97th in total offense.  If Auburn can mesh this offense together well, watch out.  However, I suspect that they are a year off before they make a serious run at the SEC Championship.

Paul Rhoads, a decent defensive coordinator who spent the last eight seasons at Pitt, will replace the spectacular Will Muschamp (now at Texas) as the defensive coordinator.  The Tigers have seven starters returning from a unit that was ranked sixth in the nation in total defense last year.

Look for a deep defensive line, despite the fact that two starters are now gone, and watch for impact linebacker Tray Blackmon.  Auburn’s newfangled offense may or may not work, but anyone who knows their football would not bet against this defense.

Opponents: Auburn lost to Mississippi State on the plains last year.  I, for one, do not expect that to happen again when conference play begins for the Tigers on September 13.

Their first true test is on September 20 when LSU comes to town.  Like I wrote before, this is a great rivalry that can be a barn burner at times (it literally was a barn burner in 1996 when “The Barn,” the old Auburn Sports Arena, burned to the ground during the game).

Last year’s contest was epic and ended with a questionable (or courageous, depending on which brand of Tigers you root for) play call that resulted in an LSU touchdown with one second left on the clock.

I expect this year’s match at Jordan-Hare Stadium to be just as close, although I expect LSU to win.  I do not think Auburn will be able to score very many touchdowns against LSU’s tough defense, and Les Miles will have a trick call or two to put Trindon Holliday in the end zone.

I am just hoping I can take Friday classes off in Baton Rouge and score a ticket in Auburn.

Auburn should come off a close loss and beat Tennessee the next week in another tough pick.  The idea of Auburn losing two in a row at home does not seem like the Tigers or Tommy Tuberville.  As I wrote in my West Virginia writeup, I think the Tigers will also beat WVU in Morgantown on October 23.

I feel that as the season progresses, the Tigers will become more accustomed to the new coordinators and offense and will be able to have a few strong late season victories.

Along with the LSU and Tennessee games, I believe their game at Georgia on November 15 will be close.  Auburn has played the spoiler in a number of Georgia’s seasons before.  I do not see it happening this time, but I wouldn't be surprised if they won either.

I would be extremely surprised, though, if Tuberville does not pull out a seventh win over Alabama to close the season (fear the hand, thumb, and index finger?).

Prediction: 10-2


12. Wisconsin (Athlon No. 12, Phil Steele No. 21, SI No. 10, ESPN No. 16)

Overall: I am sure many people in the Badger State and across America’s Dairyland are wondering why the Badgers are not widely in consideration for a championship run.  They have 10 starters on offense and nine starters on defense returning from a decent 9-4 season that included a win over Michigan.

Their offense looks like LSU’s—not a quarterback on the roster with a start for Wisconsin (one of them, Allan Evridge, had six starts with Kansas State in 2005).  Who will lead this offense that boasts a tough and experienced offensive line and three solid running backs?  Evridge might, but as far as I know, that could quickly change.

The Badgers will have to rely on the solid running game of P.J. Hill, Zach Brown and Lance Smith.  While Travis Beckum is the best tight end in the nation, Wisconsin does not have a single marquee wide receiver on the roster.  However, some observers look to this unit to break out in 2008.

On defense, Wisconsin has maybe the second best (Ohio State being No. 1) linebacker corps in the Big 10 and three solid DBs returning.  Oh, and their defensive line has three proven seniors.  What gives?

Well, how about the 15-plus injuries they have had already this year.  I do not think these guys are healthy enough to compete for a BCS Bowl.  I may be wrong.

Opponents: The Badgers have a relatively easy slate with only a few games that should keep them up at nights.  Being 25-1 at Camp Randall since 2004 also helps.

Fresno State could be deceptively good this year, and the Badgers have to go all the way to California to play them.  While I think Wisconsin will win, they cannot overlook the Bulldogs.  I also think Wisconsin will undress Michigan and be the first to show them for the frauds they will be this year (unless Notre Dame does it first).

Ohio State should come to Camp Randall and trounce the Badgers.  However, if they play with a lot of heart (Bret Bielema is a decent motivator), they could pull out an upset.  Just do not bet the aforementioned dairy farm on it.

I also think they will beat Penn State but lose to either Illinois or at Michigan State as the injuries start to rack up.  Stay healthy, Badgers, and you could surprise a lot of people, including me, with a Big 10 crown.

Prediction: 10-2, with a berth to a fifth January bowl in five years (Outback or Capital One)


13. BYU (Athlon No. 14, Phil Steele No. 17, SI No. 17, ESPN No. 13)

Overall: Who will be the BCS buster this year?  While Fresno State and Utah look like good alternatives, my money is on BYU.  BYU won a national championship (not a typo) in 1984, and the school has a history of performing beyond its means.

The Cougars have nine returning on offense, most notably QB Max Hall, who put up some impressive numbers last year (3,848 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs).  WR Austin Collie and TE Dennis Pitta should be catching most of Max’s passes.  Harvey Unga is now on the national scene after having a 1,227-yard rushing season last year, averaging five yards a carry.  BYU also returns four starters on their strong offensive line.

Here is something you should know about BYU.  The vast majority of their players are Mormon, and many go on Church missions while they are at school and do not lose eligibility.  Most missions are two years long.  Thus, BYU consistently has an older, mature team that seems more disciplined then most.

The Cougars have now had two 11-win seasons (including bowls) in a row.  They have three wins and three losses against BCS teams in those two years as well (Arizona, UCLA, Boston College, and Oregon).  This is a high-powered offense and a team that knows how to win.

Defensively, BYU returns three starters.  While that seems like not a lot to work with, I still expect the Cougars to do a decent job.  Two starters are the defensive ends and look to fight their way into the backfield often this year.  Talented defensive ends should not only be able to stop the outside run but also create pocket pressure and force bad passes.  This team will do exactly that.

The defense as a whole is not expected to start a single freshman or sophomore.  While many of these players did not start last year, they have stuck with a program that develops talent well, especially in the secondary.

This is the team to beat in the non-BCS world this year.  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall very rarely gets blown out and will maintain his poise to take this team pretty far this year—I would say all the way to a BCS bowl.

Opponents: During the regular season BYU will play two BCS opponents, both in September and both in the Pac-10.  First, they visit Washington on September 6. The Huskies have been constantly imploding since Rick Neuheisel took the team to a victory at the Rose Bowl in 2001.

While Tyrone Willingham has done yeoman’s service cleaning this program up, his winning percentage has left many Huskies fans calling for his head. Here is the now infamous story about the Huskies’ downfall:

The Huskies have not been the same since then, and BYU has too much talent to lose to Washington.  Look for a convincing win.

The next week, UCLA (and Rick Neuheisel) visits BYU on September 13.  UCLA has gone through coaching changes and only return seven starters.  While Norm Chow may be a great offensive coordinator, his QBs have been injured more often than not since he has been there.  Also, BYU beat UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl last year (after UCLA beat BYU in the regular season).  BYU should beat them in Provo this year.

They play Texas Christian in Fort Worth this year on October 16.  While this game will be closer than many think, I still believe BYU will win this one too.

The Holy War looks to be the best regular season non-BCS game this year.  On November 22, the Cougars will travel to Salt Lake City and take on the Utes of Utah.  Utah matches up well against BYU in what looks to be a close game.  10 of the last 11 in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less.  I think the BYU offense will narrowly outscore the Utes.

Bronco Mendenhall’s “Quest for Perfection” mantra that his team has adopted does not refer to football, but I think they will find it on the field this year.  I think this team will be unbeaten in the regular season, but memories of Hawaii are too fresh to put BYU in the top 10.  However, I do not think voters will keep them out of a BCS bowl.

Prediction: 12-0, BCS At-Large Berth


14. Tennessee (Athlon No. 17, Phil Steele No. 23, SI No. 12, ESPN No. 14)

Overall: Is Jonathan Crompton (498 yards passing, five TDs and four INTs) the next Erik Ainge?  The consensus answer is no.  Crompton sat on the sidelines for three years for a chance to be in the spotlight.  This is his year in the sun.

I do think it will be hard for Crompton, a first-year starter, to live up to a QB who was able to cut his teeth with Rick Clausen for a year or two before starting.  What will give Crompton a chance to exceed expectation is the return of the entire offensive line that gave up four sacks all year on 534 attempts.  Wow.

With enough time to sit in the pocket, I expect Crompton to be able to pick out Gerald Jones and Lucas Taylor.  Arian Foster may also catch a pass or two, but he will mostly be running the ball at tailback this year.  Tennessee will also use a fullback in their offensive set.

This offensive line is the key to creating a formidable offense.  The Vols could surprise a lot of people.  They return eight starters total on an offensive unit that was ranked 54th in total offense last year.

Defensively, the Volunteers also look to be in good shape.  They return six starters, including Demonte’ Bolden and Dan Williams, who are impressive at the DT position.  They also return almost the entire secondary, which was ranked 73rd in pass defense last year.  Look for improvement in this unit.

The linebackers as a whole are undersized, but they still should be able to make a solid impact.  The defense was actually ranked 70th in total defense and 61st in scoring defense.

Is this the defense that stops the likes of Knowshon Moreno, Tim Tebow, and Percy Harvin?  I doubt it.  I think John Chavis and Phil Fulmer are hoping their defense will keep them in the game while they try to outgun the SEC.  This is probably not Tennessee’s year.

Opponents: I have good news and bad news for UT.  While LSU is not on the schedule this year, and they get Florida at Neyland Stadium, they travel to Georgia and Auburn.  They are playing Florida and Georgia when they are both having good years.  It will be crowded atop the SEC East.

Fortunately for my friends in Knoxville, they are masters of their own destiny.  If they can beat Georgia and Florida…well…Fulmer would be a pretty happy guy, and the Vols would probably go to a BCS game.  While I hope they prove me wrong, my good sense tells me that the Volunteers will lose to Florida, Auburn, and Georgia.

However, I believe they will travel to the Rose Bowl and beat UCLA to kick off the season on September 1.  I also think they will have revenge on Alabama for the thrashing they received in Tuscaloosa last year.

After their October 11 game with Georgia, the Vols look to run the table and win their last six games.  Unfortunately, they will probably be out of the race for an SEC title by then.

Prediction: 9-3



15. Kansas (Athlon No. 13, Phil Steele No. 30, SI No. 15, ESPN No. 17)

Overall: Going from 6-6 to 12-1 in one year is fantastic.  Kansas was a great Cinderella story last year, culminating with a big win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.  Mark Mangino proved that he can rebuild a team or two.

I happen to think he will be able to maintain and keep Kansas in the national picture.  On the other hand, Mr. Mangino does not pull a creampuff schedule again.  Additionally, he only returns six starters on offense.

Todd Reesing is one of the best QBs in the country (3,486 yards, 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions) and has a plethora of fantastic no-name running backs, more than enough to replace Brandon McAnderson.

I am worried, as are most of the good people in Lawrence, Kansas, about whether both starting tackles can be replaced effectively, especially left tackle Anthony Collins.  The receiving unit is younger, but they are quality athletes.

Many knock the Big 12 as a whole for its lack of defense.  I think Kansas may be somewhat of an exception.  Even though they did play a soft schedule, they came up fourth in the nation last year in scoring defense and 12th overall.  They return nine defensive starters this year.

While their defense against the pass looked a little suspect last year, I think they may improve to be a Big 12 North contender.  Their defense, however, was not tested last year the way it will be this year.  Missouri was the only powerful offense they faced (any ACC fan will tell you Virginia Tech lives and dies by their defense).

Opponents: An early matchup at South Florida on September 12 will show what Kansas is all about this year.  South Florida is well-known for being all over the place.  Are you going to see the USF that beat Auburn and WVU?  Or the one that lost to Rutgers, UConn, and Cincinnati all in a row?  I think a more durable and consistent Kansas will overtake USF.

Kansas should go unbeaten all the way to Norman on October 18 and then get smacked.  Oklahoma looks better on both offense and defense…and it is in Norman.  There is no way Kansas walks out of there alive.

After they get beaten up by Oklahoma, they have Texas Tech next week, who I think can outscore Kansas.  While late season wins over Kansas State, Nebraska, and Texas will distinguish the season, there is little chance of a BCS repeat.  The Border War is on November 29.  Look for a repeat.

Prediction: 9-3


I am going to be moving to the great state of Louisiana over the next few weeks.  I should have Part 4 done by Tuesday at the latest and will do my best to have Part 5 done by next Friday.


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