Preston's 2010 Top 30 College Football Teams: Because 25 Wasn't Enough
I don't know about you guys, but I'm more excited than in previous seasons to see how this season will play out. With big names like Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Tony Pike, Pete Carroll, Bobby Bowden, Daryl Clark, and Ndamukong Suh gone to bigger and better places, the college football landscape has changed and we're seeing new blood enter into the country's TVs.
So push Tebow, McCoy, and Suh out of your mind and get ready to start talking about Kellen Moore, Terrelle Pryor, Landry Jones, Jacory Harris, John Clay, Robert Quinn, and Adrian Clayborn.
Man, I love college football.
Honorable Mentions: Because Even 30 Wasn't Enough...
35. Connecticut Huskies - Randy Edsall has done a great job of turning the Huskies into a decent program, and with senior quarterback Zach Frazer at the helm, the Huskies have a chance to make some waves; if not for the brutal schedule. They have to travel to Michigan, Temple, Rutgers, Louisville, and South Florida, and get to host West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.
34. Utah Utes - The Utes lose a lot of talent on defense and offense, but are always a real well coached team, and sophomore QB Jordan Wynn looks to take his game to yet another level.
33. Texas A&M Aggies - Senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson looks to show he's one of the best in the business as he and the Aggies will rely on their nine returning starters on defense, including immense rush linebacker Von Miller.
32. Georgia Bulldogs - The Bulldogs return only three starters on defense, and are trying to transition to a 3-4. Quarterback Logan Gray will inherit an offense with plenty of weapons but an unsure running game.
31. Auburn Tigers - The Tigers lose a couple of starters, but for the most part return the major pieces of last year's Outback Bowl-winning squad. Then throw in a fantastic recruiting class. They could surprise a few people by making some noise in the SEC.
30. Cincinnati Bearcats
With Brian Kelly, Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard, and a decent amount of their front seven leaping to bigger and potentially better situations, the Bearcats have plenty of holes. The quarterback and head coach should be fine with Zach Collaros having played fantastically in his time last season, and Butch Jones coming in from Central Michigan.
However, with an all ready porous defense, the Bearcats will have to work hard to try and shore up their holes.
29. Florida State Seminoles
In the first season post-Bobby Bowden, Seminoles fans have reason for optimism. While no one's expecting a 12-0 season, the Noles come into the season off a very strong recruiting class, and return senior quarterback Christian Ponder.
Not to mention, disregarding their trips to Oklahoma and Miami, Florida State hosts their toughest opponents. They get Brigham Young, Boston College, North Carolina, and Florida at Doak Campbell Stadium.
28. South Carolina Gamecocks
With the SEC East likely heading into a down year (Florida and Georgia aren't going to be as dominant as they have been in the past years), South Carolina returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense, hopefully getting over the hump of 7-8 wins a season, and hopefully contend for the SEC East crown.
With an established coach and an experienced quarterback in Stephen Garcia that's looking to take the next step, the Gamecocks schedule is relatively favorable. They get most of their toughest SEC opponents at home (Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas), only having three tough road games this season, being at Florida, at Clemson, and at Auburn.
27. Washington Huskies
Already being christened the number one overall pick in 2011, Jake Locker is carrying the once 0-12 Huskies on his shoulders. Upon Steve Sarkisian bringing the pro-style offense to Washington, Locker flourished and the Huskies improved by five games. In a truly wide-open Pac-10, Locker has the Huskies being mentioned in the same breath as USC and Oregon.
If not for a brutal stretch in October/November (vs. Oregon State, @ Arizona, vs. Stanford, @ Oregon, vs. UCLA, @ California) the Huskies might be Pac-10 favorites. Don't be shocked if you see them in a lower-level bowl game though.
26. Arizona Wildcats
Mike Stoops name has been floated around for numerous head coaching vacancies, and why not? He's turned a pretty nondescript Wildcats program into a contender in the Pac-10. With quarterback Nick Foles headlining the eight returning starters on offense, Stoops' program might finally find major success.
However, one of the biggest concerns is the defense. Only returning four starters to a unit that already had issues last year, the Wildcats will need to pull their defense together quickly if they want to compete in the Pac-10 conference.
25. Houston Cougars
After making national waves last year, the Cougars are back and better then ever. With one more year of experience under their belts, Heisman hopeful Case Keenum and his trio of All-Conference USA receivers, Patrick Edwards, Tyron Carrier, and James Cleveland, the team can score on any defense at will.
As we saw late in last season however, their defense needs help, especially after losing two key components in the secondary. If Kevin Sumlin can improve the defense, the Cougars favorable schedule (toughest games will be @UCLA, @SMU, which is sure to be a shootout, and @Texas Tech; all three are tough but winnable games) should allow them to potentially sneak into a BCS Bowl.
24. Missouri Tigers
With junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert in his second year starting, hopes are high in Missouri. The offense loses three starters, two of them being the leading wide receivers. But the Tigers have a stud quarterback and a surprisingly stout running game led by senior back Derrick Washington.
But like most teams ranked in this area, the Tigers have some concerns about their defense. Their secondary has consistently struggled, but the defense might get some help this year from redshirt sophomore Aldon Smith, who last year broke Missouri's single season sack record as a redshirt freshman.
23. West Virginia Mountaineers
While the aerial attack will likely struggle with the Mountaineers having to break in sophomore quarterback Geno Smith and a new batch of wide receivers, West Virginia's ground attack could be one of the nation's best. Noel Devine is the big name who can take it to the house at any time, but they have capable backups behind him as well.
The defense boasts some stars as well; they bring back four All-Big East players, with the chance to add more to that list as well. The secondary will be a concern though, as both starting safeties are gone.
22. Oregon State Beavers
Introducing a sophomore quarterback into your offense isn't as daunting a task when you have two of the most exciting and explosive playmakers on your offense. The Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz, the running back pictured, and James, the wide receiver, are small but tough.
The Beavers have been in the running for the Pac-10 late in the season every year, but is this finally the time that they move into the next tier? With James Rodgers a senior and Jacquizz a junior, it better be, or Oregon State will have lost a prime opportunity.
21. Louisiana State Tigers
The Tigers return a staggering total of four starters on offense and five on defense. How can they be ranked this high if they weren't even that great with all those players on the team? Chalk it up to their recruiting class; one of the best in the nation. The Tigers are looking to reload, not rebuild.
The offense was putrid last year, and losing wide receiver Brandon LaFell won't help. However, Terrance Toliver returns and could be even better this year. The defense is expected to be one of the best, with lockdown corner Patrick Peterson in his junior season.
20. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
I'm a bit skeptical of how Georgia Tech will respond to losing their two biggest stars on offense in Jon Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas, but there is hope from the return of Josh Nesbitt, Anthony Allen, and Roddy Jones, and their knowledge of Paul Johnson's triple-option offense to perfection.
Last year's Yellow Jackets had major struggles on defense, and without Dwyer and Thomas, they're likely struggle to keep up with some opponents. However, yet another ACC Championship is not at all out of the question.
19. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions know that to win in the Big Ten, they'll have to run the ball down the other teams throat and play fantastic defense. Luckily, they're well equipped to do so. Heisman candidate Evan Royster leads the charge at running back, and despite losing a lot of talent to the NFL, this is Penn State. They'll have no trouble reloading.
The trickiest part will be overcoming the schedule, in which they have to travel to Tuscaloosa to play the defending champion Crimson Tide, and make in-conference road trips to Ohio State and Iowa. Ouch.
18. Stanford Cardinal
Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the college football spectrum, and for good reason. He turned around a terrible Stanford program into a respectable one, and after breaking out last year, many are expecting big things from the Cardinal this year.
Could those expectations be what kills the Cardinal? Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart is now running for the Vikings, and the offense will have to be carried by redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck and senior wide receiver Ryan Whalen. The defense lost major portions of the secondary, linebacking corps, and defensive line.
However, if Luck takes the next step that he's expected to, Stanford could find themselves in the Rose Bowl for the first time when they lost 17-9 to Wisconsin in 2000.
17. Arkansas Razorbacks
Call Bobby Petrino a scumbag. Call him the biggest douche-bag in sports. Call him what you will, but there's no denying that he's established a decent program at Arkansas. With Alabama's defense losing a lot of key pieces and Arkansas offense returning almost all of it's starters, the Razorbacks have a chance to make some waves in the SEC West.
The defense has always been an issue, and as they only return six starters, they'll need to get better fast. But if the defense can hold teams under 30 points, the Razorbacks should find themselves in the thick of the SEC championship chase.
16. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh came ridiculously close to winning the Big East, but much of the core of that team is gone. They return only 11 starters, and will have to break in a new quarterback, two starting corners, and the entire middle of their defense (both defensive tackles and middle linebacker).
However, the Panthers return the most important parts of their team. Dion Lewis enters the season as a front runner for the Heisman in just his sophomore season. Jonathan Baldwin will provide Tino Sunseri with a 6'6" No. 1 receiver. Jason Pinkston is one of the best left tackles in college football. Greg Romeus is one of the top pass rushers in the country. The Panthers are stacked with stars on both sides of the ball, and look to take over the Big East this season.
15. Southern California Trojans
Trojan fans might be uncomfortable with seeing their team not ranked in the top five in the preseason, but the truth is this USC team is experiencing a lot of turnover, first and foremost losing longtime head coach Pete Carroll. New coach Lane Kiffin brings his father Monte Kiffin, one of the best defensive coordinators at any level, and he'll need to make an impact quickly as the Trojans lose their entire starting secondary.
Kiffin, on the other hand, will have to get this offense on the right track. Matt Barkley showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, but will be smart with the football and avoid turnovers, which will be tough considering center Kristofer O'Dowd is the only returning member of the offensive line, and star receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy are now gone.
The Trojans have a lot of work to do, but knowing how well they stockpile talent, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll be able to replace the starters they lost.
14. North Carolina Tarheels
The Tarheels are entering the season with loads of hype, mainly because of their defense. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, free safety Deunta Williams, defensive end Robert Quinn, cornerback Kendric Burney, and linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant look to be first or second-round picks come next April, and they lose only two starters.
However, as dominant as the defense will be, the offense will need a spark. TJ Yates comes into his senior season under immense criticism, and might not even start all 12 games. However, wide receiver Greg Little is a standout and will give whoever starts at quarterback a great receiving option.
13. Wisconsin Badgers
John Clay enters this season on the Heisman shortlist after winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season. With a dominant offensive line in front of him including top 10 NFL Draft prospect Gabe Carimi and top guard prospect John Moffitt, the Badgers ground game will be real tough to stop. However, the Badgers passing game is no slouch. The only losses come from two tight ends, but even so senior Lance Kendricks had an excellent season last year. Scott Tolzien will look to improve upon his great junior season with standout Nick Toon on the outside.
However, the defense will need to rebuild quickly. The defensive line loses two starting tackles and fantastic end O'Brien Schofield. The only returning starter, JJ Watt, is a talented end, but won't be able to do it all by himself. The secondary looks to be solid, and the linebackers are lead by standout Culmer St. Jean.
12. Miami Hurricanes
After making a splash early last season, the Hurricanes faded, but have reason for optimism considering how young they were last year. Quarterback Jacory Harris enters his junior season with Heisman aspirations. However, after losing both offensive tackles and his center, along with their top three tight ends, the Canes will need some help for Harris on offense. Big play running back Graig Cooper's injury is a mystery and he might be back for the season but might have to miss all of it as well.
No matter who steps up on offense, the solid Miami defense will need to play their best early. The Canes have a murderous stretch for games two through four, where they travel to Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Clemson in consecutive games. Once they get past those three games, the schedule is pretty manageable, but boy will they have to play tough to get by those three!
11. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners are losing a boatloads of talent. Chris Brown, Trent Williams, Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Auston English, Keenan Clayton, Ryan Reynolds, Dominique Franks, and Gerald McCoy; all stars, all gone. But with Gresham and Bradford sitting out the season with injury last year, the Sooners got a headstart on the transition and sophomore Landry Jones looks to improve on his freshman season. With all-star Ryan Broyles on the outside and DeMarco Murray in the backfield, the offense looks to be solid.
It's the defense that should cause concerns. They'll be breaking in seven new starters in the offensive powerhouse that is the Big 12. However, the Sooners have a favorable schedule; their toughest games being @ Cincinnati, vs. Texas and @Texas A&M.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers
After coming one second away from knocking Texas out of the National Championship and putting themselves in a BCS bowl, the Cornhuskers are back and arguably even better. The defense loses their fantastic defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and their great safeties Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon, but defensive tackle Jared Crick is no pushover, and cornerback Prince Amukamara looks to soften the blow to the secondary.
The offense will be the biggest question. They return 10 starters, but this is an offense that really struggled. Is returning so many of the same players really such a good thing? Roy Helu looks to star at running back behind a powerful offensive line, but quarterback Zac Lee is really a question entering his senior year, and sophomore Cody Green will try and wrangle the starting spot away from him. If the offense can make some strides next year, those no telling how well the Cornhuskers will do.
9. Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes made a splash last year after starting 10-0 and earning an Orange Bowl berth, and look to carry over their smashmouth success into a Rose Bowl bid in 2010. They lose four offensive lineman, but this is Iowa; they will reload. Wide receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt will help quarterback Ricky Stanzi cut down on his interceptions by providing him targets who will go up and get the ball.
On defense, the Hawkeyes lose standout linebackers AJ Edds and Pat Angerer, but the rest of the defense looks to be fantastic. Standout lineman Adrian Clayborn is on the short list for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood are both All-Big Ten standouts.
The Hawkeyes get their toughest in conference opponents (Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State) at home, and should give Ohio State a run for their money for the Big Ten title.
8. Texas Christian Horned Frogs
After making major waves nationally last season, the Horned Frogs of TCU look to build upon last season's Fiesta Bowl appearance. On defense, Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington are gone, along with both starting corners. But free safety Tejay Johnson is a stud waiting to be unleashed on the country. The defensive line won't miss Hughes much because Cory Grant and Wayne Daniels are both standouts.
The offense returns a majority of it's starters, losing only left tackle Marshall Newhouse and running back Joseph Turner. Quarterback Andy Dalton looks to prove he's one of the best in the business.
If the Horned Frogs are in the running for a National Championship bid at the end of the season, their strength of schedule won't be as controversial as last year's; games hosting BYU and @ SMU give them solid in-conference games, and out of conference games against Oregon State and Baylor look to give them solid wins.
7. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks are in disarray right now. With star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suspended for the season and running back LaMichael James suspended for the first game of his sophomore season, the Ducks turned what could've been the best offense in the country into one with major question marks. However, they still return almost every starter from last year's potent offense (only Masoli and tight end Ed Dickson are gone).
They return most of their defense, including standout middle linebacker Casey Matthews, brother of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. The Ducks have high expectations in a weak Pac-10, but the loss of Masoli might be too much to handle.
However, with games @Tennessee, @USC and the Civil War @Oregon State being the only real challenges for this team, odds are they'll be able to find their way into the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row.
6. Virginia Tech Hokies
This is a team that will rely on their offense. Returning only four starters on defense, the Hokies will need to overcome the loss of almost their entire starting secondary and defensive line.
However, the offense is a seasoned and talented unit. Tyrod Taylor enters his senior season with loads of experience as a starter, and sophomore Ryan Williams was a top five running back his freshman year. Not to mention, the guy Williams stepped in for, Darren Evans, is now healthy once again. The Hokies running game will be nigh unstoppable.
The marquee game of the Hokies season will be their matchup with Boise State. Against a top five team, will the Hokies be able to stop the Broncos potent offense? Even if they falter, the rest of the schedule isn't too tough, with games @ North Carolina and @ Miami being the only other real challenges.
5. Florida Gators
Yes, Tim Tebow is gone. Almost the entire receiving corps are gone (Riley Cooper, Brandon James, David Nelson, Aaron Hernandez). Yes, their defense loses Jermaine Cunningham, Major Wright, Joe Haden, Carlos Dunlap, and Brandon Spikes. But they have the No. 1 recruiting class and immense talent on the roster already; they'll be able to reload. John Brantley looks to beat teams through the air, but might have trouble with this inexperienced group of receiver.
The Gators don't have any real challenges outside of a trip to Tuscaloosa against the defending champs. With a soft out-of-conference schedule and a down year in general for the SEC East, the Gators should mark their calendars for a trip to the SEC Championship Game for the third straight year.
4. Texas Longhorns
Much like the Gators, the Longhorns are losing a all-time great quarterback in Colt McCoy, an all-star receiver Jordan Shipley, most of their offensive line, and a lot of defensive talent, especially on the line. But this is Texas; they too will reload.
Wide receivers Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll look to give sophomore Garrett Gilbert reliable targets, and the defens boasts a killer secondary and a line featuring sack artist Sam Acho.
Barring any major upsets, the Longhorns look to be the favorites for the Big 12 title. However, games vs. Oklahoma in Dallas and @ Nebraska look to be tough match-ups that could trip up a Longhorns team that's breaking in a lot of new talent.
3. Boise State Broncos
Everyone's Cinderella for this season, the Broncos are finally in the position to put on the glass slipper and enter the National Championship as a mid-major. With every single starter on offense returning, including Heisman-hopeful Kellen Moore, the Broncos boast a devastating offense that can can beat you through the air with standout receivers Titus Young or Austin Pettis, or on the ground with Jeremy Avery.
The defense loses fantastic corner Kyle Wilson, but that's it. The defense will be yet another strong point for the Broncos.
The Broncos also make a concerned effort to schedule tough opponents. With games vs. Oregon State and Virginia Tech, the Broncos are looking to get by both and make the National Championship, with an easy schedule outside of those two games.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes finally overcame the BCS Bowl slump when they defeated Oregon last year, and are now ready to get another shot at a National Championship. With quarterback Terrelle Pryor heading into what looks to be a breakout junior season, the offense features multiple facets with a two-headed monster at running back and a solid trio of Devier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher, and Duron Carter at receiver.
The defense loses both starting safeties, but outside of that returns a majority of last year's defense and should have no problem replacing losses along the defensive line.
The key games for the Buckeyes, @Wisconsin and @Iowa, are some of the most eagerly awaited match-ups in the country, and considering that both occur in the second half of the season, losing one would mean missing out on a potential Rose Bowl or National Championship berth.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
After relying mostly on their defense to win the National Championship last year, the Crimson Tide will now have to rely on their offense if they want to repeat. But they can; returning senior Greg McElroy looks to finish his career undefeated as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback by to targets like Julio Jones and Marquis Maze, and Heisman winner Mark Ingram and immense sophomore Trent Richardson look to punish opponents on the ground.
The defense returns only three starters; both starting safeties and linebacker Donta Hightower, but defensive end Marcel Dareus and the rest of the defensive line saw rotational time last season. The defense will reload because of their depth.
Games at Arkansas, @South Carolina, @LSU and vs. Florida seem to be the most likely places where the Crimson Tide could slip up, but all of them are games that the Tide can win and might be favored in. The Tide have enough talent and a favorable enough schedule that, providing they take care of business, they should be able to return to the National Championship.