I love baseball and my Cubbies are rolling but what I really want is 50 degrees, a windchill, the band striking that first note in Ohio Stadium and watching my team charge on to the field ready to do battle. In this spirit I submit to you the readers my own preseason rankings:
1. Oklahoma Sooners
Disappointing BSC bowls is what most college football fans think of when they see these maroon covered warriors but this year the Sooners are perhaps the most balanced team in all of college football. Sam Bradford had one of the best freshman year in the history of the NCAA at QB, setting the freshman TD record and leading the nation in passing efficiency. Bradford is quickly mastering the no huddle offense OU coordinator Kevin Wilson is introducing and there is little doubt their offense will be a powerhouse. Their defense is no far behind lead by nasty rush end Auston English. They are infusing some youth into the linebacker and coverage corps, but the talent and leadership is in place. Their schedule is excellent and their big tests will Kansas and Texas with no major road game expect perhaps @Washington, facing maybe the best QB in the Pac-10. A trip the National Championship game is within their grasp, all they need to reach out and take it.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
Sorry Dwags fans, the only reason your team is here is question marks. Gerogia has an elite football team, no doubts, but how much of the off-season hype is the result of the biggest creampuff BCS game in... well ever. Just about everyone knew Hawaii was not at the same level as any of the other BCS teams but they had to get a shot because they were undefeated. The Bulldogs ate them alive, as they should have, and now are ranked in the top 2 in every list, and for good reason. Their offense is 2nd only to Florida's in the SEC lead by Matthew Stafford, another outstanding young QB. Lining up behind Stafford is perhaps the best RB in college football this season, Knowshon Moreno who racked up 1334 yards and 14 TDs last year. Their defense will rank among USC's and OSU's as one of the toughest, most physical in football. Their schedule is tough and by SEC standards the OOC is brutal, because they will travel out to ASU on Sep 20th. They get Bama and Tenn at home but then must travel to LSU and Auburn at the end of the season. Winning the SEC is as tough as ever, if Gerogia comes out with a ticket to Miami they will undoubtedly be favored to win.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Two outstanding regular seasons have both been blemished with embarrassment and what-could-have-been, but they are back for a third year in a row and undoubtedly a much stronger than the season before. Their offense is centered around Heisman candidate Chris Wells, who is 100% again after a progressive foot injury slow him down at the end of last season. Wells is the real deal and if you have any questions just ask the LSU defense, which is still chasing him. The real question mark for this offense is the passing game. Brain Robiske is legit 1st day draft pick, and is the primary target of QB Todd Boeckman. Boeckman struggled mightily in the 2nd half of the Buckeyes season and much of the Buckeyes loss at LSU can be laid at his feet. The offensive line is the finest in the game and pressuring Boeckman will not be easy. The defense looks to be one of the finest in the nation, full of All-Americans and upper classmen. James Laurinatius has become on of the most dominate MLB in OSU history, which is saying something, and his OLB Marcus Freeman isn't too far behind him. The only major loss for the Buckeyes was Vernon Gholston, and this could be absorbed better than many expected due to Lawrence Wilson being back from injury. Wilson was expected to the be the impact player on the D-Line until he broke his leg in the first game of the season. If the defense can improve their pressure up the middle this will be the best defense in the NCAA. The Buckeyes will be tested early with a trip to LA to play USC in a very anticipated matchup, if they win there is little to stop them from again going to the big game.
4. USC Trojans
Reloaded and ready to make another major run through the PAC-10 and to likely another BCS bid. USC’s offense could struggle a touch this season, it is loaded with talent as usual, but it is lacking experience. Mark Sanchez did a good job as a backup but his recklessness with the ball is something that must be addressed. The fact that he will be playing behind a young O Line and USC actually has the problem of too many talented RB. While a good problem to have if they juggle running backs the offense will have to find a new chemistry every game. With the matchup with the Buckeyes looming in week 2 the pressure is on to figure out their offense they meet that Buckeyes Defense. The upside is that the USC offense will be facing likely the best defense in the country in practice everyday. The USC defense is in a word terrifying, lead by Rey Mauluga who is the ideal 3-4 LB, a freakish blend of size of speed. Sedrick Ellis will be missed and they must replace his presence on the defensive line. USC doesn’t take the easy route in OCC at all, opening the year on the road at Virginia and then hosting Ohio State. And after that the PAC-10 is looking solid but with the talent Pete Carol brings on Saturday it will remain USC’s playground. USC will be a big time contender for the National Championship.
5. Florida Gators
The Gators have one of the finest offenses in football lead by a power running QB who is the premier TD scorer in NCAA history. He is behind an experienced O Line and has one of the most versatile players in the NCAA in the speedster Percy Harvin. TE Cornelius Ingram provides major matchup problems, scoring 7 TDs last season to lead the Gators offense. Their defense needs to find a pass rush in a hurry if they want to compete in the SEC, their defensive tackle situation is not good with two of their most talented kids dealing with academic issues. Brandon Spikes gives the defensive unit an anchor with his 1st Team All-SEC selection at MLB. The secondary is a cobbled together unit coming into the fall, and either the defensive line or secondary needs to step up if the Gators want to win a stacked SEC, even by their standards. Their schedule could be worse traveling to Tenn, Arkansas, Vanderbelt and FSU. Florida plays 9 of their games in the state of Florida and doesn’t leave SEC country once all year. The Georgia game has revenge written all over it after their little celebration year, a must watch game.
6. Missouri Tigers
The most important position in football is the Quarterback, and the Tigers have the best in the country. Chase Daniel is outstanding: quick on his feet, good strong, accurate arm and reads the field possibly better than anyone in the NCAA. The tail back situation is up in the air, but they run a wideopen offense and there will be plenty of room to run. Jeremy Maclin emerged as a playmaker at the end of last season and could explode this season, and Jared Perry looks like a real speedster. Their defense shocked the Big 12 and the majority is returning to the horror of Big 12 North offenses. They come into this season hungry to punish other teams for their BCS snub, they have a tough schedule but they have a strong chance for a BCS bowl game.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
Pat White is eclectic under center and the offense in place at WVU creates huge amounts of space and speedy Noel Devine will thrive. He thrilled in the playing time he got and Moutaineers fans are dying to see him in action. The O Line is very strong and will give White more then enough time and gaps to run. Tito Gonzales showed he could be a big play WR in the Fiesta Bowl and could be the #1 option for White. The defensive situation is a mess; they have four returners, only one in the secondary. Their schedule is rough playing Auburn at home and Louisville and Pitt on the road, they are likely to drop at least 1 game. They should win the Big East and get a BCS bid, but if White gets injured it would disaster.
8. Clemson Tigers
Yeah, I’m shocked too. The Clemson Tigers are very talented at skill positions on offense and they are going to score a lot of points. Seniors James Davis at RB and Cullen Harper at QB combined for 37 TDs last season and look for their output to improve. Ricky Sapp is a pass rush artist who will need to up his run stopping because all three of the Tiger’s LBs graduated and it will be a real soft spot early in the season. While the Tigers are loaded with talent, their recent history leads me to rate their intangibles very low, they always seem to choke on the pressure of a big time regular season games. They will shock me if the finish the year in position for a BCS bid.
9. LSU Tigers
The year of the Tiger continues in the NCAA, and the defending National Champions are facing a potentially hard season. Their offense was unexpectedly decapitated by the departure of Ryan Perrilloux, but don’t write off the Tigers ability to score. They are returning almost all of their Offensive Line, the true heroes of their National Championship that just punished the Buckeye front four opening huge running lanes. There is a wealth of experienced RBs and the starter job is very much in the air. The receiving core is outstanding lead by big time playmaker Brandon LaFell. The defense is something of a work in progress without Doresy’s outstanding pressure up the middle, but the talent and speed is there. They are a contender in the SEC West, but they will likely struggle with the monsters in the Eastern half of the conference.
10. Auburn Tigers
Statistically teams that wear red on their uni win more championships and apparently teams named the Tigers make my Top 10, Auburn being the fourth. But this is far from aesthetic, the Auburn Tigers are well deserving of a top spot. The other major contender in the SEC West they look to host many of their biggest games and as a result look to be on the inside track to a SEC Championship Game slot. Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s 2nd year heralds the spread offense era in Jordan-Hare stadium which got a test drive in their bowl game against Clemson, 423 yards later the Tigers are driving it home. Auburn, as usual, sports a tough physical defense but there is significant youth at DB and DT and their questions must be answered quickly if they want to contend.
11. Texas Longhorns
Mac Brown’s program stumbled last season, dropping three Big 12 games. Colt McCoy struggled through last season, a great deal of which is the result of poor offensive line play, resulting in 25 sacks. McCoy spent the summer in the weight room and the line has been improved. As a result McCoy should be closer to his 2006 form than last season. The defense looks to be the best in the Big 12, the linebackers are outstandingly talented and the secondary is solid. This teams season will be determined by the productiveness of their run game and the young WRs stepping up.
12. AZU Sundevils
The Sundevils are returning a very exciting offense with the most veteran QB in the conference, which is always a plus. Rudy Carpenter lead an outstanding passing offense working with a set of 4 WRs, Chris McGaha an excellent route runner with good hands, speedy Michael Jones, slot man Kyle Williams and Kerry Taylor. The offensive line play and running attack were very poor and must be improved if they wish to contend with USC. On defense the Sundevils are surprisingly game with a pair of rush ends Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez combining 15 sacks and 25 TFL, giving AZU that all important pass rush in the PAC-10.
13. Kansas Jayhawks
Everyone heard of Todd Reesing, the little QB that could, from Kansas and his outstanding offense last season, but Kansas base of success last season was their defense. They had the 4th best scoring defense in the NCAA, which is what defense is all about keeping points off the board. They are returning much of their defense, but their offense is going to take a step back. Don’t expect another 12-1 season, but expect to see them playing late December again.
14. Wisconsin Badgers
Defense is the name of the game for the Badgers, they are returning a fine defense that will be rough on the Big-10 offenses. Their defense is heavy with upper-classmen and it will be a very tough defensive front to face. On offense the Badgers are wondering which PJ Hill will arrive in the fall, the freshman that terrorized defenses or the oft injured back with almost no power. They get Ohio State in their house, but even its sandwiched between @Michigan and Penn State, which makes this three game stretch make or break for the Badger’s Big 10 title dreams.
BYU’s raw numbers from last season are very impressive sporting a top 25 offense and defense and a rematch bowl victory over UCLA to finish their season. Some media outlets are very high on BYU but the fact that they are in the Mountain West hurts their stock a lot. Max Hall is a very impressive QB who originally committed to AZU and in pure numbers he was the most productive QB in the country last year. Havery Unga is an outstanding young RB for them and should be very tough for Mt West defenses to stop. Their defense is tops in their conference as well and unlike Hawaii last year we will get a good solid look at BYU when they play @Washington and UCLA back-to-back. This team will dominate their conference and could make some noise in an early bowl game.
The rest of my 25 looks like this:
16. Texas Tech Red Raiders
17. Virginia Tech Hokies
18. Illinois Illini
19. Tennessee Vols
20. South Florida Bulls
21. Wake Forrest
22. Alabama Crimson Tide
23. Oregon Ducks
25. Washington Huskies
It looks like an absolutely outstanding year for NCAA football with a wealth of stacked teams ready for a title run! Now have fun, and be civil