Can you smell that? A hint of cut grass, a waft of Gatorade, the sweet aroma of optimism? It's that time of the year: The time when everyone's undefeated, no one's on the injured list, and the possibilities for the upcoming college football season are endless (unless you're USC).
With that, here are my top five surprise teams in 2010:
5. Arizona State
Before you call me the ultimate of all optimists (not to mention a homer), hear me out.
The last two years in Tempe have been an embarrassment, to be sure. Injuries and inconsistencies from the O-line, QB, TE, and RB positions placed the Sun Devils ninth in offensive production in the Pac-10 for the past two seasons.
But conversely, ASU's defense has been rock-solid, ranked No. 2 both years. The common refrain is if they can find just 20 percent more offensive production, and not leave the D on the field too long and in bad positions, it's worth four more wins in 2010.
Cameron Marshall looks like a lock at the RB position but he's likely to share some time with former walk-on James Morrison.
The QB battle is on between sophomore Brock Osweiler and Michigan transfer Steven Threet. This one may not be settled until August, but either is an upgrade over Danny Sullivan.
While the O-line is still unsettled, new OC Noel Mazzone plans for a wide-open spread attack that should limit sacks and get the ball out quickly to WRs Gerrell Robinson, Kerry Taylor, JC transfer George Bell, and slot-receiver Jamaal Miles.
Defensively, ASU sports the conference's best linebacking trio and the D-line is stout and deep. CB Omar Bolden was granted a medical redshirt year from 2009, so he's back along with S Clint Floyd.
The Devils do travel to USC and Cal, two places where they've had little success in the past decade. They go to Wisconsin too, but start with lightweights Portland St. and Northern Arizona at home.
The Razorbacks return the most starters in the SEC with 18, including nine on offense with the surprising return of QB Ryan Mallett and TE DJ Williams. Both WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright also return, so Mallett's got weapons.
They don't play Florida, and get Alabama and LSU at home. Their toughest road games are at Georgia and Texas A&M on a neutral site in October. Out of conference home games include ULM, Tennessee Tech, and UTEP, so it's not hard to imagine the possibilities in the SEC West.
The Huskies improved from zero wins in 2008 to five in 2009, and got a gift when stud QB Jake Locker decided to spurn the NFL for one more year to helm the UDub offense.
Washington returns a whopping 20 starters including nine on offense!
The schedule is tough, with roadies to BYU, USC, Cal, and Oregon, so improvement in the W column won't be easy. Still, I like HC Steve Sarkisian, who's recruited well, and with Locker leading the way, the Huskies are poised for another season of improvement.
Don't laugh, the Orange return 20 starters from last year's 4-8 squad, including 10 on defense.
The Big East is just so-so and schedule-wise, favorable for them to improve dramatically. Toughest roadies are at the aforementioned Washington and West Virginia. They get Louisville, Pitt, and UConn at home and play lightweights Maine and Colgate in the Carrier Dome.
Prediction: 7-5 and a bowl!
1. Texas A&M
HC Mike Sherman has quietly had three top 10 recruiting classes in a row at College Station, stockpiling not only UT leftovers, but high-quality recruits from across the state.
QB Jerrod Johnson (pictured) is the Big 12's best returning QB. Johnson, who completed 60 percent of his passes for nearly 3,600 yds and 30 TDs last season gets a ton of help with the return of RBs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, QB-turned-WR Ryan Tannehill, and the electrifying Uzoma Nwachukwu who averaged 18 yds a grab.
The Aggies play just four road games, getting Oklahoma and Nebraska at home, with their final regular-season game in Austin against the Longhorns on November 25th.
That game will probably determine the Big 12 South winner. Remember: A&M gave UT all they could handle last year in a breakout game for Johnson.
What's your surprise team for 2010?
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