Keys To Beating College Football's Top 10 Teams
Since the official preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll is out, I've decided to examine each of the top 10 schools with one goal: finding chinks in their armor.
A simple concept that has taken me a while to complete, my goal is to expose each team's weaknesses, if they have any.
Whether it's a young team, a new quarterback, a weak secondary, or never proving they can throw the ball, I've looked at it from all angles and inside is my list.
So check it out and if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment or add weaknesses you think a school might have.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes
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Throughout the entire 2009 season, the Iowa Hawkeyes had the college football world asking one question: Are these guys for real?
Starting the season 9-0, 5-0 in Big Ten play, Iowa kept reeling off the victories, but in what were more often than not very close ball games.
Finally, Iowa cracked.
Holding the No. 4 spot in the BCS rankings, Northwestern came to Iowa City and pulled the 17-10 upset, forcing the Hawkeyes to have to beat Ohio State the next week (which they didn't) for any hope of the Big Ten title.
And this season won't be much different than last.
Iowa looks strong, but in order to beat it, the key is to keep the game close; half of Iowa's games last season had a margin of victory of six points or less.
Everyone knew Iowa would make a mistake that would end up costing it, it's just a matter of when.
Same song and dance in 2010.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
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I think it's safe to say that the Black Shirt defense is back at Nebraska, thanks to Bo Pelini.
But this year the big question will be: How big a role did Ndamukong Suh play in the Cornhuskers' defense, which ranked first in NCAA FBS with only 10.1 points per game?
Sure, the team was solid in stopping the run, but opposing passing attacks didn't have too much trouble moving the ball downfield, ranking Nebraska's pass defense No. 101 out of 120.
Still, the defense did pick the ball off 20 times last year, led by safety Matt O'Hanlon's six interceptions.
Though he graduated, defensive backs Prince Amukamara and Dejon Gomes both return. The two seniors-to-be combined for nine interceptions last year.
The Cornhuskers bring back their quarterback and running back and are always strong at offensive line.
To beat Nebraska, early scheduled opponents should attempt to find holes in the run game before airing it out, because this 2010 pass defense looks like it could be just as good as the run defense was in 2009.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
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I'm no fan of the Oklahoma Sooners.
I grew up in Tulsa and my friends throughout grade school were split between the Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Both my parents went to Oklahoma State and so did my father's father. Despite my choice to attend college at both the University of Arkansas and Colorado State, I still have some orange in my blood.
That being said, I would not like to be on Oklahoma's schedule this year. If there is one team on this list that could be unbeatable, I would have to hand it to OU.
The Sooners struggled at offensive line last year and the loss of Sam Bradford really hurts, but Landry Jones played phenomenal and looks to keep improving.
Running back DeMarco Murray returns, along with a handful of talented receivers, and should be the feature back in 2010.
If this offense can find a "do-everything" tight end like Jermaine Gresham, watch out.
The key to beating OU will be finding holes in the defensive secondary, seeing if your receivers can beat their cornerbacks and safeties on out routes or over the top.
Don't try too many routes across the middle unless they're quick slants, as the Sooners have some athletic linebackers.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
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Every team in a BCS auto-bid conference wants to silence the Mountain West Conference's idea that it deserves to be recognized among the elite.
But this year, the MWC technically has two schools in the preseason top 10.*
In 2009, the TCU Horned Frogs became the first team in the 11-year history of the MWC to win the conference after being selected as the preseason favorite.
Big surprise, this year TCU is once again the front-runner.
So how do you beat them?
With Heisman-hopeful QB Andy Dalton and one of the most deep and versatile groups of running backs in the country, it's going to be very difficult to stop this offense.
You can't stack the middle or Dalton will throw all over you, including dumping passes to his running backs.
You can't focus too much on pass coverage, because this team ranked fifth in rushing yards per game in 2009.
The Horned Frogs also return a very strong defensive secondary, highlighted by safeties Alex Ibiloye and Tejay Johnson.
However, TCU did lose arguably the best defensive end in the country, Jerry Hughes, and run-stopping linebacker Daryl Washington.
Though this team is generally very good against the run, that could easily be its weak spot in 2010. Just try to avoid Tank Carder.
*The MWC is halfway through a four-year trial period with the BCS. Any successes that Boise State had the past two seasons or has in the next two seasons will count towards the MWC's resume, not the WAC's.
On the other hand, Utah's Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama in 2009 will count toward the Pac-10's resume, as the Utes will leave the MWC prior to the 2012 season.
6. Virginia Tech Hokies
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Virginia Tech has a great running team with a very mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and sophomore tailback Ryan Williams, who ranked fifth nationally in rushing yards last season.
The key to shutting down VT is fairly easy: Make Taylor throw the pigskin.
He has shown in years past that he can be a good passing quarterback, but his role in the Hokies' offense switched a bit last year.
Which will VT focus on in 2010?
That's still up in the air, but I expect the Hokies to focus on the run this year with the talent they have coming back—at least until it stops working.
Until Virginia Tech proves it can, make Taylor throw the ball.
5. Boise State Broncos
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It's hard to find a more balanced team than Boise State.
A year ago, quarterback Kellen Moore led the Broncos to an undefeated season and the nation's No. 29 passing offense.
Not to be outdone, running back Jeremy Avery carried BSU with 1,150 yards and five scores, making the Broncos the No. 25 rushing offense in NCAA FBS.
BSU was college football's highest-scoring team in 2009 and had a very stout defense, allowing just over 17 points per game.
The good news for the Broncos is that they return a lot of talent. Moore and Avery are the key names on offense, but don't overlook a defense that returns its top seven tacklers from a year ago.
This team only lost one starter to graduation, cornerback Kyle Wilson. The best advice I have is throw to his side.
4. Texas Longhorns
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It wasn't too long ago that a young quarterback took over for the Texas Longhorns just one season removed from the BCS Championship Game.
His name was Colt McCoy and he led UT to a 10-3 season as a freshman in 2006 and an Alamo Bowl championship.
Enter Garrett Gilbert.
No, he's no longer a freshman, but a sophomore with extremely limited playing experience, with the exception of the roller coaster that was last season's BCS Championship Game.
Though no one is expecting him to be a Heisman hopeful this year, the pressure is still high in taking over the nation's No. 3 scoring offense from a year ago.
So what's really the key to beating Texas in 2010?
Force Gilbert to become a star. Plain and simple.
Texas runs the spread offense with passing is its key element. They only occasionally go to the run, more often than not with the quarterback, and Gilbert isn't a dual-threat guy.
They have a handful of talented running backs, but none have shown they can be an every-down back.
Either force Gilbert to make plays throwing the football or see if the Longhorns can run. If Texas beats you that way, good for them, but that should increase your chance of winning.
3. Florida Gators
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No college football team has shown it can restock every year quite like the University of Florida. It has done so most successfully at quarterback.
Face it, no matter if you're a casual college football fan or a die-hard tailgater, you always know who Florida's quarterback is.
Tim Tebow, Chris Leak, Doug Johnson, Rex Grossman, Danny Wuerffel ... the list goes on.
Now familiarize yourself with a new name: John Brantley.
No one expects him to be Tebow, but I think Brantley feels he can be just as good, at least throwing the ball.
His combined stats over the past two seasons in a backup role are 635 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, one, interception and a completion percentage just under 70.
So shaking up the new quarterback is not what I think will help you beat Florida.
To me, the key to competing with the Florida Gators is to not allow any big plays while you're on defense.
Sound obvious? Maybe.
But here's why.
Florida ranked No. 10 in scoring offense in 2009, but earned points on just 75 percent of its red zone visits, which ranked the Gators No. 98 in red zone efficiency last season.
Keep the Florida offense at a steady pace, and you might be able to get out of "The Swamp" alive.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
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Ohio State, the king of crumble after hype.
Are they a good team? Absolutely.
Do they deserve to be ranked No. 2? I know a lot of people who say no.
But it's a preseason ranking, right? Let's play the season.
I'm going to keep this simple. In order to beat Ohio State, simply force Terrelle Pryor to throw the football.
He's a quarterback who has never shown consistency doing the first thing that comes to mind when someone says "QB": throwing the pigskin.
Sure, his freshman year he had a completion percentage of 60, but he also only put the ball in the air 165 times.
Has letting Pryor run loose worked for Ohio State? Sure.
But the topic of this article is how to beat the Top 10.
Run something along the lines of a 3-4 defense with athletic linebackers, always blitz one or two to keep the run game in check, and make Pryor throw the ball.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
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I know this is going to seem like a total cop-out, but I've looked at this from several angles and I can't find one reasonable method to slow down Alabama this year.
This team brings back just about everyone.
Greg McElroy at quarterback.
Heisman-winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who had a monster freshman year in 2009, at running back.
Marquis Maze and Julio Jones at receiver.
A great offensive line, a stout overall defense—where does this team crack?
The only team with a shot to beat the Crimson Tide will be their opponent in the BCS National Championship Game, likely Oklahoma.
Alabama is just too good.