College Football Preseason Top 25: Conference Predictions, Preview
We are officially less than one week away from the start of the three-month long party known as college football's regular season.
Players are practicing for it. Coaches are agonizing over it. Fans can literally feel it.
The next week will be as good as it gets for many football programs. The time when hope springs eternal; the time for hype; the time when anyone of the top 15 teams generally "has a shot" to be special is right now. Once the teams step foot on the field, however, those hopes, dreams, and wishes could be completely dashed in a matter of one Saturday afternoon.
The media feeds into those expectations by putting these preseason previews together. Many times they never pan out. Every once in a while, though, we strike gold and end up looking like we actually know what we're talking about.
Hopefully, you'll have a much better idea about your team after these next few slides.
Where They Should Start: Preseason Top 25
|25.||West Virginia||If QB issues can be settled quickly, the Mountaineers can win the Big East this year.|
|24.||Georgia||Defense is the biggest question mark. Even bigger than a redshirt freshman QB.|
|23.||Georgia Tech||12 starters return for the reigning champs of the ACC. Why no national love?|
|22.||Arizona||Can QB Nick Foles and Co. take advantage of a wide-open Pac 10?|
|21.||North Carolina||The Tarheels would be much higher if not for the agent scandal.|
|20.||Washington||The Huskies have the top QB/O-Line combo in the Pac 10. Now, where's the D?|
|19.||Miami||'Canes have the talent to become "The U" again. Schedule is a killer, though.|
|18.||Auburn||One of the top O-line's and the easiest schedule in the SEC makes this a top 20 team. Better hope the "D" is better though.|
|17.||Stanford||QB Andrew Luck and the O-Line will make Toby Gerhart's departure easier to take.|
|16.||Florida State||FSU could bring championship football back to Tallahassee in 2010.|
|15.||UConn||16 returning starters and a favorable schedule make the Huskies the class of the Big East.|
|14.||Arkansas||Defensive questions and a tough schedule could keep Arkansas from cashing in on the preseason hype.|
|13.||Oklahoma||No problem at all on offense. The defense lost a lot of talent, though.|
|12.||Missouri||Blaine Gabbert is the best QB in the Big 12. Two-team race in the Big 12 North.|
|11.||Virginia Tech||An incredibly talented offense has the Hokies near the top of the ACC again. Big losses on defense, though.|
|10.||Nebraska||No Suh, no problem. QB Zac Lee must improve greatly for the 'Huskers to win it all.|
|9.||Wisconsin||RB John Clay will be a Heisman finalist in December.|
|8.||Texas||The 'Horns lost a lot of talent, but Texas always reloads. This team could end up in the BCS title game again this season.|
|7.||Oregon||The Ducks welcome back 17 starters. Back-to-back Pac 10 titles is the goal.|
|6.||Iowa||The Hawkeyes could have the nation's best defense in 2010.|
|5.||Florida||No Tebow for the first time in four years. QB Brantley will be one of the SEC's best passers.|
|4.||TCU||An easy schedule, a top defense, a senior QB, and a talented O-Line make the Horned Frogs an elite team in 2010.|
|3.||Ohio State||They host Miami, and travel to Iowa and Wisconsin. Schedule too much to overcome.|
|2.||Boise State||20 starters return, including a Heisman candidate at QB. They must beat Virginia Tech in Week One to realize their dreams.|
|1.||Alabama||They're No. 1 'til they lose, which could very well happen a couple of times in 2010.|
|North Carolina State||6||6|
Offensive Player of the Year: Virginia Tech QB, Tyrod Taylor
Defensive Player of the Year: Florida State CB, Greg Reid
Storyline to Follow: North Carolina's football program is an absolute mess right now. With the academic fraud investigation on top of being the epicenter for the agent-gate scandel, Butch Davis will have his work cut out for him to avoid all the distractions this season. There's no way the 'Heels can avoid the gigantic elephant in the room this season. A 4-8 prediction is bold, but with everything going on in Chapel Hill, it could be right on the money.
Conference Champion: Virginia Tech--The Hokies are just too talented on the offensive side of the ball for this not be their season. Miami will have a lot of talent back as well, and the 'Canes do host the Hokies in late November. But Miami will have to make it out of Atlanta without a loss the week before that against Georgia Tech.
Florida State and Boston College are a cut above the rest in the Atlantic Division. The two team play in mid-October at Tallahassee. The 'Noles, led by first year head coach, Jimbo Fisher, should be much improved from last year. With all five offensive line starters returning and a potential Heisman candidate quarterback, Christian Ponder, the 'Noles should stay in the top 25 all season long.
Offensive Player of the Year: Oklahoma QB, Landry Jones
Defensive Player of the Year: Nebraksa DT, Jared Crick
Storyline to Follow: Texas Tech should have a very different look with Tommy Tuberville at the helm. The days of scoring 40-plus points per game are likely over. Luckily for Red Raider fans the days of giving up 25-plus ppg are over as well. Tuberville will bring a much more balanced look to Lubbock. Expect a lot more from the running game.
Conference Champion: Nebraska Cornhuskers--As big a role that Ndamukong Suh played on last year's 10-win Nebraska squad, to think the 'Huskers could actually be better in 2010 is borderline lunacy. Well, that is util you realize the schedule is not nearly as tough this year as it was in '09. The 'Huskers should make it out of the regular season with no more than one loss, even with Zac lee at quarterback.
Oklahoma is definitely back as well. Landry Jones had a great freshman season filling in for the No. 1 pick of the NFL Draft, Sam Bradford. Lucky enough for Jones, most of his offensive line returns in tact. With DeMarco Murray in the backfield and a Bob Stoops reloaded defense, Oklahoma should take the Big 12 South crown away from a young Texas team.
Offensive Player of the Year: Cincinnati QB, Zach Collaros
Defensive Player of the Year: Pitt DE, Greg Romeus
Storyline to Follow: The UConn Huskies have been in the FBS since 2000. Under head coach Randy Edsall, the Huskies have found quick success in the weakest BCS conference in America. For the first time since joining the conference in '04, UConn has its best chance yet to compete for the conference crown and the coveted BCS Bowl selection. With eight starters returning on each side of the ball and a rising star like Edsall at the helm, UConn could very well get it done this year.
Conference Champion: West Virginia -- Ultimately, the Mountaineers will take care of business in the Big East this season. The top half of the conference is likely to be very competitive with Pitt, Cincinnati, UConn, and West Virginia all vying for the crown. Of those four teams, West Virginia has the least question marks--especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Pitt is extremely talented, but the annual question mark that head coach Dave Wannstedt has become should make one gunshy when it comes to predicting big things for the Panthers. Cincinnati still has a ton of talent and new head coach Butch Jones should do well there, but the first season without Brian Kelly calling the plays will have some impact on this Bearcats team.
Offensive Player of the Year: Ohio State QB, Terrelle Pryor
Defensive Player of the Year: Iowa DE, Adrian Clayborn
Storyline to Follow: Michigan has been irrelevant for two seasons now. If there's one thing supporters, fans, and program administrators of traditional powers can't handle, it's irrelevancy. Now, with the NCAA hounding the program, on top of Rich Rodriguez's on field issues, 2010 could be it for the embattled coach in Ann Arbor. A loss in week one to UConn, at the Big House, could spell the beginning of the end for him.
Storyline to Follow, Part II: Ohio State is being picked by anybody and everybody to compete for a national title in 2010. Apparently all of those pundits expect Ohio State to navigate their toughest schedule in years with little problem. The Buckeyes host an almost-back Miami Hurricanes team in September before a tough road game at Wisconsin in October and another road game at Iowa in November. If The Ohio State University's football team can win all three of those, they will win it all. If you can see them doing that, you have a lot more faith than I.
Conference Champion: You've heard the adage, "Defense wins championships." In 2010, there will be no better example of that very statement than the Iowa Hawkeyes. Eight starters return from a defensive unit that gave up only 15 ppg last season. Iowa has a favorable schedule as well. The Hawkeyes host Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State in Iowa City. If QB Ricky Stanzi can be a game manager, much like he did in '09, Iowa will be smelling roses at season's end.
Offensive Player of the Year: Washington QB, Jake Locker
Defensive Player of the Year: Arizona CB, Trevin Wade
Storyline to Follow: Under first year head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies won five games in '09. One of those wins came against Sarkisian's mentor, Pete Carroll and USC. Now, in 2010, Washington brings back All-World QB, Jake Locker and four of five starters on the O-Line. The top of the Pac 10 is going to be quite competitive this season. If Washington can get into that top tier this season, Locker will likely win the Heisman and the Huskies could be smelling roses in January.
Conference Champion: Oregon is just too talented to pick against them in the Pac 10. The Ducks return nine starters from last year’s Pac 10 championship team. 10 of those starters return to an offense that put up 412 yards per game. Obviously, the one absence is quite possibly the most important player from that team, QB Jeremiah Masoli. But his replacements, at least to start the season, is the equally athletic sophomore, Darron Thomas.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Ducks welcome nine starters back. Speed is the name of the game for that unit and many teams will struggle against the experience and athletic ability that it will provide.
Traveling across the country to play at Neyland Stadium would be a major challenge in most years, but with Tennessee lack of depth and issues at quarterback, the game will likely not even be close. Oregon does play Lane Kiffin’s USC squad at the Coliseum, but with the massive hit the Trojans depth took as a result of NCAA sanctions, that game is likely Oregon’s to lose as well. Stanford, Washington, and Arizona are all improved, but they all travel to Eugene.
Offensive Player of the Year: Arkansas QB, Ryan Mallett
Defensive Player of the Year: LSU CB, Patrick Peterson
Storyline to Follow: LSU head coach, Les Miles, is firmly atop the hottest of SEC hotseat's heading into the 2010 season. With a 51-15 record since taking over at LSU, it's hard to imagine Les Miles barely clinging to his job in 2010, but that's the reality of the life in the SEC these days. Miles stupifying late game meltdowns in clock management have hurt him, but following up a national championship in '07 with five and four losses in '08 and '09 is what has ultimately landed him in this position. Anything less than eight wins in 2010 could be enough get him fired at season's end.
Conference Champion: Even with the many question marks that losing nine starters on defense has brought, it's simply too hard to imagine this Tide team not winning the SEC title again. The offense should be prolific with last year's Heisman winner, Mark Ingram back in the fold. Throw in sophmore RB Trent Richardson and you see why this team could be very special.
On defense, Nick Saban always just reloads. There will be chances to stumble in Arkansas and against six straight SEC teams coming off bye weeks, but the Tide should make it through that gauntlet relatively unscathed, even if their 14-game regular season winning streak does come to an end.
Florida will be quite talented yet again, as well. Their hasn't been much to report out of Florida camp this preseason since Urban Meyer has made Gainesville Area 51 South, but chances are the East will come down to an October game in Jacksonville against Georgia. Since the 'Dawgs have won that always-important matchup just three times in the last 15 years, you can't pick against the Gators.
|San Diego State||6||6|
Offensive Player of the Year: TCU QB, Andy Dalton
Defensive Player of the Year: TCU LB, Tank Carder
Storyline to Follow: The ongoing conference re-shuffling plans have hit fever-pitch in the MWC in recent weeks. BYU left the conference and then reportedly returned last week once the MWC invited Fresno State and Nevada to join the party, along with Boise State next season. Losing Utah in 2011 will still hurt, but the MWC should become BCS conference worthy next offseason, provided it, in fact, keeps BYU
Conference Champion: Utah has the pleasure of welcoming TCU to Salt Lake City next season. The Utes could struggle against Pitt and Notre Dame out of conference, but TCU is the only real hurdle to clear to win the MWC. Since Utah hosts that game, then I have to pick Utah to win the conference.
TCU will be strong yet again, but facing Utah at home will likely derail any thoughts of returning to the BCS. BYU will take a step back after losing QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga.
|San Jose State||4||9|
|New Mexico State||1||11|
Offensive Player of the Year: Boise State QB, Kellen Moore
Defensive Player of the Year: Boise State DT, Billy Winn
Storyline to Follow: Can Boise State finally get the respect it deserves? This program has established itself the premier programs in the country-that can't play for a national championship. Finally, it has the chance to crash that glass ceiling, but it will have to beat Virginia Tech on Labor Day to have that chance.
Conference Champion: Speak of Boise State, they will have zero problem with any team on the schedule, except for Virginia Tech and Oregon State. With 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, the Broncos are easily one of the more talented teams in the country. They could wind up in a BCS bowl game with one loss, but the national title game is out of the question unless they go undefeated.
Other non-BCS Conference Champions
Conference USA: Houston
SunBelt: Middle Tennessee State
BCS Busting Possibilities?
Among the three also-ran confernences, there is not a single Boise State or TCU in the bunch. Houston had a nice run in '09, beginning with their upset of Texas Tech, but quickly faltered by losing to UTEP by 17 points the following week.
Houston brings back prolific quarterback, Case Keenum. The 6'2, 210-pounder should easily thrive in this unstoppable, record-setting offense again.
Head coach Rick Stockstill is building quite the program at MTSU, but playing the SunBelt conference is going to keep what will likely be the best team in the state of Tennessee, record-wise, from going any higher than the GMAC Bowl.
Temple is destined for the Little Caesars Bowl as the champion of the MAC.
The Heisman competition this season is about as wide-open as ever. From Kellen Moore at Boise State to John Brantley at Florida, the quarterbacks this season are some of the very best crop we've seen in a few years.
The running backs are no slouches either. Reigning Heisman winner, Mark Ingram would be ready to claim a second consecutive prize if he wasn't the second best running back on his own team. Sophomore Trent Richardson could very well out-run Ingram this season.
Georgia's A.J. Green leads a fantastic wide receiver corps and the annual defensive player mentioned will be Iowa's Adrian Clayborn.
Here are my predictions for the five finalists:
1. Washington QB, Jake Locker
2. Oregon RB, La'Michael James
3. Georgia WR, A.J. Green
4. Arkansas QB, Ryan Mallett
5. Boise State QB, Kellen Moore
And the winner will be...
Jake Locker, Washington's do-everything quarterback has a solid offensive line and some serious weapons at the skill positions. If Washington wins nine or ten games, Locker will win the prize going away.
Bowl Predictions, National Championship Prediction, Final Top 25
BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Nebraska
2010 National Champions: Alabama Crimson Tide
Final Rankings - Post Bowl
|2 -||Boise State||12||1|
|6 -||Virginia Tech||12||2|
|12 -||Miami (Florida)||11||2|
|15 -||West Virginia||11||2|
|16 -||Ohio State||10||3|
|17 -||Notre Dame||10||3|
|22 -||Florida State||10||4|
Champs Sports Bowl: Clemson vs. South Florida (ACC vs. Big East)
Meineke Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Connecticut (ACC vs. Big East)
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Boston College (ACC vs. SEC)
PinStripe Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Pitt (Big 12 vs. Big East)
Alamo Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Washington (Big 12 vs. Pac-10)
Holiday Bowl: Missouri vs. Oregon State (Big 12 vs. Pac-10)
Sun Bowl: Miami vs. Arizona (ACC vs. Pac-10)
Liberty Bowl: Houston vs. LSU (C-USA vs. SEC)
Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Florida State vs. Ole Miss (ACC vs. SEC)
Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. South Carolina (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Cotton Bowl: Texas vs. Auburn (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Gator Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Arkansas (Big 10 or Notre Dame vs. SEC)
Capital One Bowl: Georgia vs. Wisconsin (Big 10 vs. SEC)
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia
Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Oregon