The 2008 college football season officially kicked off Friday with the release of the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll. To read Part I of this two part series, click here.
11. Auburn 9-4 888
The Auburn Tigers are facing the same challenge as many of their brethren in the SEC West; they are entering the season without a starting quarterback. For a team that returns a whopping seventeen starters, Tommy Tuberville may not be stressing as much as one might think.
Whoever wins the starting QB job will be the one that best grasps the no-huddle, spread offense brought in by new coordinator Tony Franklin. The new QB should at least find some comfort behind an offensive line that returns all five starters.
For a defense that returns eight starters, they seem to have a lack of depth at the skill positions. The Tigers may find themselves relying on their returning kicker, Wes Byrum, to get them a few wins in close games. Byrum converted seventeen of twenty-three field goals as a true freshman last season.
Prediction: While this might generally be a down year for Auburn, they are fortunate to be playing in the SEC West where a lot of rebuilding is going on. If they don’t make the trip to Atlanta this year, beating arch-nemesis Alabama and winning a decent bowl game should be plenty enough to keep Tommy Tuberville off of the hot seat.
12. Wisconsin 9-4 747
If someone asked us which city outside of Madison, Wisconsin had the most Badger fans, we would have to guess it was Las Vegas, Nevada. The Badgers have been one of the nation's best "against the spread" teams for the last few years. And no, we’re not talking about the "spread offense".
Not everything has been so consistent in Madison, though. Head coach Bret Bielema will be starting a new quarterback for the third season in a row. On the bright side, the nod will probably go to fifth year senior Allan Evridge, who has had plenty of time to learn the offense. Evridge should have sufficient protection from an experienced line, and will also have All American tight end Travis Beckum floating in the flats should he get in a jam.
Prediction: The Badgers are a solid team but have some real concerns to address. Their off season has been plagued by injuries, and breaking in a new kicker may give them field position issues. A back to back sequence against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State in the first half of the season will test them early. If Bielema’s team can stay healthy, they may be able to surpass expectations in the Big 10; but look for the Badgers to realistically win seven or eight in the regular season and land in a New Year’s Day bowl.
13. Kansas 12-1 714
The fighting Mangino’s woke up the sleeping basketball fans in Kansas last year with their magical BCS run. Their “rock chalk” quarterback Todd Reesing is back under center and will have many of his favorite receiving targets returning to the party with him.
The Jayhawk defense returns nine starters to the lineup, but new coordinator Clint Bowen will seek to beef up the pass rush in a Big 12 conference that has multiple superstar quarterbacks and solid veteran offensive lines.
Prediction: The Jayhawks’ conference schedule won’t bypass Texas and Texas Tech like last year, and an out of conference contest at South Florida might prevent another 12-1 season. But the high scoring offense returns most of its stars and should display a respectable follow-up to 2007. If they fall short of the Big 12 North championship, the Jayhawks will still play in a prominent bowl game.
14. Texas Tech 9-4 644
If there was ever a chance for the Red Raiders to emerge onto the national scene, this is it. The Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree connection will anchor one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football this season.
The gunslinger and Heisman Trophy candidate Harrell has already passed for over ten thousand yards in his career, and he still has one more year to go. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree became the first freshman ever to win the Biletnikoff Award last year, and will also be on the Heisman short list in 2008. The Red Raiders have spent many years as the runts of the Big 12 South, but their Fun and “Guns Up” offense will be looking to stake their claim this season.
Defense has long been a handicap for Texas Tech, but Mike Leach calmed the critics by firing his defensive coordinator less than half way through last season. Under new coordinator Ruffin McNeil, the Red Raider defense led the Big 12 through their final eight games.
Prediction: There will likely be few offensive units in the nation that will be more productive or fun to watch this year than Texas Tech. But consistency will be the key when the Red Raiders suit up against the traditional Big 12 powers like Texas and Oklahoma. If Ruffin McNeil’s new defense can keep up with Mike Leach’s high flying offense, it could mean a trip to the Big 12 championship, and possibly a BCS bid for Tech.
15. Virginia Tech 11-3 568
Beamer ball is back in Blacksburg, and this time it will be without the cloud of tragedy hanging over the Hokies. Despite an emotional punch in the gut in the off season, Virginia Tech found themselves awfully close to the national championship discussion last year.
Unfortunately, the Hokies have lost most of their offensive producers to graduation or otherwise. Senior quarterback Sean Glennon will be back under center to provide some leadership and experience to the squad, but he will have to rely on an almost all new supporting cast to move the ball.
The news isn’t much better on the defensive side of the ball. The Hokies return few starters and are experimenting with a couple of position changes. Virginia Tech may find themselves relying on their special teams to get them out of a few jams.
Prediction: Frank Beamer has a reputation of beating expectations, especially when the odds are stacked against him. Lucky for him, the ACC will be going through a lot of rebuilding this year so Virginia Tech will have as good a chance as any to win the Coastal Division and contend for the ACC title.
16. Arizona State 10-3 560
QB Rudy Carpenter put up some impressive numbers for the Sun Devils last season despite being sacked fifty five times. The line will have to step up early with the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs coming to town in September.
The Sun Devil defense seeks to step up the pass rush by implementing some new blitz packages. The unit is young but has shown enough talent in the skill positions to give Dennis Erickson high expectations.
Prediction: Arizona State will have to endure taking on the top two teams of the preseason before Halloween. While Rudy Carpenter will probably be the best quarterback in PAC 10, this is a lot to ask of the young team. Look for the Sun Devils to finish second in the conference and earn a slot in a decent bowl game.
17. Brigham Young 11-2 547
The one thing you have to remember about BYU players is that their classification doesn’t always accurately portray their experience or maturity level. Many of these young men take time off to fulfill a religious mission either before or while they are in college. Such is the case with QB Max Hall, who threw for more yards than any other sophomore in the nation last year.
The Cougar defense will have to rely on a lot of youth after losing many of their stars to graduation, but remember what we said about maturity at BYU. If the defense can keep up with the talent rich offense, the Cougars might just live up to the BCS hype they have been receiving in the off season.
Prediction: Two out of conference games against the PAC 10’s Washington and UCLA could give BYU the street credit they need to justify the BCS buzz, if they can win. A mid-season Thursday night game against TCU can also be a coming out party for the Cougars, especially if they are undefeated at that point. But their last game against in-state rival Utah could either serve as a launch pad or nail in the coffin for BYU’s BCS dreams.
18. Tennessee 10-4 506
Tennessee fans are another bunch that are getting frustrated at under-performing with championship caliber talent. They want more than just the occasional trip to Atlanta to contend for the SEC title, they want to win it. In fact, this season marks the tenth anniversary since the Vols won a conference title, the same year they won the national championship.
The hiring of new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson has given hope to the folks at Rocky Top that there will see more creative schemes than they have as of late. QB Jonathan Crompton will have some help with dual threat Arian Foster in the backfield, as well as a promising receiver corps.
The Volunteers defense comes back with plenty of experience, especially in the secondary. This should give the unit more of a solid pass coverage while allowing the line to focus on stopping the many talented SEC running backs they will face this year.
Prediction: The SEC East may be just too strong for Tennessee to go on another conference title run, but a win in the season opener against UCLA could help them get over the black eye of losing to a PAC 10 team last year; a virtual sin in the SEC. While they may struggle to get on the road to Atlanta in 2008, you can bet that the Vol Navy already has a 2009 BCS title on its radar.
19. Illinois 9-4 422
Who would have thought we would be talking about Ron Zook so soon after being given a one way ticket out of Gainesville? Juice Williams and his Fighting Illini saw to that by having the audacity to knock off Ohio State last year and throw the whole BCS out of whack. Actually, at that point the BCS was already on system overload.
Williams is back after spending the off season trying to focus more on becoming a pocket passer. While he’ll have some talented receivers to go to, it remains to be seen how productive the offense will be without the first round draft pick tailback Rashard Mendenhall.
Ron Zook is a defensive minded coach, and he has been able to bring some depth to the unit during his short tenure at Illinois. The NFL prospect cornerback Vontae Davis will have to step up and give the Illini excellent pass coverage to get through their tough schedule.
Prediction: Playing the season opener against Big 12 North champs Missouri is probably not where Zook wanted to start, but it will get his squad ready for a schedule that includes Michigan, Penn State, and a rematch against reloaded Ohio State. Though unlikely this year, if Illinois can repeat their success in the Big 10 and have a few other factors go their way, they could earn another trip to the Rose Bowl.
20. Oregon 9-4 399
The “quack attack” was in its purest form when led by Dennis Dixon, one of the best athletes in school history. Mike Bellotti will have to almost start from scratch this year without his star quarterback or record breaking running back Jonathan Stewart.
Justin Roper appeared to be the heir apparent at QB after leading the Ducks to a Sun Bowl victory over South Florida, but the word from camp is that sophomore Nick Costa has been competing for the starting job since recovering from a knee injury.
The Oregon defense brings back a few leaders, but overall, is a very young squad. They will have big shoes to fill in order to match last year’s stats.
Prediction: An early season road trip to Purdue will test the post-Dennis Dixon Ducks early. While Oregon probably won’t be vying for the PAC 10 title with USC and ASU in the way, they should be able to win enough ball games to secure their fourth consecutive bowl bid.
21. South Florida 9-4 350
The Bulls were definitely on parade last season, even climbing as high as No. 2 in the BCS poll before falling apart after a tough loss at Rutgers. Quarterback Matt Grothe will have to prove that he can lead his offense even when the pressure reaches the boiling point this year. At least Grothe will have most of his supporting cast returning to the lineup with him.
The outlook for the South Florida defense doesn’t look so sunny, however. They lose a lot of talent to graduation and coordinator Wally Burnham is said to have done some rearranging at the skill positions. The new defense will be tested early when the Kansas Jayhawks come to town.
Prediction: While Jim Leavitt’s program began to bear some fruit last season, he can’t let it distract from the stellar recruiting that got him there. Even with the tough schedule, look for the Bulls to be in the hunt for a Big East title all the way into December when they take on West Virginia.
22. Penn State 9-4 313
Every year will be Joe Paterno’s last year coaching Penn State football, yet he is entering season number forty three. Almost every off season in State College is dominated with the Joe Pa watch, and Paterno would probably have preferred that over the legal issues some of his players faced instead. It seems that the veteran coach decided rather to eliminate the distractions by booting defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor off the team.
The next big story will be about who will start as the Nittany Lions' quarterback between Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. All indications from camp suggest that they could alternate at the position, bringing a unique offensive element to Happy Valley. The good news is that either quarterback should be well protected by a veteran line.
Besides having two tackles removed involuntarily, the Lion defense also suffered big loss when linebacker Sean Lee went down in the spring with a torn ACL. The defensive line seems to remain solid, but the skill position players will have to step up big to give Penn State a chance to win the Big 10.
Prediction: It remains to be seen how the off season distractions will affect the Nittany Lions and their legendary coach this year. Penn State can, however, take advantage of being in a conference that is still rebuilding to stay in the hunt for a title. Getting past Ohio State on the road will be a must win, and they still have to avoid falling to a trap game along the way. Matching last season’s nine victories, however, is an attainable goal if the Lions stay focused.
23. Wake Forest 9-4 203
All eyes in the ACC will be on junior quarterback Riley Skinner this year. After completing his sophomore campaign with a completion percentage well over seventy percent, the highest in the nation, the Wake Forest fans will be expecting big things. Lining up behind Skinner will also be ACC Rookie of the Year tailback Josh Adams.
Returning nine starters to the Demon Deacon’s defensive lineup will certainly help the offense stay on the field. The line and linebacker positions appear to be in good hands, and the entire secondary from last year will be coming back to handle the pass coverage.
Prediction: Getting their kicker back to full speed will be a key to Wake Forest’s win/loss column this year, considering two out their four 2007 losses were by less than three points. The ACC will have some tough competition in 2008, so it will be up to the individual players to decide if they just want to win some games or go for another ACC title. The circle game will be against Clemson on October 9.
24. Michigan 9-4 112
Michigan was talking title last preseason and QB Chad Henne was near the top of the Heisman watch. It took all of four quarters against I-AA "powerhouse" Appalachian State to bring it all crashing down.
While Michigan was finally able to get their act together enough to win eight straight, it was obvious that we were witnessing the twilight of the Lloyd Carr era. Michigan’s offense is pretty much made up of eleven kids that the fans in Ann Arbor have probably never heard of. At least they can take solace in the fact that Rich Rodriguez will finally be bringing the program into the new millennium by implementing a spread offense.
The defense will be Michigan’s only saving grace. The veteran squad will have to keep the opposition scoring down to give the young offense a chance to win a few games.
Prediction: It’s probably a forgone conclusion that the Wolverine’s surprise win over Tim Tebow’s Gators in the Capital One Bowl is the lone reason for landing them in the 2008 preseason Top 25. While Rich Rodriguez has downplayed expectations for this season, if the new offensive scheme doesn’t over-perform against a tough schedule, Michigan may not go bowling for the first time in thirty four years.
25. Fresno State 9-4 91
The Bulldogs of the West are the odds on favorite to win the WAC this year. They return ten starters to the offensive squad, replacing only their center. With plenty of talented weapons at his disposal, QB Tom Brandstater will have to use every one of them to navigate Fresno State through what will prove to be a grueling schedule.
The Bulldog defense will have more work to do, returning only six starters to the lineup. The key will be to have the veterans get the younger players up to speed, at least enough to keep the more experienced offense on the field as much as possible.
Prediction: Fresno’s out of conference schedule will probably be too tough for the Bulldogs to go BCS bowling this year, but if head coach Pat Hill can keep his team fired up about their conference schedule, they could snag their first WAC championship since 1999.