The college football season is quickly approaching, but is still three weeks away. Personally, I've been ready for it since January 8th of last year, the day after LSU slaughtered Ohio State to win the national championship.
So to keep myself occupied while meaningless baseball and women's synchronized swimming are dominating the sports scene, and to provide some quality discussion about the upcoming year, I have decided to give an exclusive preview of the season from all angles. I'll call it my "Top Five" series.
During the next three weeks, I will break down teams, coaches, players, and schedules from different viewpoints, find my top five in each category, then post them here for all to see.
The best place to start is the polls, where the coaches have anointed Georgia the team to beat this season. Forget who the best team is, we all know that the best two teams aren't necessarily the two highest-ranked. There are many more factors that come into play.
So here are my top five college football teams going into the season, including my pick for the national champion.
And right off the bat I go with the homer pick. But Clemson is the hands-down choice to win the ACC this season, and has arguably more playmakers than any team in America. Cullen Harper had better efficiency numbers than Matt Ryan last year, and James Davis and CJ Spiller look healthy and strong in camp.
On top of that, three quality receivers return including All-American candidate Aaron Kelly. If the offensive line can gel early—which it should considering the talent level up front—this team will be nearly impossible to stop.
Defensively, there are question marks at linebacker since none of last year's starters return. But this was a top-ten defense a season ago, and in a conference virtually bare of talented quarterbacks, it should be a top-ten defense once again.
The schedule sets up nicely—a neutral site meeting with Alabama and road games at Wake Forest and Florida State are the only potential stumbling blocks. I predict a 10-2 season and a BCS berth, but this team has the talent and schedule to go as far as it wants.
Forget the BCS futility of the past few years this team is absolutely stacked. Sam Bradford was the most efficient passer in college football a season ago, and there's no reason to expect a drop-off this year. Wideout Juaquin Iglesias and tailback DeMarco Murray are spectacular all-purpose players. Murray ran a pair of kickoffs back for touchdowns and Iglesias averaged over 10 yards a carry last year on end-arounds. With all five starters on the O-line coming back, there should be plenty of holes to run through.
Bob Stoops' defense is always ready for prime time. Gerald McCoy is a hole-clogger on the inside, but the presence of linebacker Curtis Lofton inside will be missed. This unit is tough as nails and should be extremely difficult to run the football against.
The Big 12 is tougher this season, but the Sooners get Texas Tech, Nebraska, and Kansas at home. As usual, the game against Texas in the Cotton Bowl will be the key to a great season.
Hard to find a more talented roster year in and year out. The only offensive question mark seems to be at running back. Just kidding. The Trojans have a zillion game-breaking tailbacks, including Reggie Bush clone Joe McKnight.
The receiving corps will sorely miss All-American tight end Fred Davis, but the talent is there to be a special group. Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain have a ton of potential behind center, but neither is especially proven as a leader and Sanchez has shown a propensity to be injury-prone.
This team is stacked on defense. Linebacker Rey Maualaga is a beast. I did not see any other defenders that played with his speed last season. Other than that, the secondary is top-notch, and has the depth to overcome injuries. The defensive line, while young, is big and fast at all four positions.
The schedule works out in USC's favor this time around, as Ohio State, Oregon, and Arizona State come calling, and the only major road game is across town against UCLA. This team needs to show more consistency than last year's bunch did, but it's hard to bet against Pete Carroll.
Best team in the country—no doubt in my mind. The coaches got it right. Matthew Stafford is a prototype drop-back NFL passer who will flourish if a young receiving corps grows up fast. Muhammad Massaquoi returns as a major threat on every play. Knowshon Moreno can win the Heisman this year if he avoids injury and if defenses remain unable to scheme against him. This kid has a motor that is constantly running.
Defensively, the Bulldogs return seven starters, including leading tackler Dannell Ellerbe. They are particularly ferocious at home, but the speed of this unit is phenomenal across the board. Prince Miller and Asher Allen form the most underrated cornerback tandem in America; these guys can lock down just about anybody across from them.
The reason Georgia is not at the top of my list is because of an absolutely brutal schedule. Trips to LSU, Auburn, and Arizona State highlight the schedule, while the Florida game in Jacksonville could factor in the national title race. This team is good enough to win the national championship this season, but the schedule looks pretty much impossible.
1. Ohio State
As a Southern guy, I hate to say it, but this is the year that Ohio State gets over the hump. Todd Boeckman is a great game-manager at quarterback—sort of in the Craig Krenzel mold. Chris Wells is a man-child running between the tackles and has some incredible breakaway speed. This team is built around its offensive line, which should be a force.
James Laurinaitis is back at linebacker for the Buckeyes and is looking to follow up on a sensational 2007 season that ended with him holding the Butkus Award. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was a projected first-round draft choice last season and should improve his stock with a strong showing this year. This unit is normally among the best in the nation in yards and points allowed and, without many threatening offenses on the schedule, this should be another solid year.
The only tough game is the trip to USC on Sept. 13th. Other than that, it's virtually a green light to the national title game. I like this team and I feel that after losing in the BCS Championship Game twice in a row, losing a third time is not an option.
Come back tomorrow for the second installment. Thanks for reading!