I promised it on the podcast and this week I will deliver the In The Bleachers Preseason Top 25 for the 2008 season. My thought process is pretty simple on this one, I am not predicting the final standings. I am predicting the Top 25 based on how good they are right at this moment.
25. Fresno State Bulldogs
If not for their difficult schedule, most experts would be talking about Fresno State in the same breath as BYU as far as Non-BCS schools going to a BCS Bowl game.
The Bulldogs return 10 starters on offense, including quarterback Tom Brandstater, who is one of the top senior quarterbacks in the nation. Brandstater is not flashy, but in 2007 he threw only five interceptions. Ryan Matthews returns as a sophomore after rushing for 866 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman.
The weak spot for the Bulldogs will be their secondary, which will be tested in their first game of the year against Rutgers and their talented wide receivers.
Their front seven is also a bit unproven since they lost Marcus Riley and Tyler Clutts. With their first two games being at Rutgers, then back home against Wisconsin, we will find out a lot about the Bulldogs early.
24. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
I have already tooted the Scarlet Knights’ horn last week, as I think they are a team that should challenge for the Big East title.
Many are writing off Rutgers all because Ray Rice is gone, but quarterback Mike Teel had a good season last year throwing for 3,100 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
To challenge for the Big East crown however, those numbers must all go up except for the interceptions. With two great receivers such as Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, I believe that is a good assumption.
Their weak point is obvious, they do not have a proven running back and they are a little suspect along the offensive line.
Their defense returns eight starters from a team that only gave up 170 yards through the air a game.
The Knights start off the season with a bang as Fresno State and North Carolina come to town in the first two weeks. Two wins there and they should be 4-0 heading to Morgantown.
23. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
The strength for the Demon Deacons lies clearly on the defensive side of the ball. They return nine starters from a team that only gave up 22 points per game and 109 yards on the ground. If this team is going to go places in 2008, it will be the defense that carries them.
Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith are two to the top returning defenders. On offense, Riley Skinner is back. Skinner is talented but has to cut down on his interceptions. Josh Adams returns at running back after rushing for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2007.
The weak point for the Deacons is their offensive line and at wide receiver. There are as many as 10 players in the mix to start on the offensive line, but unfortunately for Wake, they don’t return a starter that started more than eight games.
Weeks 2 and 3 have them going up against Ole Miss and Florida State. If they win there, they should be undefeated when the take on Clemson at home a few weeks later.
22. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illinois offense was ranked fifth nationally rushing the ball, but now with Rashard Mendenhall gone, they should take a step back.
Saying that, I expect Juice Williams to improve from last season and become a more consistent player. He turned the ball over a bit too much, but he has the athletic ability to become a supreme threat in the Big Ten.
Arrelious Benn showed flashes of brilliance at both wide receiver and in the return game.
On defense, the Illini are anchored by their defensive line and second team all Big Ten lineman Will Davis.
As much as he is a plus, Juice Williams' unsteady play can be a huge minus if he starts turning the ball over. Half way through the season last year, there was a bit of a QB controversy between Juice and Eddie McGee.
If they are going to be successful, the Illini must improve on 168 yards per game through the air. They open up the season with Missouri and then travel to Happy Valley for a prime-time game on Sept. 27.
21. South Florida Bulls
On Oct. 13, 2007, the South Florida Bulls were riding high with a 6-0 record and a top 3 ranking in the BCS standings. It all came crashing down after that, as they lost their next three games.
Matt Grothe will be back for his junior year to quarterback the Bulls. Grothe is both the Bulls’ leading passer and rusher, and I expect him to carry the lions’ share again this season.
All-American George Selvie is back to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line should be a strong point.
Their defense lost two extremely good cornerbacks, and filling those holes will be no easy task. It also should be interesting to see if the Bulls can still be aggressive with their front seven with inexperienced cornerbacks.
The Bulls should be 5-0 once again when they open Big East play at home against a talented Pittsburgh Panthers team. If they get past them, it should be smooth sailing until Nov. 15 against Rutgers.