Yesterday I released my Top 21 to 25 of my preseason college football poll; today I will continue with the countdown and bring you 16 through 20.
20. Oregon Ducks
This is a team I have ranked a bit lower than most of the polls and magazines out there. The Ducks lost both Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart to the draft, and watching them last year without Dixon was like watching a totally different team. Right now, Oregon has six quarterbacks on the roster that have combined for two career starts; Justin Roper looks like he's edging out Nate Costa as the starter. If you recall, Roper led the Ducks in their Sun Bowl victory over South Florida.
Their strength should be in the defensive backfield, led by cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III. At the ends of the line, Oregon should be tough, but, without much depth on the defensive line, they could be in trouble with a few injuries. The Ducks' first game is a Pac-10 tilt against the Huskies. In Week 3, the Ducks travel to play Purdue, which should be a good game of two teams looking to get over the hump in the court of public opinion. October is a bit brutal for Oregon as they play at USC, host UCLA, then travel to Arizona State.
19. Penn State Nittany Lions
I'd have had the Nittany Lions ranked a bit higher a month ago, but after the dismissal of Chris Baker and Philip Taylor, and now the injury to Devon Still, the defensive line went from a strength to one more injury away from a critical situation. On the other side of the ball, all five offensive linemen return to make holes for Evan Royster and to protect either Pat Devlin or Daryll Clark at quarterback. Neither have much game experience with Clark playing a few snaps in the Alamo Bowl and Devlin having thrown one collegian pass. Luckily for whomever the quarterback is, they will have three four-year veterans at wide receiver.
Inexperience at quarterback and running back is an issue, and so is replacing Sean Lee at linebacker. My biggest concern for Penn State lies in its ability to put together a coaching plan that will attack the opposition. In big games, Penn State plays not to lose instead of playing to win, especially on the road. The Nittany Lions have not won on the road against a Top-25 opponent since 2002, against Wisconsin. This season, they have Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue on the road. That streak will have to end if they want to contend for a Big Ten Title.
18. Arizona State Sun Devils
Second-year coach Dennis Erikson has been notorious for being better the second year at a school than the first. If that’s the case, Sun Devil fans should be elated to improve on a 10-3 record in 2007. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter is back after throwing for 3,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. Joining him in the backfield is running back Keegan Herring. On defense, much of their front-seven returns from a defense that only gave up 110 yards per game on the ground.
The one big question mark looming around Arizona State is whether they found the formula to block for Rudy Carpenter. Carpenter was sacked 55 times by the end of the year last season and, unfortunately, Arizona State must find three starters to replace on that porous line. On defense, the Sun Devils only return two starters in the backfield. With teams like Georgia and USC on their schedule, they must get ready to defend the pass.
17. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas was most likely the surprise team of the year in 2007. It does have 15 starters returning combined on offense and defense, but will not sneak up on teams despite facing a much tougher schedule than last season. Todd Reesing and the Jayhawks will score points. Reesing will have targets Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe back to throw to, but will have to break in a new running back.
The defense returns a lot of starters, too, but, if you look at the last month of the season, they began to show kinks in their armor in giving up more than 20 points in four of their last five games. As I said, the schedule is much tougher in 2008. They have to play both Oklahoma and Texas, unlike last year. Also included are South Florida, Missouri, and Texas Tech. Kansas will go bowling, but I feel it won’t come close to its 12-1 record in 2007.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Crompton takes over the reigns at quarterback from Erik Ainge, and he has to be elated that all five starting offensive lineman are returning from a core that only gave up four sacks last season. Crompton does have some starting experience filling in for Ainge, but he also has a quality back in Arian Foster to take some of the load off. On defense, the Vols looked stacked in the secondary, which is always a good sign when you play in the SEC.
Overall, I think this season could ride on Crompton’s shoulders. Is he able to carry his weight on offense and protect the ball? If the answer is yes, the Vols could go back to their second SEC Championship game in as many years. As far as the schedule goes, they will be tested early with UCLA (away), Florida, and Auburn (away) in their first four games. If they can win two of three there, they should be extremely happy and set for a showdown at Georgia on Oct. 11.