15. Brigham Young Cougars
BYU is the best non-BCS team, and I fully expect them to be playing in a BCS Bowl game in January. Their schedule is set up perfectly for it, with only struggling UCLA and Washington in their non-conference schedule.
The Cougars averaged 30 points per game and 442 yards per game in 2007. The bad news for their opponents is that BYU returns eight starters on offense, including their quarterback Max Hall. Hall threw for over 3,800 yards last year with 26 touchdowns, while running back Harvey Unga ran for over 1,200 with 13 touchdowns.
However, on defense, BYU returns just three starters from a core that only gave up 18.5 points and 97 yards on the ground per game. If head coach Bronco Mendenhall can find quality players on defense, there is a legitimate chance that BYU can go 12-0. If they don’t go 12-0, they should still win at least 10 games.
BYU enters the season on a 10-game winning streak and a 16-game conference winning streak. The team’s motto this year is “quest for perfection,” and the Cougars definitely have a chance to reach it.
14. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Every year I get fooled by Texas Tech. They start out the year ripping through their opponents, but then when they have to play a tough Big 12 team, they get stomped. Last year, however, the Red Raiders did beat Oklahoma, which might show they are getting over the hump of losing to top tier teams.
This team is stacked offensively. Quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 5,700 yards and 48 touchdowns, most of them to sophomore Michael Crabtree, who caught 22 of those touchdown passes and racked up 1,960 yards.
On defense they return eight starters, which is great news for Tech fans. In my opinion, if they do not allow opponents to score over 24 points, there is no reason why this team cannot challenge for the Big 12 South Title.
I think the Red Raiders should breeze through their first seven games (again), with maybe one speed bump along the way, but it will be the games at Kansas and home against Texas in consecutive weeks which will define the character of this team. Two wins there, and it is all set for a Nov. 22 matchup with Oklahoma for a chance to go to the Big 12 Title game.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies
The $100,000 question for the Hokies is, who will start at quarterback? From everything I have been reading, that question still does not have an answer. Both Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor have been inconsistent in camp, so it looks as if the Hokies will start the season with a two-quarterback system.
With Glennon, I believe Tech needs to have a better running game, and the two fighting for the running back position now that Branden Ore has been kicked off the team are Jahre Cheeseman and Kenny Lewis, Jr.
Taylor can be the answer to all the Hokie prayers if he develops some consistency. He has the athletic ability to put more fear in opposing defenses since players of the last name Vick. With Zach Luckett’s recent DUI, the receivers have to do a bit of shuffling too.
On defense, they have to replace most of their front seven. But with the injuries that took place last year, many of those starting this year got some quality playing time. In the secondary they are led by self-proclaimed Heisman candidate Victor Harris, who had five interceptions last season and will be an important part of the Hokie return game.
Virginia Tech should win their first three games, setting up a tough one at Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are much improved and should put some pressure on the Hokies in the ACC Coastal Division.
12. Louisiana State Tigers
The defending BCS Champions have some holes to fill, but with strong past recruiting classes, the Tigers shouldn’t fall too far. The first hole is at quarterback, where Jarrett Lee should begin the season as the starter despite being held out of the last scrimmage due to back spasms.
With Jacob Hester graduating, Keiland Williams, Charles Scott, and Richard Murphy will see time in the backfield. On a positive note, the Tigers return four of five starters on the offensive line.
On defense, LSU will be adjusting to a new coordinator that has to replace seven starters. Ricky Jean-Francois, Tremaine Johnson, and Tyson Jackson all have played well in the fall and should help ease the pain from losing All-American Glenn Dorsey.
The Tigers start out at home in a much-anticipated game against the FCS Champions Appalachian State. I don’t expect the Tigers to take them lightly. On Sep. 20, they open SEC play against Auburn, which should be a great game.
The inexperienced Tigers must adapt quickly if they want to defend their SEC West title—with their schedule, there is little room for growing pains.
11. Wisconsin Badgers
Every February when you check out the latest recruiting rankings, rarely do you see Wisconsin in the Top 20—yet year after year they churn out quality teams in the Big Ten. This year will be no different for the Badgers, who return nine of 11 starters on offense, led by running back P.J. Hill Jr.
Hill ran for 1,200 yards last season and will benefit running behind an offensive line that that returns all starters from 2007. No talk of their offense would be complete without talking about tight end Travis Beckum, who caught 75 balls for 982 yards and six touchdowns.
The only problem facing Bret Bielema and the Badgers offense is that they have five quarterbacks on the roster with a combined zero starts as a Badger. However, Allan Evridge does have six starts under his belt from his time at Kansas State.
On defense, the backfield must make up for lost time, as many of them missed spring practice due to suspensions. Free safety Shane Carter had seven interceptions last year and hopes to improve the Badger defense.
Wisconsin starts out slow, but then travels to California to play Fresno State the third game of the year. They have a tough three-week stretch of Big Ten play, going to Michigan, then home against Ohio State and Penn State, all in consecutive weeks. Running the table there would almost guarantee them at least a share of the Big Ten Championship.