10. Texas Longhorns
This year the Longhorns will find out if Colt McCoy just had a sophomore slump, or if he really has regressed in his development. Texas has no lack of talent on offense or defense, but it does have some holes to fill from departures. Their offensive line returns four of five and Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are back to catch balls for McCoy.
A lot of Texas’ success lies directly on McCoy’s back. He has to protect the ball a bit better than last year and avoid trying to carry the entire load of the team. The weak point in the Longhorns defense is their secondary. Fans are excited for new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and they’ll get to see his revamped secondary at work when they play pass-happy teams like UTEP, Rice, and Arkansas early on. Those are all games they should win, so it should get the young secondary some much-needed practice before the tough slate of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri hit in a row.
9. Clemson Tigers
I don’t think there is much doubt that, on paper, the Clemson Tigers are the best team in the ACC. They have two solid running backs, James Davis and CJ Spiller, two returning wide receivers, Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham, and the best quarterback in the ACC, Cullen Harper. If the Tigers can get some blocking from their guys up front, this could be one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.
On defense, they return seven starters, with their entire secondary returning. Up front, Ricky Sapp, Dorell Scott, and Rashaad Jackson anchor a defensive line, and don’t forget about true freshman Da’Quan Bowers, who has been turning heads at fall practice. We will see what the Tigers are made of early when they play Alabama in Atlanta. After that, they really do not have a tough game until the end of September/early October with Maryland and Wake Forest. Wins there and there could be smooth sailing to the ACC title game.
8. Auburn Tigers
This is a team I think should be getting a lot more hype, but since Georgia, Florida, and LSU are media darlings, Auburn is flying a bit under the radar. They implemented the spread offense back in the bowl game with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin serving as the brains of it. Kodi Burns and Chris Todd will be fighting for the quarterback job with Brad Lester back as running back. Their line returns all five starters.
New defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes has experience defending spread offenses from his days at Pittsburgh, but now he has more talented players to run his schemes. Rhodes has a good core of eight returning starters to build from. The only place they are a little inexperienced is the defensive line. The Tigers schedule starts out slow, but the game against LSU on Sept. 20 could go a long way in deciding who represents the SEC West in the title game. A game to keep an eye on is Oct. 23 at Morgantown. The Tigers hope that Paul Rhodes’ defense can shut down the WVU spread like it did with Pitt last season.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
New coach Bill Stewart will have the same general philosophy as the old coach, whom I will not name. Pat White returns for his senior season, but it will be Noel Devine that lines up behind him, not Steve Slaton like in years past. The Mountaineers have four returning starters on the offensive line which should help make holes for their speedy backs.
On defense, there are quite a few holes to fill as they only return four starters, but two of those starters, Mortty Ivy and Reed Williams, were among the top tacklers for the Mountaineers last season. The Mountaineers are riding the high of another BCS bowl win. They hope to erase the heartache of the Pitt loss and start a new chapter under Bill Stewart. They have two tough non-conference games at Colorado and back home against Auburn. If they get past those I know they will be looking forward to revenge at Pittsburgh Nov. 28. The following week could be for the Big East title as they host South Florida.
6. Missouri Tigers
If you have been keeping track, this is the third team named the Tigers in the rankings 6-10. The Missouri Tigers are led by Heisman Candidate Chase Daniel. Daniel mastered an offense that scored 39.9 points per game, threw for 314 yards per game, and overall boasted 490 yards per game. They were ranked in the nation's top 10 in each category. Returning at wideout is the speedy Jeremy Maclin, who had over 1,000 yards receiving last year. Their offensive line is nothing to blink at, either, as tough Ryan Madison and Kurtis Gregory return to anchor it.
The Tigers’ defense wasn’t bad at all last year, but, if I were to nitpick, they do need to improve a bit on the pass defense. That shouldn’t be hard with four returning starters in the secondary, and I guess the passing stats can be a little misleading since most teams were playing from behind against Missouri. The Tigers open up against Illinois, a team they should be able to handle. But keep an eye out in October when they play both Texas and Colorado. They end the year in Kansas City against Kansas. If all goes well for Missouri fans, they will be back in Kansas City the following week for the Big 12 title game.