Another College Football Preseason Top 25
Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.
As soon as the clock read zero in the National Championship game and, to my chagrin, the SEC overwhelmed my Buckeyes for the second straight year, we had already moved on to next year.
The following day, the College Gameday staff discussed their preseason Top Five and who was going to win the Heisman Trophy. Rivals and Scout rolled out the red carpet for the February Signing Day and discussed the potential impact of high school prep stars on their respective colleges.
As soon as the 2007 season finished, it was already time to speculate who was going to be on top next year and beyond. Months before fans around the country pack the stadiums for a fall afternoon game, analysts, pundits, and Bleacher Bums alike had already forecasted the season.
By now, thousands of preseason polls have been produced—ranging from reputable publications such as the Associated Press, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Phil Steele’s exhaustive, all-knowing college football bible to your run-of-the-mill WordPress blog.
But don’t fret over keeping track of all of these polls because they all truly have one thing in common. We have no idea how the season will turn out, but a poll always serves as a great conversation starter:
“Can you believe the audacity of Phil Steele ranking South Florida at No. 8 in the Top 25? Matt Grothe hasn’t proven himself as a winner in the clutch!”
“How in the world could Lindy’s Magazine rank Knowshon Moreno as a better running back than Chris “Beanie” Wells? Don’t we all know Wells outperformed Moreno the entire season with an injured wrist and a bum ankle?”
“USC shouldn’t be ranked that high. Sanchez dislocated his knee, McKnight is injured, and they only return four starters on offense…four.”
The problem with us so-called analysts is that we all have the same flaw: we think we are better prognosticators than the next guy. Never mind the fact that we picked Michigan and Louisville to finish in the Top 10 and omitted Missouri, Kansas, and the ever-so dangerous Appalachian State Mountaineers from last year’s poll.
Never mind our assumptions that a sophomore would never win the Heisman Trophy or that the Blackshirt Nebraska defense wouldn’t give up 70 points to the Jayhawks of all teams.
No, we know everything there is about college football and that’s all there is to it.
With all that being said, take a look at my Top 25, which is undoubtedly, unequivocally better than your favorite Top 25 poll:
1. Georgia Bulldogs
After months and months of deliberating over why some other team deserved to be No. 1, I finally gave in and joined virtually every major media source which has the ‘Dawgs as the No. 1 team in the land.
While much of the spotlight will be on redshirt sophomore Knowshon Moreno—who has been compared to former Georgiagreat Herschel Walker—the onus will be on the performance of junior quarterback Matthew Stafford, a highly touted NFL prospect who has been inconsistent at times for the ‘Dawgs.
Georgia’s schedule is difficult, but right now this looks like the most talented team in the land.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
"Everyone’s Favorite Juggernaut Which Inexplicably Gets Blown out by SEC Teams in National Championship Games" is back hoping that the third time’s the charm after losing consecutive title games to Florida and LSU the last two years.
For their sake, the Buckeyes haven’t had a team that looks this strong in a good while. Chris “Beanie” Wells is the next dominant running back to come out of Columbus and seniors Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis anchor a strong, experienced Buckeye defense.
The only thing standing in their way from a third title game is USC—and themselves.
3. Florida Gators
Last year Florida had a consistent, high-powered offense at its disposal, but the Gators’ vulnerability clearly showed in their secondary.
Statistically speaking, Florida had the worst passing defense in the SEC, and much of the blame can be placed on the youth of the defensive backs. With Joe Haden, Wondy Pierre-Louis, and Major Wright returning along with star recruit Will Hill, 2008 will be a much better year for the Gators D. Having Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin anchoring the offense doesn’t hurt, either.
4. USC Trojans
Even with only four returning starters on offense and the departure of Keith Rivers and Sedrick Ellis on defense, Southern Cal looks to be a contender for the national title for the seventh straight year.
After dislocating his knee a few weeks ago, junior quarterback Mark Sanchez looks like he’ll be healthy for the big non-conference games against Virginia and Ohio State early in the season.
The offense may take some time to gel, but fortunately for USC the Trojans have arguably the best defense in the country. Seniors Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Kevin Ellison, Fili Moala, and junior Taylor Mays all have the potential to become stars on the next level.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
As always with the Bob Stoops-led program, the Sooners are loaded on offense. Led by sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford, sophomore running back DeMarco Murray, and one of the best offensive lines in the nation, OU will have no problem scoring in the Big 12.
The big question with the Sooners is whether they show up in their bowl games. Worse than Ohio State’s recent postseason history, Oklahomahas lost four consecutive BCS bowl games—ncluding the blowout against West Virginia last season and the classic Boise State “Statue of Liberty” game in 2007.
The Sooners have a championship-caliber team again this year, so there are truly no excuses.
6. West Virginia Mountaineers
2007 marked the end of the Rich Rodriguez era in Morgantown. While Coach Rodriguez’s highly-publicized departure to Michigan dominated much of the offseason blotter, West Virginia has plenty to look forward to in ’08.
Senior quarterback Pat White returns for his fourth year as the starting quarterback with the Heisman Trophy and a national title on his mind.
New head coach, Bill Stewart won’t change the successful spread offense and with good reason. With non-conference games against Colorado and Auburn as well as at home against South Florida, the Mountaineers will need to bring their ‘A’ games if they expect to play in Miami in January ’09.
7. LSU Tigers
After becoming the first two-loss team to win the BCS Championship, the Tigers return with a younger squad, but are stocked full of talent.
Sophomore defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois has generated plenty of buzz over the offseason after his national championship performance against the Buckeyes.
After being suspended for the entire regular season last year, Jean-Francois looks to fill in for Glenn Dorsey as an anchor on the Tiger defense. The offense has more experience—especially on the offensive line—but will have to rely on redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee to lead the way.
LSU won plenty of close games last year due to clutch play and aggressive coaching. They will need plenty more of that if they look to repeat as champions this year.
8. Missouri Tigers
The Big 12 North champions return with 16 starters, including senior quarterback Chase Daniel, sophomore receiver Jeremy Maclin, and senior safety William Moore.
Mizzou returns with a slight chip on its shoulder after getting snubbed from the BCS bowl games in favor of Kansas—a team which Missouri previously beat. The Tigers will look to do something they haven’t done since 1969 in the old Big 8—win the conference. Kansas and Colorado may give them a fight, but the true test for Mizzou will be October 18 at Texas.
9. Clemson Tigers
Is this the year Tommy Bowden finally gets it done and wins an ACC title?
Bowden and his Clemson Tigers have no excuse this year as they have a potent offense and athletic defense to compete on a national level.
The combination of James Davis and C.J. Spiller at running back is one of the most prolific ones in the country and the defensive line should be strong, especially with the emergence of blue-chip recruit Da’Quan Bowers.
A big test for this Clemson program will be how it performs opening weekend against Alabama. If Clemson wins, the momentum it builds into conference play may bring the program its first title since 1991.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech is the true dark horse to win the Big 12.
The reason? There may not be a defense out there that can stop them. Some may argue that the gaudy numbers Tech annually produces is a product of the offensive system head coach Mike Leach uses but clearly the system is working.
During quarterback Graham Harrell’s two years as the starter, he has amassed over 10,000 yards passing and thrown 86 touchdowns. And with 10 starters returning on offense including sophomore Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree, Harrell may do even better this year (if that’s possible).
11. Wisconsin Badgers
No matter who plays quarterback for the Badgers, there is always one certainty with the Wisconsin football program: they have a solid run game.
Led by junior P.J. Hill, sophomore Zach Brown, and freshman John Clay, the stable of running backs should gain their fair share of yards behind an experienced line.
The Wisconsin defense has plenty of experienced weapons as well, including senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas and junior safety Shane Carter.
12. Auburn Tigers
After beating Clemson with new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Auburn has plenty to look forward to in 2008.
15 starters return to a program that has become a consistent SEC West power this past decade.
A stable of the Auburn program over these years has been a small, athletic defense. The same can be said for this year as 6’1 288-pound Sen’Derrick Marks achors the D at tackle.
Watch out because Auburn is poised to beat Alabama for the seventh year.
13. Texas Longhorns
The Longhorns return all four linemen from the sixth ranked rush defense in the nation in rushing. Texas’s passing defense ranked 109th.
They will have to improve as they play talented quarterbacks in Rusty Smith, Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Graham Harrell, and Todd Reesing.
The early departure of running back Jamaal Charles may hurt the Longhorns more than they think. Charles’s replacement by committee won’t be as effective so starting QB Colt McCoy will assume a much greater role.
McCoy struggled at times last season as he was sacked 25 times and threw 18 interceptions. He will need to improve if they want to compete with Oklahoma and Missouri for a Big 12 title.
14. Arizona State Sun Devils
Rudy Carpenter was sacked an astonishing 55 times last season. This high number is attributed to both his holding onto the ball too long and a weak offensive line.
At the very least, Carpenter will be getting rid of the ball quicker this year. The Sun Devils have the best shot at unseating USC in the Pac-10 this year, but they have a history of laying down in big games.
Coach Erickson’s crew will have a big test against Georgia on September 20th. If they beat or play close to the Bulldogs, then they can compete with the best of them.
15. South Florida Bulls
6’4” 242-pound junior defensive end George Selvie—the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year—returns after amassing 14.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss. If anyone is looking for the next Glenn Dorsey or Terrell Suggs, this is your man.
USF’s defense is inconsistent, but as long as they can stop West Virginia’s offense then they have the potential to play with any O. USF will be tested early on against Kansas, so we’ll see what type of contender we have down in Tampa.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
The SEC East reigning champs boast new blood at quarterback with Jonathan Crompton and a solid run game, but can they compete with Florida this year?
17. IllinoisFighting Illini
The Fighting Illini are a true threat to compete for the Big Ten title. If they get by Missouri during the first week, this could be a banner year for Ron Zook’s crew.
18. BYU Cougars
The trendy mid-major favorite, Brigham Young is the king of the Mountain West and could end up in the Fiesta Bowl if they go undefeated.
19. Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban’s second year as head coach should be much more successful than the 7-6 campaign in ’07. A solid offensive line and linebacker corps should carry this team, although depth will be an issue.
20. Kansas Jayhawks
So Kansas returns 15 starters from a 12-1 team and all they have to show for it is a #20 ranking? The Jayhawks’ schedule is much tougher as they have to travel to South Florida, Oklahoma, and Missouri this year.
21. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest has turned into a consistently solid program under Jim Grobe’s staff.
This year the strength will be in the defense, which returns star cornerback Alphonso Smith, who made eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) last year.
22. Virginia Tech Hokies
After losing a multitude of players to injury or graduation, the Hokies may be in rebuilding mode. But the defense that ranked fourth in total yards last year returns several key players so Va. Tech could surprise some people.
23. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks lost two true superstars in Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart. But the new duo of Justin Roper and Jeremiah Johnson are more than adequate replacements.
24. Penn State Nittany Lions
Joe Paterno may be coaching until he’s 95, but he needed to bring in a new system with the changing of the times. Enter Daryll Clark at Pat Devlin, two quarterbacks best-suited for the spread offense.
Penn State might not compete for the Big Ten title, but they may make it back to 10 wins.
25. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have had a few down years after winning the ACC in 2005.
With Jimbo Fisher assuming a greater role as Bobby Bowden’s successor, the Seminoles may get an upstart boost to emerge from the mediocrity that is the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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