5. Georgia Bulldogs
Yes, both the AP and Coaches believe that the Bulldogs are the best team in the country right now, but I beg to differ. They do have plenty of talent on their offense, led by maybe the best pro prospect quarterback in the country, Matthew Stafford. Stafford had a good year in 2007, throwing for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore.
The emergence of running back Knowshon Moreno helped take a bit of the pressure off the QB. Moreno rushed for 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Caleb King is a true freshman who should provide depth behind Moreno.
The offensive line took a bit of a hit when left tackle Trinton Sturdivant injured his knee and was declared out for the season. He protected Stafford’s blind side, so we’ll have to see if Georgia can find an answer on the line.
On defense, the Bulldogs have the most talented defensive line in the country. Rodrick Battle, Jeff Ownes, and Geno Atkins anchor a line that gave up just over 100 yards per game on the ground. The secondary returns three starters from a group that only gave up 213 yards per game through the air.
Georgia’s schedule is brutal. They have a stretch where they play at South Carolina, at Arizona State, and then home against Alabama and Tennessee. Later in the year they play at LSU, home against Florida, and two weeks later at Auburn.
If this team makes it through the year with only one loss, they had better be playing for a BCS title.
4. Florida Gators
The Gators would be ranked much higher, but they have taken some hits on the injury front during fall camp. Tight end Cornelius Ingram, strong safety Dorain Munroe, and three other Gators tore their ACLs and will miss the season. Percy Harvin is banged up still with the heel injury.
Nevertheless, the Gators do have Superman, Tim Tebow, which no other team can claim. Tebow, last year’s Heisman winner, is looking to build off a season where he threw and ran for over 20 touchdowns apiece. Keeping him healthy should be Florida’s No. 1 priority.
USC transfer Emmanuel Moody should start at running back and hopefully take some of the running load off Tebow. Gator fans are also really excited for Chris Rainey, the fastest Gator on the team, to touch the ball and use his speed in the open field.
On defense, the Gators do have some experience back in the secondary, which was a bit of a concern last season as they gave up 260 yards per game through the air.
Like every SEC team, the Gators have a tough schedule. Their OOC games are home against Hawaii and Miami, as well as finishing the season against Florida State.
The good part for the Gators is that they do not have tough stretches in their schedule like Georgia does. Their toughest one might be early on when they play Miami, at Tennessee, and home against Ole Miss.
If Tebow can stay healthy and the defense can tighten up, the Gators might be playing for their second title in three years.
3. Southern California Trojans
Year in and year out, the Trojans have the talent to compete for a national title, and this year is no different. In 2007, their defense only gave up 16 points per game, which was good for second best in the country. Also, USC only gave up 84 yards on the ground and 190 yards through the air per game.
The unfortunate part for their opponents is that the core of their defense is back. Fili Moala, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga are the key players back on a defense that returns seven starters from last season.
It is weird to say this, but the Trojans’ weakness might be their offense. They still have questions on the offensive line, and their receivers, although full of talent, are mainly unproven. Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton both have starting experience but were not focal points of the offense.
Questions still surround quarterback Mark Sanchez and his ability to win the big games, even more since he got injured and missed most of fall camp. Running backs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight should be playmakers for the offense.
Besides games against Arizona State and Oregon, USC should have a relatively easy time in the Pac-10. The game on Sep. 13, when Ohio State comes to the Coliseum, will tell which of those two teams will be playing for the title in January.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
For the second year in a row, the Sooners had a poor showing in the Fiesta Bowl, but with the talent they have returning, they should at least get back there for a third season. On both the offense and the defense, their lines are some of the best you will find in all of the country.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford should have plenty of time to throw and hopefully avoid that sophomore jinx that has plagued a few quarterbacks. DeMarco Murray will become the go-to guy at running back, while Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson are the top returning receivers.
If you are looking for a weakness with the Sooners, it might be at linebacker, where Ryan Reynolds is the only returning starter. However, junior college transfer Mike Balogun has been drawing rave reviews and might put defensive coordinator Brent Venables in a tough situation. Balogun plays the same position as Reynolds, so does Venables play one of them out of position?
The game circled for the Sooners is always the Red River Shootout with Texas. This year it is no different, but they might add Nov. 22 to avenge last year’s loss to Texas Tech. If all goes well, they should be playing Missouri in the Big 12 championship game for a chance to play in the BCS title game.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Go ahead and laugh, shake your head, call me an idiot—but this is Jim Tressel’s best team out of his past two that went to the BCS title game. They return nine starters on offense and eight on defense, including Heisman candidate Chris Wells and Mr. Linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Their receivers are quality with the Brians, Hartline and Robiskie, and tight end Rory Nicol.
Their defense is stacked and as I said returns many starters from a team that gave up 12 points per game, 82 yards on the ground, 150 yards passing, and only 233 total yards per game. In three of those categories they were ranked No. 1, and in the others they were No. 3.
The Buckeyes have two things working against them. One is that the media and most college football fans do not want them back in the title game. Unless they run the table, they will not be playing for a BCS title for the third year in a row.
Two, I am not sure if Todd Boeckman is the man to carry this team to a title. He must be steady and mistake free. I know he will not win a game for you, but he certainly can lose one.
One game will make or break their season: Sep. 13 at Southern Cal. If they lose there, the best they will do is the Rose Bowl. A win against USC leaves them with their toughest game at Wisconsin on Oct. 4.