I know, I know...the 2007 season ended less than a week ago, and here I am putting together a Top 10 of teams to watch.
Obviously, things could change based on National Signing Day and early entries to the NFL Draft. In short: I'm a sick, sick person.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Arguably the hottest team at the end of 2007, Georgia returns all but five starters from this year's Sugar Bowl squad. Sophomore running back Knowshon Moreno, redshirt freshman Caleb King, and quarterback Matthew Stafford will anchor one of the best backfields in America.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
After two straight years of BCS Championship nightmares, coach Jim Tressel will be in a great position to prove the third time's a charm. Replacing right tackle Kirk Barton is the biggest issue for the Buckeyes, who return both leading receivers, quarterback, and leading rusher on offense. On defense, the addition of injured defensive end Lawrence Wilson will make the stout OSU defense even better... assuming LB James Laurinaitis comes back for his senior season.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Quarterback Sam Bradford will be back under center, along with the majority of the offensive line and skill positions. Running back DeMarco Murray will replace senior Allen Patrick, and there's a good possibility WR Malcom Kelly will make the jump to the NFL. On defense OU will have to replace two starters in the secondary... but look for Bob Stoops to have the Sooners in the thick of the championship hunt yet again.
4. Florida Gators
The Gators defense will be much improved in 2008, as will the running game with USC transfer Emmanuel Moody. The combo of Moody, Tim Tebow, and Percy Harvin will be one of the most dynamic in the country.
With the return of running back tandem C.J. Spiller and James Davis, quarterback Cullen Harper and wide receiver Aaron Kelly, Clemson will undoubtedly have an explosive offense. Protecting Harper will be the biggest obstacle, as Tommy Bowden will have to replace four starters on the offensive line. With 9 starters back on D, the Tigers should finally win the ACC.
Based on talent alone, USC is one of the best teams in the country. But coach Pete Carroll will have to replace loads of talent on both offense and defense, including quarterback John David Booty. I predict a season much like 2007 for the Trojans; a bit of a slow start, followed by maturation, resulting in one of the hottest teams at the end of the year. The only problem with that is the September 13 game against Ohio State, which could end up as an early loss.
Quick sidenote: I'm not 100% convinced Carroll will be back at USC next year. Don't be surprised if he takes the Atlanta Falcons job.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders are my dark horse team of 2008. Mike Leach has led Tech to a bowl game each of his eight seasons in Lubbock, and will be in a BCS Bowl next year. Quarterback Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree both return, along with the entire offensive line. With the majority of the defense returning, the biggest concern will be replacing departed kicker Alex Trilica.
The Tigers will play the 2008 version of the Kansas Jayhawks schedule from last year, meaning they will basically play...no one. Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech are all off the schedule, and the non-conference schedule consists of Southeast Missouri, Nevada, and Buffalo. So even with a bevy of lost players, Missouri should be at the top of the Big 12 North come December.
9. West Virginia
I'm putting faith in new coach Bill Stewart, based off his Fiesta Bowl performance. Sure, it's much easier to get a team up for one game than an entire season, but with the offensive talent returning to Morgantown, you have to like his chances. Look for Noel Devine to be this year's Percy Harvin, a threat both in the running game and passing game.
The Tigers return eight starters on both offense and defense, and will feature a spread look thanks to newly hired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Sophomore QB Kodi Burns will be a breakout star in 2008. Tough test early as Auburn travels to WVU, but they get a "break" with LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia all being at home.