Here is the deal: I have decided to put out a very, very, very early outlook on the Top 25 for the 2009 season, before the bowl games. But I am only going to do the Top 10 right now, as that will be much easier.
As you will notice, all underclassmen will be factored into the ranking. I will be writing another one after all underclassmen have declared for the draft and the recruits have signed letters of intent. Each team's rank will have key players returning, as well as a short reasoning for why they are ranked where they are.
So here is the very, very early Top 10 for 2009 with all underclassmen returning.
1. Florida Gators
Key Players: QB Tim Tebow (Sr), RBs Jeffrey Demps (So) and Chris Rainey (Rs So), WR Percy Harvin (Sr), TE Aaron Hernandez (Jr), OLs Mike and Maurkice Pouncey (So), DEs Jermaine Cunningham (Sr) and Carlos Dunlap (Jr), MLB Brandon Spikes (Sr), CBs Joe Haden (Jr) and Janoris Jenkins (So), safeties Major Wright (So) and Ahmad Black (Rs So)
If you think the Florida Gators are good this year, just think how good they will be next year. This team, barring the losses of Tebow, Harvin, and Spikes, will return 19 of its 22 starters from a team that won the SEC title and is playing in the NC. With Spikes returning, this team returns all their starters on a defense rated one of the best in the nation. This team looks downright scary for next year.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
Key Players: QB Sam Bradford (Rs Jr), RBs DeMarco Murray (Jr) and Chris Brown (Sr), WR Ryan Broyles (Rs So), TE Jermaine Gresham (Sr), OT Trent Williams (Sr), DEs Auston English (Sr) and Jeremy Beal (Jr), DT Gerald McCoy (Jr), OLBs Keenan Clayton (Sr) and Travis Lewis (Sr), MLB Ryan Reynolds (Sr), CBs Brian Jackson (Sr) and Dominique Franks (Jr)
This team returns the Heisman Trophy winner, two 1,000-yard rushers, one of the best TEs in the country, and a D that returns nine starters and can only get better. Only question is whether losing four of the five starters on OL will hurt.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Players: RBs Glen Coffee (Sr) and Mark Ingram (So), WR Julio Jones (So), OT Andre Smith (Sr), OG Mike Johnson (Sr), NT Terrance Cody (Sr), OLB Brandon Fanney (Sr), MLBs Rolando McClain (Jr) and Donta' Hightower (So), CBs Javier Arenas (Sr) and Kareem Jackson (Jr)
Finding a QB is a must, but with two great RBs and a stud like Jones at WR, the QB will have to be as good as JPW. The defense, on the other hand, was one of the best in the nation, and after only losing one starter, it figures to be up there again.
4. Texas Longhorns
Key Players: QB Colt McCoy (Rs Sr), FB Cody Johnson (So), TE Blaine Irby (Jr), OT Adam Ulatoski (Sr), C Chris Hall (Sr), OLBs Sergio Kindle (Sr) and Roddrick Muckelroy (Sr), CB Deon Beasley (Sr), S Earl Thomas (So), K Hunter Lawrence (Sr)
While returning 14 starters, there are still two question marks going into the season. Can they find a solid option at RB so McCoy does not have to run? And can they replace Cosby and Shipley at WR? I have just read, though, that Shipley is applying for a sixth year of eligibility, and if granted, this could really help this team.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
Key Players: QB Terrelle Pryor (So), RB Chris Wells (Sr), WR Brian Hartline (Sr), OG Jim Cordle (Sr), C Michael Brewster (So), DEs Lawrence Wilson (Sr) and Thad Gibson (Jr), DT Cameron Heyward (Jr), OLB Ross Homan (Jr), Safeties Kurt Coleman (Sr) and Anderson Russell (Sr)
The Buckeyes will have their second year of Pryor, which is scary enough. But if Beanie returns, that could be even better for that offense. Only question is how they replace two first round picks, Jenkins and Laurinaitis, and a first day pick, Freeman.
6. USC Trojans
Key Players: QB Mark Sanchez (Sr), RBs C.J. Gable (Rs Jr), Joe McKnight (Jr), and Stafon Johnson (Sr), FB Stanley Havili (Jr), WRs Ronald Johnson (Jr) and Damien Williams (Jr), OT Charles Brown (Sr), C Kristofer O'Dowd (Jr), DE Everson Griffen (Jr), CB Shareece Wright (Jr), FS Taylor Mays (Sr)
The Trojans offense is going to be very good, as they return nine starters, but on defense, only two return. But there is so much talent built up at USC that the defense shouldn't miss a beat. We will have to wait and see.
Key Players: QB Matthew Stafford (Sr), RB Knowshon Moreno (Rs Jr), WR A.J. Green (So), OTs Clint Boling (Jr) and Trinton Sturdivant (Rs So), OG Chris Davis (Jr), DTs Jeff Owens (Sr) and Geno Atkins (Sr), OLB Rennie Curran (Jr), MLB Darryl Gamble (Jr), CBs Prince Miller (Sr) and Asher Allen (Sr), FS Reshad Jones (Jr)
If both Stafford and Moreno stay, this team will be very highly ranked. With a ton of starters returning on both sides, including the whole offensive line, this team looks to be a contender as long as Stafford and Moreno come back.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Key Players: QB Zac Robinson (Sr), RBs Kendall Hunter (Jr) and Keith Toston (Sr), WR Dez Bryant (Jr), OT Russell Okung (Sr), DE Ugo Chinasa (Jr), OLBs Andrew Sexton (Sr) and Patrick Lavine (Sr), MLB Orie Lemon (Sr), CB Perrish Cox (Sr)
Oklahoma State had a huge 2008, and with stars like Robinson, Hunter, and Bryant returning to lead the offense, expect much of the same. Also, the LB corps of Sexton, Lavine, and Lemon is one of the best in the nation.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions
Key Players: QB Daryll Clark (Rs Sr), RB Evan Royster (Jr), TE Mickey Shuler (Sr), OG Stefen Wisniewski (Jr), DEs Aaron Maybin (Jr) and Maurice Evans (Sr), DT Jared Odrick (Sr), OLB Navorro Bowman (Jr), MLB Sean Lee (Rs Sr), CB A.J. Wallace (Sr)
Penn State has a very, very solid front seven returning, but the secondary is a huge question mark. Also, on offense, how they replace Butler, Williams, and Norwood at WR will determine how their season goes.
10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Key Players: QB Josh Nesbitt (Jr), RBs Jonathan Dwyer (Jr) and Roddy Jones (So), WR Demaryius Thomas (Jr), OG Cord Howard (Sr), DE Derrick Morgan (Jr), OLB Sedric Griffin (Sr), MLB Kyle Jackson (So), CB Rashaas Reid (So), Safeties Morgan Burnett (Jr) and Cooper Taylor (So)
Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets surprised everyone in 2008, but don't expect much of the same in 2009. They will be one of the favorites to win the ACC in 2009 due to their running attack, which returns the top three leading rushers. The D returns eight starters also.
Teams Just Missing the Top 10
Pittsburgh: RB LeSean McCoy (Rs Jr) and WR Oderick Turner (Sr)
Virginia Tech: QB Tyrod Taylor (Jr), OG Sergio Render (Sr), DE Jason Worilds (Jr) and FS Kam Chancellor (Sr)
Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree (Rs Jr), DE Brandon Williams (Sr), and CB Jamar Wall (Sr)
LSU: RB Charles Scott (Sr), WR Brandon LaFell (Sr), OT Ciron Black (Sr), DE Rahim Alem (Sr) and DT Ricky Jean-Francois (Sr)