Aug 18

Preseason Top 25

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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I really do believe that polls should not come out until the fourth weekend or so, but since they are fun, and we all like to know where our favorite team stands in the minds of others, here is my 2010 preseason top 25 poll! Some may wonder what the basis of my first poll is, and the answer is a number of things. It is a combination of how good I think the teams are (mainly), followed by where I think they will be around that fourth week I mentioned above. The most weight is given to who I really do think are the best teams out there. This poll won't match up super close to the AP or Coaches' poll (honestly, I wrote mine before the Coaches' poll came out the other day), but in my mind is the order of the toughest teams in college football...

1. Alabama Crimson Tide - SEC
   2009 Record: 14-0, SEC Champions, National Champions 
   Returning starters: 3 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Nick Saban (4th year, 31-7)
   Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, AL (92,138)
   Claimed national titles: 13 (1925, '26, '30, '34, '41, '61, '64, '65, '73, '78, '92, 2009)
   Undergrad enrollment: 28,807
   
Until somebody beats the defending champs, they are number one. With that said, for the Tide to stay numero uno, Nick Saban will have to prove why he is the best coach in the game. The defense will have new faces all over the place, and the schedule is brutal. However, the talent level is unreal, and the dropoff in the win column should be minimal if any. Saban is so dadgum disiplined that these talented recruits will plug that D fast, and big bodies and athletic ability are of no shortage in Tuscaloosa. But if Alabama is to remain the class of college football, it is the offense that will have to get it done - at least early on. Luckily, they are equipped to do just that. A Heisman winner returns at running back in Mark Ingram, and he will run behind a line featuring three of five guys back. A senior quarterback is usually also the sign of a winner, and Greg McElroy comes in showing he can get it done to win it all. McElroy has three starters returning to throw to in Darius Hanks, Marquiz Maze and famed Julio Jones - now a junior. They will have to play big in the Penn State game very early in the season as this will be a very physical game and will need to be spread out at times. That game will be tough, but is at home. In that game, the passes will be there, but expect major ball control by the Tide offense - enough to squeek out a win. After that, Duke allows for some relief - though on the road (which I still can't believe!), before a game with Arkansas away. The opening stretch of four games is kinda tricky, and the schedule gets no easier the rest of the way. In the end, I think Alabama will suffer a loss somewhere on this tough schedule. But with the setup of college football these days, expect to see Saban and crew back in the BCS title game in January, one way or another.
 
2. Ohio State Buckeyes - Big 10
   2009 Record: 10-2, Big Ten Champions 
   Returning starters: 6 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Jim Tressel (10th year, 94-21)
   Stadium: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH  (102,392)
   Claimed national titles: 7 (1942, '54, '57, '61, '68, '70, 2002)
   Undergrad enrollment: 38,748 (in Columbus)
 
As I mentioned above in the intro, this preseason top 25 is a combo of many different things. With Ohio State, that criteria fits like a glove. I think the Buckeyes very well may be the second best team in America - both now and when the season ends in January. These guys will most-likely get the chance to prove me wrong as I think they will face Alabama for all of the marbles in Glendale, Arizona, January 10th. But until OSU slams the door on somebody to get to the top, this is a good place for the Buckeys. I think nearly every program in the country would be happy to be in the national title scene regularly, and that is where Ohio State is. To try to bring home the school's eighth national title, quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be on a mission. The junior has been hyped up for three seasons, and now is his chance to shine with an absolutely deadly team to help him out. On offense, only one line position and the tight end need to be replaced. No problem. On defense, all but five guys are back. The experience is unreal. Schedule-wise, one game has to be circled, and I see it as a win. Miami comes to Columbus the second weekend, and this should be a doozy. I think the Buckeyes will pull away in the second half as Miami is still just a couple of players away from being able to win a game such as this one. The Big Ten schedule is tough, but all should be wins and should be taken one game at a time. It is so early that anything can happen, but OSU's final two games against Penn State and at Iowa should tell this season after the Miami game, and Wisconsin away midseason. In the end - like I said - I think they get into the BCS title game.
 
3. Boise State Broncos - WAC
   2009 Record: 14-0
   Returning starters: 10 defense, 10 offense
   Head Coach: Chris Peterson (5th season, 49-4)
   Stadium: Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID (33,500)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Enrollment: 18,936
 
Before the season even gets here, you can hear the folks complaining that Boise doesnt play a good enough schedule. And it is a point. I am actually a Boise fan, but I have concerns myself about this. I think they are very, very, very, very good. But I wish they were tested more. Regardless, they play Oregon State and Virginia Tech in what should be fantastic games. OSU is at home, while Boise must travel 3,000 miles to play Tech in its own backyard of Landover, Maryland. That should be a doozy! Boise State has almost every player back from a team that did everything but get awarded a national title a year ago. Most importantly, Kellen Moore returns - an all-conference selection and all-American candidate for 2010. When you have a quarterback with that kind of leadership, it is awfully tough to be brought down. Defensively, as said, nearly every player returns. The Broncos are a force to be reckoned with, and I can only hope that in the near future they will have more big games on their schedule. I think that Head Coach Chris Peterson is one of the best minds in the game, and at 49-4, that is a no-brainer type of statement. I see them running into troubleearly with Virginia Tech, but otherwise winning every game on their schedule to go 12-1. If everything were to work out - including a win in the VT game - it might be time to slide the Broncos into the BCS title game. That is a story, though, for four months from now!
 
4. TCU Horned Frogs - MWC
   2009 Record: 12-1 
   Returning starters: 8 defense, 10 offense
   Head Coach: Gary Patterson (10th year, 85-28)
   Stadium: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX (44,358)
   Claimed national titles: 2 (1935, '38)
   Undergrad enrollment: 8,696
 
The Horned Frogs have come out of nowhere to be a true name in college football. They are unique with different colors and a crazy name, but they also know how to play some serious football. Like Boise, the schedule could use some work, but that will come down the road. As for now, they have pretty much beaten everyone in front of them the last couple of seasons. It is kind of odd how it took folks so long to notice the quality work of Coach Gary Patterson, but all of the credit in the world should go to him. The Frogs are the second best team in Texas at this point - not A&M or TTU or Baylor - and I wish we could see them play the 'Horns to see if UT is really better...As I look at the TCU lineup for 2010, I see twelve wins. This team has almost the entire offense coming back  - including an outstanding all around quarterback in experienced senior Andy Dalton - and all but three guys on defense coming back. They finished eighth nationally in 2009 in both total offense and total defense! I really see just two teams on the schedule that have even the slightest chance of beating TCU and that is Oregon State early, BYU at midseason, and a game at Utah near the end. Outside of that, it is a straight shot into the "dangit, we're gonna get left out again" talks. It is a sad but true delimna, and I know TCU is the very first team that would love to play a top 25 team week in and week out. I hate that I even have to bring this up. But as good as TCU is - and I truly believe they are quality - the lack of schedule will repeat itself in 2010 when it gets time for the BCS title talks.
 
5. Iowa Hawkeyes - Big 10
   2009 Record: 11-2 
   Returning starters: 8 defense, 6 offense
   Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (12th year, 81-55)
   Claimed national titles: 1 (1958)
   Stadium: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa (70,585)
   Undergrad enrollment: 20,574
 
Stuck way up in Big Ten country where Michigan and Ohio State garner most of the national headlines, Iowa is a program that should receive more attention than it does. Over the last couple of seasons, Iowa has been about as tough as anyone, and they are currently the defending Orange Bowl champions. In 2010, they will look to make some more noise with all-Big Ten candidate Ricky Stanzi at quarterback looking to lead his team back to the BCS...As I began studying this Iowa team, the only glaring problem that jumps out is the offensive line, where only two of five guys with a lot of experience return. However, sometimes the best players are waiting in the wings, and maybe for Iowa a few new studs will emerge. They have some big 'ole boys in the Midwest, and I'm guessing the Hawkeyes will see some quality new linemen this fall! The starting running back (Adam Robinson) and the starting fullback (Brett Morse) return, as well as two of Stanzi's receiving targets in Derrell Johnson and Marvin McNutt. The Iowa defense is as tough as any unit in the country (yes, Nebraska and Alabama included), and features eight players returning ready to rack some more Big Ten foes. This unit should be dirty. To note as well, both the kicker and punter return. As for the man roaming the sidelines, Kirk Ferentz has finally after twelve years gotten this program where he wants it - competing for BCS-level trophies. Can 2010 be the season that brings glory to the Hawkeye nation? Can this be the year of the school's first national title in over 50 years? Folks, I think this team is one to keep a very, very close eye on in the race for not only the Big Ten crown, but the national crown, as well. A tricky game out west at Arizona in week three could spell trouble, but the rest of the schedule sets up perfectly - including Penn State and Ohio State at home. My prediction is that the Ohio State game November 20th will decide if Iowa can play for a national title. "One game at a time" must be the 2010 motto because, in my opinion, the Hawkeyes are better than every team on their schedule leading up to OSU.
 
6. Texas Longhorns - Big 12
   2009 Record: 13-1, Big 12 Champions
   Returning starters: 7 defense, 5 offense
   Head Coach: Mack Brown (12th year, 128-27)
   Claimed national titles: 4 (1963, '69, '70, 2005)
   Stadium: Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX  (93,553)
   Undergrad enrollment: 38,168
 
Although I have the Texas Longhorns at number six in my poll, do not be surprised if this is the team that emerges holding the crystal football at year's end. Why? Two reasons. The first is that the talent level in Austin is second to nowhere. Secondly, Mack Brown is as good of a coach as you will find at the college level - and he knows what to do with that talent. He has twice had his team playing for the national title in his twelve years at Texas, winning the crown in 2005. But as succesful as Brown has been, another title sure would be nice to put his stamp firmly on Texas lore. Obviously, entering 2010, the biggest concern if you are a Longhorn is the play of Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. But like I said, at Texas the talent is unreal, and this guy is just the latest in a long line of quality UT qbs. He will have two games to completely settle in before facing Texas Tech on the road in week three. Gilbert will have a flock of receivers to throw to, but his offensive line is quite inexperienced with just two of five guys back as starters. With that said, you know these new guys will throw people around just the same as the ones before them! A stack of running backs returns, led by Tre Newton, a sophomore. On defense, the Horns should be fine. They lost a couple of key guys such as Sergio Kindle and Earl Thomas, but a reload is going to see some new bodies come in and wreck house. As for the schedule, Texas has it made in the shade minus one key road game: at Nebraska. The 'Huskers are mental over wanting this win, and it will take everything the Longhorns can come up with to escape Lincoln alive. Outside of that game, home dates include UCLA, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. I see Texas right there in the national championship picture depending on what happens in the Nebraska game.
 
7. Oregon Ducks - Pac 10
   2009 Record: 10-3, Pac 10 Champions
   Returning starters: 8 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Chip Kelly (2nd year, 10-3)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium:  Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR (54,000)
   Undergrad enrollment: 16,475
 
In week two, I will get to see this team up close and personal when they journey across the United States to take on Tennessee. I am really looking forward to this if for no other reason than to meet some Duck fans and see those wild uniforms in person! Oregon is a different kind of program - there is no mistaking that fact. From their high-powered offenses to their wacky uniforms to their crazy fans at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks have made a place for themselves in the college football world. Now, it is time for them to turn the corner. They have been hanging around in the top ten for a couple of years now, when will they break through for a national title? Could 2010 be the year? Maybe. An enormous number of starters returns - 19 - in what could be the most experienced Duck team ever. But they will need it as they face one of the more difficult schedules they have come up against in a while. Besides the 2,700 mile trip to Knoxville, the Quack Attack also faces USC, Oregon State and Cal all on the highway. That is tough... If Jeremiah Masoli were back to lead this team on offense (Ole Miss transfer after being dismissed from team for a felony burglary arrest and later a pot charge), I would have Oregon as my favorite for the national crown. That guy is unreal. But with a question still out over who will be leading the team, I just don't know. Senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas both played well in the spring game, and a starter isn't known yet. No matter which qb emerges, as I see this Duck team winning nearly all of its games, and thinking BCS and then some.
 
8. Florida Gators - SEC
   2009 Record: 13-1, SEC East Champions
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 6 offense
   Head Coach: Urban Meyer (6th year, 57-9)
   Claimed national titles: 3 (1996, 2006, '08)
   Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL (88,548)
   Undergrad enrollment: 33,648
 
After being national champs for the 2008 season, and number one for most all of 2009, the Gators are probably feeling withdrawals from the top spot. The post-Tim Tebow era is now here and a few things will be different. But what will not be different is that they will win most all of their games, and the reason for that is Urban Meyer and a sideline overflowing with some of the top unknown players in the country. Florida has picked the best players from the high schools at will over the last few seasons, and minus Tebow, UF should still be just fine. So speaking of quarterback, insert John Brantley, a junior, who has limited experience, but has all of the tools to be a succesful replacement. Many feel the offense will not drop in production, but rather simply have a different means of operating. Let's face it, Tebow's style wasn't normal. Defensively, there are holes to fill, but as mentioned, the athletes will get that done. The schedule for Florida is one of the toughest out there with the normal SEC slate (featuring Alabama away) and a rejuvenated Florida State (also away). I think Florida will lose twice this season; Alabama and one other game in the tough mix. That would be an impressive season in my opinion, and Florida would come into 2011 with a senior, experienced quarterback, friendlier schedule, and more experienced defense. This will be a nice year in Gainesville, but not a national title type of season.
 
9. Wisconsin Badgers - Big 10
   2009 Record: 10-3
   Returning starters: 6 defense, 11 offense
   Head Coach: Bret Bielema (5th year, 38-14)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium: Camp-Randall Stadium, Madison, WI (80,321)
   Undergrad enrollment: 28,960
 
The Badgers are back once again hanging around the edge of the top ten as that team that nobody wants to play. Will they ever be able to run the slate and win a national crown? Who knows. But I know that year in and year out they are one of the toughest, most physical, most disciplined teams in major college football. When program builder Barry Alvarez retired in 2005, not much changed in the team's character as Bret Bielema came in off of the staff, and Alvarez kept a close eye on the team as Athletic Director. That continuation in team chemistry has allowed Wisconsin to become one of the most respected programs out there. This year they return every single player on offense (including senior quarterback Scott Tolzien), and quite a good bit on defense. This team should be a major force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. While everybody is talking about Iowa and Ohio State, it very well may be this Wisconsin team that ends up going BCSing in the long run. As far as the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes go, Wisconsin gets one at home (OSU) while facing the other away in back to back weeks in late October. The way I see it playing out, Wisconsin will finish the regular season with one loss, and that loss will come in one of the two games I just mentioned. A trip to Michigan November 20th could spell trouble, depending if Rich Rod can get UM back on track. This Badger team is going to be good - real good - this season. With any luck at all, they could win all of their games and go places that Wisconsin football has not yet been.
 
10. Virginia Tech Hokies - ACC
   2009 Record: 9-3
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Frank Beamer (24th year, 187-92-2)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA (66,233)
   Undergrad enrollment: 20,962
 
Just like every season of late, it seems as if Virginia Tech is checking in as the league's highest ranked representative, and doing so from the ten spot. They have been lower and higher, but this as about where they usually start. Just as familiar, the 2010 team is the same type of team that Frank Beamer has had for years. They will play hard-nosed defense, tough special-teams, and mix in a good balance of run and throw on offense. VT has had very good athletes for years now, and Beamer learned some time ago how to take advantage of that. The question that is lingering around Blacksburg has to be "can Beamer ever bring home a national title?" Year after year after year, Tech is as respected as just about anyone. But annually, they lose a game or two and finish the year about where they started: right around the top ten. This year they have a good o-line coming back, and good skill. Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams are a lethal combo at quarterback/running back with a solid line. Defensively, five starters return, but the talent will see the other spots filled just fine. This team has plenty of players, that shouldn't be the problem. It is a mind game with Tech. They just need not to slip up...Schedule-wise, they will be tested immediately right off of the bat in just the slip-up type of game I am talking about. Yes, in a week one matchup Boise will be favored, but Tech will expect to win as this is basically a home game - and what an outstanding matchup it is! East Carolina is another nice inter-conference game, this time at home. Tech gets into ACC play in late September, and will battle Georgia Tech, Miami and UNC for the Coastal title. In the end, Tech will slip up again - either to Boise or an ACC foe - and otherwise have a huge season.

11. Nebraska Cornhuskers - Big 12
   2009 Record: 10-4, Big 12 North Champions
   Returning starters: 6 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Bo Pelini (3rd year, 20-8)
   Claimed national titles: 5 (1970, '71, '94, '95, '97)
   Stadium: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE (81,091)
   Undergrad enrollment: 18,526
 
Defense. Defense. Defense. That word is the pedestal that Nebraska football success rests upon. The idea of keeping the opposition from advancing the football has long been a tradition at this school, and has never been stronger than now as defensive mind Bo Pelini is the head coach. This unit was brought back to the nation's attention again last year with the dominant performances of Ndomakong Suh and company. And while Suh is gone to throw NFL quarterbacks around for the next eight or ten years, a new batch of hungry 'Huskers looks to fill his shoes. The defense should once again be the strong point for Nebraska in 2010 as nine starters (depending on which backups you count as starters) return with tons of experience. The "Blackshirts" should be fine. On offense, if ever there was a time to put some yardage together, it is now. Quarterback Zac Lee is back for his final season, and he has a TON to work with. His offensive line returns except for center, and all of his receivers are back. His running backs are also back and he has two tight ends back. Basically, Lee has every weapon imaginable to engineer scoring drives. Give that D just a few points, and you will win most games! As for the schedule, Nebraska always plays an intersting inter-regional game, and this time it is Washington. A trip to Seattle shows up on the schedule in the third week, following two cupcake home games. The Big 12 schedule is always tough, with this year's highlights being home dates with Texas, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado (in a meeting of two schools leaving the Big 12). The Texas game is being highly talked about and the storylines will be more than can be kept up with as this game gets closer, with political views between the two is a rivalry unto itself. Revenge after the Big 12 title game is what I would be after if I was a 'Husker. I see the Nebraska having another very solid season, but once again major hardware will ride on whether r not they can score points. I am tempted to say they are BCS bound and will win the Big 12, but Texas will come ready to roll October 16th no matter what the soap opera is doing. This will be a fun team to watch - top ten throughout the year - and if the offense can just find a way to average around 28 points or so, look out (25.1 ppg a year ago)!

 
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - ACC
   2009 Record: 11-3, ACC Champions
   Returning starters: 10 defense, 9 offense
   Head Coach: Paul Johnson, (3rd year, 20-7)
   Stadium: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, GA (55,000)
   Claimed national titles: 4 (1917, '28, '52, '90)
   Undergrad enrollment: 13,515
 
GT is very near the top of my despised list coming into 2010. In fact, to be quite honest, I just can't stand them right now. Besides that Clemson has lost to the Jackets four times straight in close, hard-fought games, GT also let the ACC down BAD in two games near the end of 2009. They had no reason at all losing to Georgia - but did. And they couldn't make the plays they needed to make late against Iowa to win the Orange Bowl. As the conference champion and a quality team, the ACC needs its best to win games like those right now...Anyway, moving on to the present, and more of the Paul Johnson era. His tricky ball-control offense gets the job done most of the time. But for Tech to be a true top ten team, they will have to have a true passing game emerge. I am not sure if Josh Nesbitt can deliver that threat, but we will see. If he can, this team could be national title material. The Jacket defense is always very, very strong and I see few games where the defense will have a terribly hard time. Schedule-wise, they have a game at Kansas in week two that they should win. However, anytime you pack your bags and fly a thousand miles into enemy territory, anything can happen. This game is scary. A trip seven days later to Chapel Hill isn't any easier. A midseason stretch allows for four games I think Tech should win, before heading to Clemson where 80,000 will be drooling for revenge. A bye week is huge before a trip to Blacksburg. Miami and a trip to Athens at year's end set up a "who knows what will happen" closing scenario that could have ACC and national implications. This is a tough slate! I see seven games right now that are losable. Still, I think this team is going to have a pretty good year - probably top 15. But like I said, until a true passing game comes about, there is one last step that GT must take before talking national crown.

13. Penn State Nittany Lions - Big 10
   2009 Record: 11-2 
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 8 offense
   Head Coach: (Joe Paterno, 45th year, 394-129-3)
   Claimed national titles: 2 (1982, '86)
   Stadium: Beaver Stadium, State College, PA (107,282)
   Undergrad enrollment: 38,630
 
As much as I love college football, and as much as I like Joe Paterno, Penn State is the team that I never seem to know much about. But I know they are damn good at football, and that is all that matters. I absolutely cannot wait for the game between Penn State and Alabama as it will get a ton of press here in the South, and I will be able to familiarize myself better with the Nittany Lions. Remarkably, JoPa is back for more sideline roaming in 2010 at the ripe age of 83. I have the feeling he wouldn't still coach if he didn't think a national title was within his reach. However, breaking in a new quarterback (junior Matt McGloin or sophomore Kevin Newsome) often spells a loss or two, and the second weekend matchup with the Tide could knock a national title away from Penn State early. A win in that game, though, would boost PSU into the top five right away. Two more enormous obstacles for the Lions are games at Iowa midseason and at Ohio State to close the year. For most teams that would spell three losses. But I get the feeling that PSU will find a way to win one of those three games, and wind up 10-2 for the regular season. The ever lingering question in State College is the retirement of Joe Paterno. Growing old is something that is inevitable, and is something we will all have to deal with. But the way I see what is going on at Penn State is "if it aint broke, don't fix it." Yes, he will have to hang it up one day. But if he has a few more years left in him for now, and his teams continue to compete for BigTen crowns, I'm glad to see him in the game!
 
14. Oklahoma Sooners - Big 12
   2009 Record: 8-5 
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 8 offense
   Head Coach: Bob Stoops (12th year, 117-28)
   Claimed national titles: 7 (1950, '55, '56, '74, '75, '85, 2000)
   Stadium: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, OK (82,112)
   Undergrad enrollment: 20,841
 
For a shortwhile a decade ago, OU was the class of college football. Capped off with the 2000 national title, the Sooners had once again reached the pinnacle of the college football mountain. Fast forward ten seasons later and Oklahoma is still a solid program, but they haven't been able to have the stars align again - even with a Heisman winner in Sam Bradford in 2008. Now, with Bradford off to the NFL, sophomore Landry Jones will take over once again trying to regain the Sooner glory - and Jones is no stranger to the field. With Bradford injured for most of the 2009 campaign, Jones threw for 26 touchdowns and 3,198 yards. He is more than ready to do what needs to be done to win and to put his own stamp on the OU tradition. In front of Jones, Oklahoma has four veteran linemen for protection and time, and a whole mess of receivers to throw to. He really should be fine. Defensively, Oklahoma could have some question marks, and that is why I have them at 14 and not ten or better. They of course will have athletes galore, but those same guys do not have the experience that you sometimes need. They are a bit inexperienced on defense, but the backups about to start are sophomores and juniors and should know the system fairly well by now. Schedule-wise, the Sooners do not leave home until the fourth weekend when they travel to Cincinnati. Florida State and Texas are two big home games in the first half of the season. The second half of the season sees the marquee game being at Oklahoma State to finish the regular season. Overall, the schedule is quite managable for Oklahoma. Beat FSU and Texas early, and who knows. But that is a tall task, and I see them beating FSU in a close game, but losing to Texas. The rest of the way out they will slip once to finish the regular season 10-2. Bob Stoops is an excellent coach and will have OU regularly in the top 15. But to win it all - at least in 2010 - he is going to have to have his thinking cap on.
 
15. Miami Hurricanes - ACC
   2009 Record: 10-3 
   Returning starters: 9 defense, 8 offense
   Head Coach: Randy Shannon (4th year, 21-17)
   Claimed national titles: 5 (1983, '87, '89, '91, 2001)
   Stadium: SunLife Stadium, Miami, FL (75,000)
   Undergrad enrollment: 9,855
 
This is the third ACC team in my top 15, so maybe - just maybe - one of these teams can break through and get the conference a name in the top five again. The only problem with Miami though, is that I am not 100 percent sure if they are the team to do it. I like the fact that Miami is trying to get its pride back and all of that type of stuff. And there is no denying that all-American type recruits roam all over the sideline. But I am not sure that Randy Shannon is the man to get the job done. I may be premature in saying that, and that is why I am giving him another shot at number 15, but he has been there three full years, and you can usually tell by year two or three if the man is "The Man." But, with all of that said, Jacory Harris is back to lead a 'Cane offense that was very potent at times in 2009, and the Hurricane defense should be one of the best in the nation. I guess we will just have to wait and see what Shannon can do with all of that. The biggest problem for the head coach - and it is a glaring one - is that the offensive line returns just two guys. Hmmm. The schedule is brutal with Ohio State, Pittsburgh and South Florida on top of the ACC schedule. This team is a roll of the dice, but I am willing to put them at 15 and see what happens. By season's end, I see Miami about where they started here: number 15. I think they will lose at Ohio State, and lose twice in conference, probably at GT, Virgina Tech at home, or at Clemson. I see the 'Canes going 9-3 in 2010.
 
 
16. Utah Utes - MWC
   2009 Record: 10-3 
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 8 offense
   Head Coach: Kyle Wittingham (6th year, 47-17)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah (45,017)
   Undergrad enrollment: 21,526
 
You cannot ignore the Utes. This team - like Boise - has shown on a consistent basis that it can play very, very good football. So despite your opinion on whether or not the Utah schedule is up to par (we will get to that below), you cannot deny that they are a good team. I think they firmly belong in the top 25. The 2010 version of the Utes is looking pretty good on paper, at least offensively (which is their specialty). Eight players return on this side of the ball ready to outscore the opposition this fall. Leading the way for Utah is an offensive line that brings back four of five guys as well as the tight end. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn will look to improve on his 2009 numbers (eight touchdowns, 1,329 yards in just five starts). Defensively, Utah only has five guys back. But as mentioned above, this is the type of team that would just as soon outscore you as play any other way. If the defense can come together into a formidable unit, I see Utah simply outscoring teams for their wins...Back to the schedule. This year I see five games that are truly good, tough games. Is that a full slate of eight or nine tough games? No. But it is a nice schedule with some obstacles. The first tough game is Pittsburgh at home. A road trip to Air Force October 30th is against a very tricky team, and on the road. TCU at home November 6th is a monster game, and a trip to Notre Dame follows immediately. The final tough game is BYU at home to close the season. In the end, Utah could play three teams that visited the top ten (depending on how things go with ND and Pitt). It will be tougher for people to knock Utah's schedule this year than in previous seasons, and that is a pat on the back for scheduling out of conference teams such as Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. I see Utah losing a game or two in the regular season, but still going to a nice bowl and an 11-1 or 10-2 record.

 
17. Georgia Bulldogs - SEC
   2009 Record: 8-5
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 10 offense
   Head Coach: Mark Richt (10th year, 90-27)
   Claimed national titles: 2 (1940, '80)
   Stadium: Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA (92,746)
   Undergrad enrollment: 34,855
 
I have said it for a few seasons now, and I am really sticking to it now: Mark Richt is starting to feel the hot seat. Now before some of you Richt fans go and fly off of the handle, I mean this more as a compliment to Georgia's standards than to Richt's failures. His overall win-loss record is pretty good. But even with that said, Richt hasn't exactly set the world on fire. He came in as a hot coach and two years later led the Dawgs to the 2002 SEC title and a Sugar Bowl win. Things were lookin A-OK in A-town. But nothing has really happened since then, and this 2010 squad will be a major surprise if it brings home big-time hardware. Basically, UGA fans want a national title, and in my opinion, Richt isn't the coach to get them one. Ten years and counting is all I am saying here folks. It isn't like he needs anything facility-wise, etc......The quarterback spot is up in the air as a battle looms between Aaron Murray and junior Logan Gray. Both should see snaps early in the year. But outside of this qb situation, the entire offense returns. On defense, the Dawgs are strong, but must fill some holes. UGA is the type of program where you reload, not rebuild, as the talent is there, the experience is not. Schedule-wise, the usual SEC slate is tough, but Georgia gets a break as Alabama is not on the menu. Colorado is the out-of-conference opponent and is a totally winnable game, though on the road. Rival Georgia Tech is at home. Georgia will go 9-3 in 2010, losing one early (probably at South Carolina), one midseason (Florida), and one near the season's end (Auburn away). Still, there is something about the tradition and five-star talent in Athens to make me think Georgia has a chance in every game.

18. USC Trojans - Pac 10
   2009 Record: 9-4
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 5 offense
   Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (1st year, 0-0)
   Claimed national titles: 11 (1928, '31, '32, '39, '62, '67, '72, '74, '78, 2003, '04)
   Stadium: LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, California (93,607)
   Undergrad enrollment: 16,751
 
Oh man, where do we even start? USC has been perhaps the top name in college football over the last ten years, all under the guidance of Mr. Pete Carroll. His dismissal to the NFL a few months ago left open perhaps the top job in the sport. Controversy is no stranger to Los Angeles, but even this city isn't used to all of the drama brought along by new Head Coach Lane Kiffin. Everyone knows Kiffin loves to stir things up off of the field. But he better stir some things up on the field or those at USC are going to be on him quick. With all of the media frenzy and hoopla aside, the Trojans want to win. And if Kiffin cannot do that, this circus on TV and on the internet will turn into a disappearing act for Lane. But wait. What if he does win? With all of this commotion that has been stirred up with this coach, what if he actually wins some games? He could. For one thing, the first half of the schedule is a breeze. It isn't until week six - on the road at Stanford - that I see USC in a losable situation. By then, returning quarterback Matt Barkley will probably have developed a nice rhthym with this offense, and the many new replacements will have settled in. Having a quarterback talent such as Barkley will keep you in every game, anyway. The second half of the season looks to be a lot tougher than the first half. Here, the schedule heats up, but still the big games are at home in California, Oregon and Notre Dame. Road trips to Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA are the big obstacles. I see USC starting off 5-0, before losing at Stanford. The second half of the season I see them going 4-3 for an overall record of 9-4. This will get them into a good bowl, and set up for a huge 2011 season where Barkley will be a junior and many more experienced players will return. To me, this is a season to get question marks answered under this new, unpredictable coaching staff.
 
19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Independent
   2009 Record: 6-6
   Returning starters: 9 defense, 6 offense
   Head Coach: Brian Kelly (1st year, 0-0)
   Claimed national titles: 11 ('24, '29, '40, '43, '46, '47, '49, '63, '66, '77, '88)
   Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN (80,795)
   Undergrad enrollment: 8,371
 
Oh my goodness gracious, Top Fan - are you serious!? You have ND in your preseason Top 25!? And at number 19?! Have you lost your marbles?!...I am sure I will get a reply (via email or forum post) about this lofty preseason ranking for the Irish. Well folks, too bad. I have so much respect for what Brian Kelly can do as a coach, that I firmly believe Notre Dame will be the surprise team of 2010. This man brought lowly Cincinnati from the depths of the college football sea a few years back, to ridin' the college football waves just a year ago. He did it with discipline and getting the most out of his players. That is exactly what Notre Dame needs right now. They struck Golden Dome with this man. As for the returning players and the schedule, both look like to be ripe for a big season. The talent level is top 15 no matter the situation, and the schedule is managable. The strength out of the gate for Notre Dame will be the defense. They have nearly every player back from a year ago where they ranked 63rd in scoring defense, nationally. Offensively, a new quarterback must be broken in, so that will be tricky. But Dayne Crist - like every ND recruit - has talent, and Kelly will get the max out of this guy. Surrounding Crist, seven other offensive guys are back from 2009. The schedule starts with two winnable home games in Purdue and Michigan. Neither will be easy, but expect a raucous environment at Notre Dame Stadium to usher in the Kelly era. A road trip to Michgan State in week three is tough, before returning home for Stanford. A trip to Boston College will be a real test in week four, and the end of the year features two big games with Utah (home) and USC (away). Overall, I see ND going 8-4, setting Kelly up for a huge second year in 2011.

 
20. Florida State Seminoles - ACC
   2009 Record: 7-6 
   Returning starters: 6 defense, 11 offense
   Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (1st year, 0-0)
   Claimed national titles: 2 (1993, '99)
   Stadium: Doak S. Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, FL (82,300)
   Undergrad enrollment: 31,698
 
It would take a blind and dumb person to miss the obvious history being made when FSU runs out of the tunnel against Samford Sept. 4th. For the first time in 33 years, FSU will be under the guidance of a man not named Bobby Bowden. And while Bowden is Florida State football, Jimbo Fisher brings much needed newness to the program. Fisher has been patiently waiting his turn for this job for several seasons, and he knows he is ready for it. He has been a head coach type figure for some time now, and I think FSU will be a much more organized, simpler, more-focused team with Bowden's retirement fiasco out of the way. Fisher is a darn good coach, and now that every single little decision falls on the weight of one man and not two, expect FSU to take steps back towards the top. The athletes are there, the facilities are there, the history is there. It is time. Coming back in 2010 for FSU are a couple of main ingredients. Most importantly, quarterback Christian Ponder has recovered from his shoulder injury and is back as an experienced senior. Incredibly, Ponder will have ALL TEN of his offensive teammates back with him! If they improved just any over this offseason, this team will be dadgum good moving the ball. Defensively, they will be strong up front and at linebacker, but must have some guys learn quickly in the secondary. The schedule is pretty tough. Out of conference, the 'Noles play at Oklahoma, BYU at home, and Florida at home. ACC-wise, eight straight games go down between September 25th and November 20th, but luckily for FSU, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are left off of this year's slate. In the end, being Fisher's first season, I see a few losses as inevitable. But I think FSU is going to be a different looking team and will improve. I see them going 9-3, although as I study their schedule, each game seems winnable.
 
21. LSU Tigers - SEC
   2009 Record: 9-4
   Returning starters: 5 defense, 5 offense
   Head Coach: Les Miles (6th year, 51-14)
   Claimed national titles: 2 (2003, '07)
   Stadium: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA (92,400)
   Undergrad enrollment: 21,103
 
In 2007, LSU was the class of college football with titles in 2003 and 2007. But after average seasons in 2008 and 2009, LSU is ready to get back into the top ten. Coach Les Miles has many talented guys to work with, and he has Alabama at home. That is a good way to start. The Bayou Bengals will feature Jordan Jefferson returning at quarterback, but he may be on the move. I wanted to put LSU higher, but upon checking into the returning offensive line, I grew concerns. Both sides of the ball, in fact, will see a whole lot of new faces on the field this year. But at LSU that isn't always bad as these guys recruit in the top five annually. Schedule-wise, LSU always faces a hard group of teams. 2010 is no different. The season starts in Atlanta in the ACC/SEC Kickoff Classic game in which the SEC has dominated. I think it will be similar this year as North Carolina will be a tough, yet very beatable, opponent. West Virginia coming to town in week four is another very intriguing inter-conference matchup for the Tigers. As far as conference play, Alabama is at home, but Florida and Auburn are away. Arkansas is also another tall task on the road. In the end, I think LSU will lose a few times do to inexperience on both lines. Talent alone will see them make plays and stay in games, but don't expect the BCS from this team. 9-3 or 8-4 would be another solid season for LSU, with 2011 setting up to be another year to challenge for some hardware.

 
22. Auburn Tigers - SEC
   2009 Record: 8-5  
   Returning starters: 8 defense, 7 offense
   Head Coach: Gene Chizik (2nd year, 8-5)
   Claimed national titles: 1 (1957)
   Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL (87,451)
   Undergrad enrollment: 20,302
 
Auburn had a successful first season under Coach Gene Chizik, and now have their sights set on taking back the Heart of Dixie. For those of you who laugh at the thought of Auburn overtaking Alabama, let's not forget that we are just two seasons removed from an Auburn six-game win streak in that series. Yes, Alabama has control right this second, but college football is an insane game, and anything can happen. Chizik seems to have a plan, and I have faith the Tigers will be back as top contenders in the SEC. Will it happen in 2010? Maybe not. But still expect this team to improve on their 8-5 record of a year ago. Auburn has a very strong numbers of players returning, especially on defense. Any time you have a defense that can be an anchor, you will be in most games, and I would think that would be the case with this team this fall. On offense, leading the Tigers will be Cameron Newton, who is a whole capsule unto himself. He is a Florida transfer after facing some issues in Gainesville, and is seeking another shot in the SEC. He impressed coaches and will be the starter ahead of senior Chris Todd and others. Schedule-wise, Auburn goes on the road early in what will be a harsh Thursday night environment against Mississippi State in week two. The Bulldogs are riding the energy of a good first year under Dan Mullen, and Starkville will present a tough challenge. Nine days later, Clemson comes to town in an intrigiung inter-conference game, with the Gamecocks of South Carolina rolling in a week later. A nice home schedule (wrapped around a game at Ole Miss, now featuring Jeremiah Masoli) midseason features games in Jordan-Hare against Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. The toughest game of all will be on the road to close the year at Alabama. It is a tough schedule no doubt about that, but Auburn is an extremely good team at home, and with most of their toughest games there, I see a pretty good season. They will lose on the road once I would think, and may lose a game or two at home (eight home games), but I see a 9-3 regular season as very obtainable. Throw in a nice bowl game, and Chizik will be on his way to bringing the Tigers back.

 
23. South Carolina Gamecocks - SEC
   2009 Record: 7-6
   Returning starters: 7 defense, 10 offense
   Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (6th year, 35-28)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, SC (80,250)
   Undergrad enrollment: 28,481
 
The Gamecocks are in the mix in the SEC, but much hangs on the health of Stephen Garcia at quarterback. With him, South Carolina could make a legitimate run at the SEC East crown. Without him, the Gamecocks are paper-thin at qb and will be in serious danger of a string of losses. The defense at South Carolina has come together over the years and is a sense of pride on the team. They will need to stand tall in 2010 to give themselves a chance to beat the Floridas and Georgias and Alabamas of the conference. As I said, the defense plays hard and tough, but the offense has a chance to be the ones making some noise with Garcia running the show. He has quick feet and has a good enough arm, and while he is commended for toughness, he needs to be cautious and remain healthy. He has virtually his entire offense returning - including prized tight end Weslye Saunders - and they should be able to move the ball. If they do in fact put up points, this team could be dangerous. However, that is easier said than done. But schedule-wise, USC has a bit of an easier slate than usual. The only out of conference game that is tough is Clemson, and Alabama is at home. Florida and Auburn are very tough road games, but overall, the schedule is set up for the 'Cocks to have a big season. I will pick them to go 9-3, with losses to Alabama and Florida, and either Arkansas or Clemson. Steve Spurrier has been in Columbia for some time now, and a good many folks there are on the fence about him. Some love him to death, while others feel USC would be an attractive place for any number of hot coaches who are younger. This will be a big season in seeing if Spurrier has the Gamecocks at the upper level of the SEC, or if they will remain where they have been for years in their division.
 
24. Clemson Tigers - ACC
   2009 Record: 9-5, ACC Atlantic champs 
   Returning starters: 6 defense, 7 offense
   Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (2nd year, 9-5) 
   Claimed national titles: 1 (1981)
   Stadium: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC (81,473)
   Undergrad enrollment: 16,400
 
Kyle Parker's return as quarterback of the Tigers is worth three wins, in my opinion. All summer, I was afraid I was seeing my favorite team staring a 6-6 season in the mirror. Instead, with Parker's return, I see this team going 9-3, possibly better. I seriously think he has that big of an impact on this team. He lost his biggest weapon in CJ Spiller - we all know this - but he has a fine replacement coming in in the form of Andre Ellington, who saw many touches a year ago when Spiller needed a breath. Jamie Harper and Chad Diehl add punch from fullback. The offensive line should finally be a strong point as four of five guys are back, as well as talented tight end Dwayne Allen. On defense, the strength is up front and in the secondary. The linebackers are talented but inexperienced. The line features DeQuan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson to form perhaps the best unit in conference. Roaming the secondary is future NFLer DeAndre McDaniel. McDaniel was second in the nation in interceptions a year ago and knocked out FSU quarterback Christian Ponder for the season. Coach Swinney will have to show in 2010 why AD Terry Don Phillips gave him the nod for the head job at just 39 years old in early 2009. A year ago the game plan was easy: give it to Spiller. This year, a truly more diverse offensive scheme must be developed. As for the schedule, it isn't easy, but it isn't the fiercest slate of all time. An early test is a road game with Auburn, followed by a home date with Miami. Georgia Tech is a huge midseason home game, while the end of the year features games at Florida State and at home with South Carolina. I see Clemson surprising some folks in Dabo's second full season. Having an experienced quarterback returning is priceless. Look for the Tigers to go 9-3 in 2010, losing three of the five games I mentioned above, and winning all of the rest.
 
25. West Virginia Mountaineers - Big East
   2009 Record: 9-4 
   Returning starters: 9 defense, 7 offense
   Head Coach: Bill Stewart (3rd year, 19-8)
   Claimed national titles: 0
   Stadium: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV (60,000)
   Undergrad enrollment: 21,720
 
Although I am not yet sold on Bill Stewart, there is something about West Virginia where I can't leave them out of my top 25. They always find ways to win their fair share of ball games, and I see no reason why that would change in 2010. The defense has a mob of guys back, and the offense will feature Noel Devine running behind five of six returing starters on the line. Sounds like nine or ten wins to me! In fact, the more and more I look at all of the information on this team, the more I am glad I included them in this poll. The experience on both sides of the ball is very good. As I said in the first sentence, I am just not sold on the coaching, but maybe Stewart will change my mind this season. The Big East has eight teams playing football, so the schedule leaves room for five non-conference games. WVU lined up a nice slate with that opening space, and those games are all in a row to start off the year. Coastal Carolina cannot be taken lightly in game one. Laugh if you will, but in baseball they went from no program at all to hosting a super regional in just over a deceade. The Chanticleer's football program is taking the same quick route and will be drooling for a big road win to hang their hat on. Maryland is tough in week three, followed by a brutal road game at LSU (this game may break some national alcohol consumption records). In conference, South Florida is at home on a nationally televised Thursday night game. Pitt and Louisville on the road present a tough stretch for the Mountaineers coming down the home strech. I can honestly see the Mountaineers winning most every game on their schedule. The LSU game is probably a loss, but I have a hard time seeing WVU losing more than one other game. I will call it a 10-2 regular season, maybe better.



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