The value preseason college football polls is generally less than the paper they are printed on or the screen from which they emanate. It is similar to given Academy Awards to films not yet released or seen by the public – oh wait, they do that. At any rate, predicting college football can be problematic, but wildly popular as the start of the college football season looms in the distance. For this preseason poll, returning starters, schedule, conference strength, recent history, and a make shift dart board were used as criteria to rank the following teams for the BC Sports Preseason Top 25.
Let’s see. Defending National Champion. Heisman Trophy quarterback. The entire two-deep returning on defense. Outstanding head coach. All of the previous are check marks in the box for the Gators as they ready for 2009. The schedule toughest game is on the road at LSU in October. The biggest thing against the Gators is the grind that can be a SEC schedule where one slip can cost a team. However, until proven otherwise, pencil Florida in as numero uno.
The loss of Brian Orakpo on defense is great for the Longhorns, but in the Big 12, it’s all about offense and this team has got it where it counts at every position except running back where they hope to settle on a reliable rusher to compliment quarterback Colt McCoy. Texas’s toughest two games are in October and both on the road (technically Oklahoma is a neutral site) and two weeks apart. If the ‘Horns get through that stretch, they should be sitting pretty for a run at the BCS National Title game.
3. Ohio State
Jim Tressel’s move to play freshman Terrelle Pryor at quarterback already paid dividends as the Buckeyes were much more of a game to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl than most expected. Gone are the linebackers who carried a tough defense, but Ohio State has solid depth stepping into those roles. Combined with a schedule where the toughest game is and out-of-conference tilt with Southern Cal early in the season, the Buckeyes should run the Big 10 table without fail.
The Sooners lost four starting offensive lineman, but the crew replacing them played a lot last year in the midst of many lopsided victories. That’s the only question mark on the offense as 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford returns to saddle up the Sooners for another run. The defense remains almost entirely intact and if the offense works like last year, they won’t be asked to do much. The schedule is favorable with the toughest game against Texas and will likely decide the representative in the Big 12 Championship Game – again. For all of their BCS woes (Oklahoma has lost three BCS Championship games and two other BCS bowls) few teams have won as consistently over the long haul as Oklahoma has under Bob Stoops.
5. Virginia Tech
The Hokies roll into 2009 with 17 returning starters from a team that despite being up and down in the regular season got it together at the end of the year and won the Orange Bowl. This has many Hokie faithful believing Beamer-ball may have its best chance at BCS glory since the Michael Vick era. The schedule sets up well for Va. Tech as most of the ACC is still finding its proverbial football feet. Are they for real? The opener against Alabama should answer that question.
After stumbling and sputtering through the better part of last year, the LSU Tigers answered two big questions by the end of the year and in the off-season (quarterback and hiring veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis). Jordan Jefferson appears to be a solid performer at the QB helm and RB Charles Scott is one of the best backs in the SEC (and that is saying something). Chavis should be able to bring some fire back to the defense and Les Miles has proven that in spite of his quirks, he knows how to win when it counts. Every SEC team has a tough schedule and LSU is no different; the two toughest games are spilt home and away with Florida coming to Baton Rouge in early October and then the road trip to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama in the latter part of the month. If LSU splits those, they should be in line for a trip to Atlanta and a second shot at the Gators.
7. Southern California
Losing eight defensive starters and a starting quarterback is tough for even the best of teams. In Southern Cal’s favor is the fact that they have years of solid recruiting to fill the holes, a great head coach, and a very manageable schedule and conference (the Pac-10 is still not all there as a football conference). If the Trojans can decide on a good option and quarterback and get some production out of the receiving corps, they could have a very good year.
8. Notre Dame
No team receives more national deference for just being than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish return 18 starters (including 10 on offense – the biggest being once highly touted QB Jimmy Clausen) and besides Southern California (to be played in South Bend), no other team on Notre Dame’s schedule will be favored. If the stars are going to align and if Charlie Weis is for real as a head coach, 2009 could be a special year.
Bo Pelini’s first year record of 9-4 was the kind of improvement the powers that be in Lincoln were hoping for and in the second year, the Huskers are going to surprise some teams. As the rest of the Big 12 focuses on high-powered offenses, Pelini is quietly rebuilding the Big Red’s defensive unit which returns 7 starters. The toughest games on the schedule are at home save a late season tilt with Kansas that should decide the Big 12 North’s representative in the conference championship game.
10. Penn State
PSU’s front seven on defense are very strong and give the Nittany Lions a big advantage in most games. The focus on the offense will fall on the returning quarterback and running back as the offensive line and receiving corps are relatively inexperienced. However, Penn State only faces one team of real note (Iowa) in the front bulk of the schedule and should have time to tune up the “spread HD” attack before facing Michigan and Ohio State late in the year.
The returning defense looks ferocious on paper. Gone are three offensive lineman, the leading rusher, and a seasoned quarterback who is also the school record holder in passing. Alabama gets the toughest conference games at home this year, but in the SEC, home field advantage is not always as valuable as it is in other leagues. Those losses on the line and in the backfield are enough reason to think it unlikely
the Crimson Tide runs the table again, but the defense should make for a solid team.
12. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy has built a strong offensive team in a league dominated by that side of the ball and the Cowboys reliance on their returning QB, RB, and WR put them in the mix as this year’s Texas Tech – the other team in the Big 12 South with the possibility to make waves.
The Horned Frogs return 13 starters including five on a very stingy defense that was within three points of winning the Mountain West. A third year starter returning at QB will help young, new starters on offense settle into rolls and they will have to quickly as TCU plays two ACC teams on the road in September. If they get through that, an October game against BYU should decide the winner of the MWC.
If there is one team with BCS-buster written all over it, it is Cougars of BYU. They opened the season very strong but faltered a bit on their way to a 10-3 record. This year, they are not the favorite in the Mountain West (that honor belongs to TCU) and must replace the offensive line and secondary. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has shown ability to recruit and put solid talent on the field. Additionally, he lined up a quick test as BYU opens the season against Oklahoma. If the Cougars get by the Sooners, the showdown with TCU midseason should be the only other test on the schedule and could have the boys from Provo in the BCS mix.
Generally, head coaching changes throw teams into a bit of disarray, but for the Ducks it should feel liket like the changes in their uniforms. Chip Kelly is the offensive coordinator that transitioned Mike Belotti’s team into an offensive machine in the Pacific Northwest and now he takes the reigns as head coach. Junior QB Jeremiah Masoli, who took over the job after a bunch of injuries at the position, may be the best signal caller in the Pac-10 and provides a great run-pass threat. Oregon’s out of conference schedule (which includes Boise State, Purdue, and Utah) and will test the Ducks, but the toughest conference games are at home and could be enough to vault the team to the top of the conference by season’s end.
Beyond the Top 15, one can put names in a jar and draw them at random as difference between many of these teams ranges from infinitesimal to extensive.
16. Georgia Tech
Great running game and a quirky, don’t-see-it-often style of offensive gives Tech an advantage over many teams in their schedule.
The Utes must replace the winningest quarterback in school history who led the team through an undefeated 2008 season. That along with the rise of other teams in the Mountain West means Utah should be noted but not expected to roll like last year.
Cal could be the fly in the ointment of the Pac-10 if RB Jahvid Best is all he is touted to be. However, a tough road schedule will probably derail the Bears chance at the Pac-10 conference championship.
19. Boise State
Always a team to be noted, the blue turf Broncos have 14 returning starters and if they can get out of the chute fast, could once again find their way to the upper part of a poll and bowl game selection list.
Kirk Ferentz is paid well because Iowa is good enough to get in the way of some of the better teams in the Big 10. The brutal road schedule will keep this team from winning the conference, but they are good at pulling at least one upset along the way earning a birth to a decent bowl game.
21. Oregon State
The Beavers of Corvallis generally finish a season strong (they have won five consecutive bowl games. If they can start strong, they could be another team of note as the rest of the Pac-10 attempts to take advantage of a reloading Southern Cal team.
What the Hogs lack on defense, they will make up with for on offense. Year two of the Bobby Petrino era should yield even more points as they upgrade at quarterback and return the stars of the offense from last year. Most of the defense comes back and while they were dreadful at times in 2008, that experience will pay off as the Hogs sneak up on a few teams and possibly finish in the upper part of the SEC West.
23. Florida State
Barring more NCAA sanctions, the Seminoles are in a good position to move forward as they return the QB and entire offensive line (second only to Va. Tech’s in the league). They should win their division in the ACC, but whether or not they can win the conference championship is yet to be seen.
A solid defensive line and a strong secondary means it will be hard to score on the Panthers. Pitt will need to garner a consistent offensive attack if they hope to move up the ranks.
25. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are getting better but are still a year away from a serious run at the ACC under the tutelage of Butch Davis.