Archive for August, 2008

Aside from just a handfull of games kicking off tonight and into this weekend, we’ll probably have to wait a bit to see the true potential of ranked teams. However,  gauge as you will based on a few notes I’ve put together for these upcoming games for my Top 25:

#1 Ohio State at home against Younstown St.

With many polls placing OSU at #2, the Buckeyes need a quick start here and a lopsided victory against Youngstown.  If they dont and Georgia wallops Georgia Southern, look for a vote swing away from the Buckeyes. Prediction:  OSU by 30+.

#2 Florida at home against Hawaii.

With or without Percy Harvin, this should be a romp. Prediction: Florida by 35+.

#3 Oklahoma at home against Chattanooga.

OU will be out to prove something this year and what with all the top teams with pansy games, Sam Bradford and company need to blow out Chatt. Prediction: OU by 40.

#4 Georgia at home against Georgia Southern.

In no way will this be a test, but with #1 votes split among so many teams, Georgia will need to thoroughly dominate this game. Likely they will. Prediction:  Georgia by 32+.

#5 Missouri at home against #18 Illinois.

Ahh finally a game!  This Big 12 v. Big 10 match up could set a tone for both teams. Missouri will be out to make a statement that they belong in the top 5, while Illinois will hope to build on a couple of great seasons in 06 and 07. I think this will be a game of offenses:  Missouri with more than enough and Illinois with not enough. If anything less, Missouri will be struggling to gain support in the polls. Prediction: Missouri by 17.

#6 USC at Virginia.

With Mark Sanchez just recently getting clearance to play, I dont look for a huge run up in score. Virginia always fields a tough defense, so I expect the score to be lower. USC will probably test alot of RBs and WRs in this game also tending towards a more conservative, low-scoring game gainst a capable Cavalier team.  Prediction: USC by 13.

#7 LSU at home against Appalachian St.

Let’s not forget what happened this time last year with Appalachian St. Michigan lost the first week and dove out of the top 25. They eventually climbed back in.  Don’t look for this to happen to LSU.  Predictions: LSU by 37+.

#8 West Virginia at home against Villanova.

Hard to say here what might transpire. Villanova will come out prepared and fired up, and in the past has played the underdog well. Barring a complete collapse though, Pat White and company should put this one away late. Prediction: West Virginia by 28.

#9 Auburn at home against Louisiana-Monroe.

La-Monroe played alot of higher opponents tough last year, so expect a hard fought game. Auburn will need to prove it’s got the power to drive the ball. Expect a good defenseive battle, but Auburn hopes there is some equal offense too.  Prediction: Auburn by 14.

#10 Clemson at home against #25 Alabama.

I think this could be the best game of the week. ABC thinks so too by putting it prime time. Alabama and coach Nick Saban always like to show off. Clemson wants desperately to prove they belong in the top 10. Clemson will want to win this by a couple of TDs or more. It could happen seeing that Alabama doesn’t have a great track record of scoring TDs. However watch this one for upset potential.  Prediction: Clemson by 7 or less.

#11 Wisconsin at home against Akron.

The Zips would love nothing more than to pull an upset here, but UW probably has too much of everything to let that happen, barring a complete breakdown.  Prediction Wisconsin by 24+.

#12 Brigham Young at home against Northern Iowa.

Simple here, BYU had better prove to be WAY to much for Northern Iowa! Prediction: BYU by 38+.

#13 Texas at home against Florida Atlantic.

Even a crippled Texas team should run it up against FAU.  Prediction: Texas by 45+.

#14 Texas Tech at home against Eastern Washington.

Everyone is expecting huge things from the Red Raiders, especially offensively. Watch to see if this happens.  EWU is a Div II school so this should be a wipe out. Prediction: TTU by 42+.

#15 Kansas at home against Florida International.

FIU has improved over the last couple of seasons, but not to the point where KU wont crush them with Reesing and company. Prediction: Kansas by 28+.

#16 Arizona State at home against Northern Arizona.

Assuming Dennis Erickson’s offense doesn’t get left on the practice field, this should be a decent blow out. Prediction: ASU by 40.

#17 Tennesse at UCLA Monday night.

The Vols always seem to open against a west coast team, but this year they catch a break.UCLA is hurting and it seems ripe for Tenn to capitalize. Prediction: Vols by 17+.

#18 Illinois at #5 Missouri (see above)

#19 South Florida at home against Tennessee-Martin.

The Bulls are looking to keep things moving ahead as in the last couple of seasons. They should have way too much of both offense and defense to even allow Tenn-Martin into the game. Prediction: South Florida by 30+.

#20 Oregon at home against Washington.

I would have posted this one as a good game, but not sure now.  Today’s news brings the word that predicted starting QB Nate Costa will miss his second straight season due to knee problems, so it looks like the job goes to Justin Roper. Roper has experience, but remains to be seen. Prediction: Oregon by 4.

#21 Virginia Tech at East Carolina.

VT should have enough offense and WAY to much defense for East Carolina. Prediction: VT by 21.

#22 Penn State at home against Coastal Carolina.

Oh My.  Not sure Coastal will even score in this game. PSU does traditionally well against weak teams. Prediction: Penn State by 40+.

#23 Rutgers at home against #24 Fresno State.

These lower bracket games are often very competitive. This should match up a good solid Rutgers defense with a high octane Fresno State offense, I think this one can go either way. I might even edge the upset here and same Fresno State pulls off the win. Wonder why I put Rutgers higher? Oh well. Prediction: Fresno State by 6.

#24 Fresno State at #23 Rutgers.

See above.

#25 Alabama at #10 Clemson.

See above.

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Greetings and welcome to another season of college football!  As you all know by now, I take a several month hiatus from National Championship Game in January to deep August, although with this being an election year, I’ve been tempted to chime in on our lack of choices, but let’s get on to something we all can agree on….COLLEGE FOOTBALL ROCKS!!

This year proves to be quite an interesting year, what with the many coaching changes that occurred in the offseason, and the promises of visions unfulfilled last year. While I could extoll for pages about coaching changes, and on/off field antics here and there, let’s just get right into my pre-season rankings, which will probably be good for one week or so. However, you’ll probably see that I am not following any of the major polls in my preseason assessments.  I must say that compiling my list this preseason has been a little lonely, what with my primary collaborator (my youngest son Jon) now away at college, but I’m hoping to get my best friend and long-time CFB fan, Steve to regularly meet and chime in weekly.  So without further ado, here we go:

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes.  Coach: Jim Tressel.

Oh.. so you are surprised its not Georgia like everyone else?  Well, sorry, I just can’t do that.   Here’s our predicted Big-10 champion (again), and though OSU hasn’t looked very competitive in its last (count ’em) two National Championships, the truth be told, 2008 was the goal year for this team. This team was stacked, but immature last year and made it all the way, and it looks to be even stronger this year. After winning the Terrelle Pryor lottery, they stand to make things impossible in the Big 10, and very tough nationally for anyone else. Pryor is a 6’6″ dual-threat quarterback from Jeannette PA High School, where he demolished almost every single record in Pennsylvania, and perhaps the world. He’ll challenge, at times, returning 5-year QB Todd Boeckman who quarterbacked the team to the championship game, completing 64% of his passes for almost 2400 yards and 25 touchdowns. Tailback Chris Wells returns also from a 1609 yards rushing year and 15 TDs. As usual OSU is gifted with a veteran 2-deep offensive line anchored by All-American Alex Boone. Oh year, all the wide receivers return also.  Lest you worry about defense too much, remember that OSU was statistically the best CFB defense last year allowing a measley 233 yards/game and only, get this, 12.8 points per game.  Oh, and how many replacements did they make?? Two.  James Laurinaitis (2007 Butkus Award winner) and Marcus Freeman are both back, and All-America cornerback Malcolm Jenkins secures a very solid secondary. Perhaps the barometer of the season will be an early rankings match September 13 at USC. No matter what poll you will be looking at, this will be 2 top 5 teams battling for early positioning. After that, the challenges for the Buckeyes will be away games at Wisconsin and Illinois, and home games against Penn State and Michigan. Look for a return trip to the BCS Title game with a different result this year.

#2 – Florida Gators. Coach: Urban Meyer

I was tempted to choose either OU or Georgia here, but the way I see it, the Gators are just too overpowering this year.  First there’s Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow returning after an unbelivable year last year of 23 running TD’s and 32 passing TD’s, a record that’s not likely to be equalled or exceeded any time soon, unless by himself this year.  Those numbers just might grow considering the arsenal of weapons he’ll be working with. There’s Percy Harvin the all-everything running and receiving threat who averaged 9.6 yards per rush average, had 93 pass receptions and 15 TDs. Not bad. Add to that the re-emergence of Emmanuel Moody (formerly from Coppell High School, yay) who led USC in rushing before transferring. He sported a 5.8 yd/carry. Add to that several developing recruits, TE Cornelius Ingram, JC transfer Carl Moore (highly recruited juco transfer), and not to mention 8 returing offensive lineman. Defensively, while Derrick Harvey left for the pros, the front four is well stocked, and the back seven are mostly returning players, including consensus first-team All-SEC Brandon Spike who had 131 tackles last year, 16 for a loss, broke up seven passes and recovered three fumbles.  The key games, as usual for the Gators are two tough road games: at Tennessee early (Sept 20) and at Georgia on November 1.  Another early key will be the October 11 matchup at home against LSU.

#3 Oklahoma Sooners. Coach: Bob Stoops.

Think Tim Tebow was pretty good?  Consider this… he was second in passing efficiency in the country to, you guessed it Sam Bradford of OU. Bradford set an NCAA freshman (yes freshman) record with 36 touchdowns veather the old mark of 29. He also had consecutive completion streaks of 22 and 21, twice beating the old school record of 18 set by Jason White. And, he threw five touchdown passes in a game twice, against Miami and Texas A&M.  Did we mention he was a freshman?  His favorite target should be Juaquin Iglesias, while rushing duties should be on the shoulders of DeMarco Murray, who ran for 764 yards, 6.0yds/carry last year and a team high 13 TDs (oh yeah as a freshman). He also ran back two kickoffs for TDs and scored on a 92-yard run from scrimmage. All five offensive line starters are back from last year. Defensively they return anchors Auston English and tackle Gerald McCoy. The secondard should be speedy and hard-hitting, with LB Ryan Reynolds and safety Nic Harris rallying the troops. The typical tests befall OU as any year, but they catch a break having their toughest games at home this year. The only real tough road game could be the season finale against state rival Oklahoma State.  They catch Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Nebraska all at home.

#4 Georgia Bulldogs.  Coach: Mark Richt.

The top pollsters, AP, USA Today and ESPN all put the Dawgs at the top of the heap, but I still believe they have a little to prove first. However, its not hard to get excited about this team. Georgia was probably the best improved team down the stretch last year, and if not for a slip up against division rival Tennessee early in the year, they might have played for a title. But, you see, historically, that seems to be the Bulldog story…that one slip up. But this year with a returning offense that touts senior flanker Mohamed Massaquoi and TE Tripp Chandler as returners in an offense led by QA Matthew Stafford. However, Stafford must improve from his just better than even passing accuracy and a 26-23 TD/Interception ratio. However, RB Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 1334 years and 14 TDs last year should offer a good counterbalance to the passing game. Seven starters return on a mean, punishing defense, including the top four tacklers.  Geno Atkins, who had a team-high 14.5 tackles behind the line lead the D-line from his tackle spot.  The LB corps returns in-tack from last year,while juniors Asher Allen and Prince Miller will be solid at the corners. The Dawgs enjoy a favorable schedule to a certain extent getting Alabama, Tennesse and Florida all at home. However, the road games could tip the season for them having to play at South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU and Auburn. Home games against Florida and Tennesse and the roadie at LSU will be crucial.

#5 Missouri Tigers, Coach: Gary Pinkel.

Missouri comes off a dream year, which was soured only by a late season 21-16 loss against lowly Iowa State, that most likely cost them a bid to the National Championship. However, things look especially bright for the Tigers as they return a whopping 15 starters from last year’s explosive team. QB Chase Daniel, the reigning Big-12 Offensive Player of the Year, returns after setting new school records with 4559 yards of total offense, 4306 passing yards, and 33 TD passes. All-American WR Jeremy Maclin and exemplary TE Chase Coffman combined for 132 pass receptions. Coffman tied for the team high with 9 TD catches and Maclin, Big-12 Co-Freshman of the Year amassed the fifth most all-purpose yards in a single season in NCAA history. So offensively, the Tigers look as strong as last year.  Defensively, Missouri was very happy with their young defense last year, and nine of them are returning, including safety William Moore who had 115 tackles last year and eight interceptions (ranking 1st in the nation).  LBs Sean Weatherspoon, Brock Christopher and Van Alexander all return to a solid, punishing middle. Missouri starts the season with a bang facing a top 20 contender, Illinois at home. They face critical road games against Texas and Nebraska, but get rival Kansas at home in their finale.

#6 USC Trojans. Coach: Pete Carroll

It should be a very interesting year for USC, and it could see them vie for a National Title should things get all jumbled up at the end of the season (that never happens does it?). The Trojans come off of a year that many thought of as underperforming, especially offensively.  Veteran QB Mark Sanchez will take over the reigns from John David booty, beating out Mitch Mustain for the starting job. Arkansas transfer Damian Williams looks to add a spark to a veteran receiving corps of Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton, David Ausberry and Ronald Johnson. This group needs to turn up the juice this year to take advantage of a largely down year in the Pac-10. While only one full-time O-line starter, Guard Jeff Byers, returns, Pete Carroll has a stable of offensive line horses with game-experience to step in, including three who started eight games last year. Chauncey Washington has moved on, but since when do you know a Trojan team that didnt have a dozen or so backups? Stafon Johnson averaged nearly 7 yds/carry on 98 carries last year and 5 TDs, and he will probably lead at the RB slot, sharing time with Joe McKnight and probably a couple of others. Defensively, USC will feel the loss of Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis, but the back seven is arguably the nation’s best group, including 2 Rose Bowl Defensive MVPs – Brian Cushing and Rey Matauluga. The Trojans will get the test early, in week 2, when they host Ohio State. A loss here, if close, won’t be devastating, since they’ll have ther rest of the season to recover, but other than that their road season looks none too formidable. Notre Dame will come to the Coliseum to play in late November in a possible look-out game.

#7 LSU Tigers. Coach: Les Miles.

In a top 10 loaded with SEC teams, we have to put the Bayou Bengals in here somewhere, and this just seems to be the right place. While we normally begin to tout the offense first, LSU is different.  Even with Glenn Dorsey gone, this Tiger team has the potential to dominate just as it did last year en route to their 38-24 drubbing of Ohio State in the BCS National Championship game. LSU wins with an unrelenting, fast, hard-hitting defense and this just wont change at all from their championship form last year. Sans Dorsey, the other three 2007 starters and all four second-stringers are returning. Kirston Pittman and Tyson Jackson comprise the most fearsome defensive end tandem in America. Pittman led the team last year with 13.5 tackles for a LOSS and eight sacks. In the Florida game he even intercepted a pass from Tebow. Jackson, on the other hand, batted down 10 passes at the line. Ricky Jean-Francois returns coming off a dominating performance in teh BCS Championship. Eight of the 10 players on the Offensive Line are returning also, led by All-SEC performers Herman Johnson and Ciron Black.  Keiland Williams and Charle Scott will share RB duties. Williams averaged 6.8 yds/carry last fall and scored on long runs of 67 and 32 yards against Virginia Tech. With Ryan Perrilloux being kicked out, there are some concerns at QB. O-Coach Gary Crowton will have to choose to start freshman Jarrett Lee or junior Andrew Hatch.  Brandon LaFell adn Demetrius Byrd, who combined together for 85 catches and a 15yd/catch average (11 TDs) will be on the receiving end. Schedule wise, LSU has a couple of critical road games at Auburn and Florida. They host Georgia on Sept 25 which could be a major key game for both teams at that point in the season.

#8 West Virginia. Coach: Bill Stewart.

As the new head coach of the Mountaineers, Bill Stewart certainly has big shoes to fill with the departure of Rich Rodriguez, but inherits a talent-rich team that could find itself in the hunt for a National Title.  After all, this is basically the same team that dismantled a Bob Stoops led Oklahoma team in last year’s Fiesta Bowl 48-28. First, Patrick White, the multi-threat QB returns from his Big East Offensive Player of the Year performance last year. His engineering of the spread is his forte and no one does it better, proved out by his stats…1335 years rushing at 6.8 yards/carry (scoring 14 TD) and throwing for another 1724 yards (14 TDs). Noel Devine is Steve Slayton’s  (who exited to the NFL) heir apparent as runnng back. averaging almost 9 yds/carry last year and 6 TDs in a limited role.  Both White and Devine will be working behind one of the best offensive lines in College ball, anchored by tackle Ryan Stancheck and All-Big East guard Greg Isdaner. However, if there is some reticence, its on the defense. In a conference where defense isn’t exactly held in highest esteem, WV will need some steadying and rebuilding. However both Reed Williams and Mortty Ivy will help stabilize that reconstruction. The Mountaineer have all kinds of traps and landmines in their schedule, beginning with a couple of tough games in September (East Carolina and Colorado back to back on the road). They’ll have to play UConn, Louisville and Pitt on the road, certainly a tough assignment. The home schedule doesnt provide a lot of relief with Auburn, Rutgers and South Florida.

#9 Auburn Tigers. Coach: Tommy Tuberville.

Yes yet another SEC team in the top 10, and the third set of Tigers.Tommy’s team may sport a bit of a new look this year offensively, to go along with a very good defense.  With Al Borges’ departure, Tuberville brought in Tony Franklin to coach the offense which proves to be an Hawaii-style, no-huddle, spread type of offense which could play well in the SEC this year.  Franklin, you might recall was the play caller in Auburn’s 23-20 Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Clemson (yes more Tigers).  Kodi Burns shared snaps that game, and will assume the helm, and has the potential to be the likes of Patrick White (WV) cloned. Auburn boasts a trio of talented running backs: Ben Tate, Brad Lester and Mario Fannin who are all returning. They’ll be running behind a veteran 5, all of which return from last year also. With last year’s stats, the three RBS combined for over 1700 yards rushing. WR Rodgeriqus Smith also returns after a 52 catch, 5 TD performance last year. While Quentin Groves and Pat Sims leave noticeable holes in the D line, DE Antonio Coleman returns on the heels of his 18-tackles for a loss, and 8.5 sacks last year. What’s even better is that their back seven is set with the linebacking corps returning 2-deep and safety Za Etheridge leading three returning starters in the secondary.These Tigers have a reasonably favorable schedule, but do have two tough road games: West Virginia on Oct 23, and their finale against Alabama. By a stroke of luck Auburn gets LSU, Tennessee and Georgia all at home, and that may prove to be a critical factor at their respective points of the season.

#10 Clemson Tigers. Coach: Tommy Bowden.

Does it just seems that the top ten is nothing but Tigers? Clemson comes off a great season, that ended in heartbreak with a close loss to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but prospects for a better season seem inevitable. Clemson seems poised to challenge this year for an ACC title with the likes of Cullen Harper at QB (one of the most accurate QBs in the country at 65%) and the super tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Harper threw for almost 3000 yards and 27 TDs last year and both of his targets return: Aason Kelly and Tyle Grisham, who combined for 148 receptions and 15 TDs. Defensively, Clemson returns 8 starters and three remaining front four. Suspect however is the Offensive Line where only one returning veteran back from last year. A key to Clemson’s success will be repeating their greediness with the ball:  12 turnovers in 13 games fear,  ranked second in the nation. The road schedule for Clemson isnt fun as they must travel to play Wake Forest, Florida State, Boston College and Virginia. This leaves a very light home schedule, so these Tigers will need to learn road discipline.

#11 Wisconsin Badgers. Coach Bret Bielema.

You’d think that Wisconsin would be in high cotton with 19 returning starters from 2007, but unfortunately not one of them is a quarterback.  Senior Allan Evridge is the only QB on the roster with any relevant playing time, and that was with Kansas State where he threw for 1365 yards in 9 games in 2005 as a freshman. He backed up Tyler Donovan last year but only threw 12 passes all season. He’ll have the top three returning receivers from last year to throw to in TE Travis Beckham, TE Garrett Graham and WR Kyle Jefferson. All-American Beckham led the team with 75 catches for almost 1000 yards and six TDs.  The Badgers are flush with running backs however. Returner P.J. Hill is the headliner with 2805 career rushing yards and 25 TDs in only two seasons. Zach Brown also returns after starting four games in 2007 (for an injured Hill), and was named Big-10 player of the week for a 250 yard, 2-TD game against Minnesota. All but one Offensive Line performer returns where guard Kraig Urbik is the anchor. Nine of 11 starters return on defense. The Badgers have tough road games against Fresno State, Michigan and Michigan State, but catch a bit of a break getting Ohio State and Penn State at home. The OSU game on Oct 4 could be for the Big-10 Championship.

#12 Brigham Young Cougars. Coach: Bronco Mendenhall.

Talk about a team that has quietly built a solid, winning program, the Cougars have put together two straight 11 win seasons, going 16-0 in Mountain West competition. Still, respct has somewhat eluded the Cougars under their new coach, but it looks as if 2008 might could finally get people to stand up and take notice. Long known for potent offenses, the upcoming version look poised to inspire. Junior quarterback Max Hall will be the QB again coming off a passing year that saw him rack up almost 4000 yards and 26 TDs with a 60+% completion rate.  He’ll settle right back in this year with his returning top four receivers. TE Dennis Pitta and WR Austin Collie combined for 115 receptions last year and 12 TDs. Wideout Michael Reed added another 4 TDs. At Running Back, Harvey Unga, the reigning MWC Freshman of the Year, returns as a dual threat runner (1227 yards last year)  and receiver (he had 44 catches out of the backfield last year). Four of five of the O-Line return also. Defensively, the Cougars hurt a little with the loss of their two top tacklers of 2007 and the entire secordary from a year ago, so some vulnerability here might make for some high scoring games. Road wise, the Cougars must travel to Washington, TCU and Air Force, three very tough tests, and must play at home against UCLA early. This PAC-10 start early could either put BYU behind the 8-ball, or on their way to yet another 11 game win season.

#13 Texas Longhorns. Coach: Mac Brown.

Texas always manages to collect itself every year you think they are down and out. This year will probably be no exception, but things could be alot harder. Colt McCoy returns as QB, bringing with him a legacy of over 5800 career yards and 51 TDs in two seaons. But his stable of WRs such as Limas Sweed and Nate Jones have departed. Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are still there, but McCoy had troubled last year with his TD/INT ratio, so the lack of experience at the WR position will certainly not help. Add to the Longhorn woes, that their leading rushing, Jamaal Charles went on to the NFL, you have alot of doubts going in, but Mac Brown has been there before. The Offensive Line should be in good shape, and they are always solid 2-deep, so look for them to settle in after a few games perhaps.  The Defense is hurting a bit also what with the loss of two All-Big 12 first teamers and a 3rd team All-American. So again, it could be rough going early on. The biggest games for Texas will be a four week schedule from hell starting with the annual Red River Shootout with Oklahoma on Oct 11. Then in succession the Longhouns host Missouri,  host Oklahoma State, and travel to Lubbock to play a very much improved Red Raider team from Texas Tech. Count on the fact that this will make or break the Longhorn season.

#14 Texas Tech Red Raiders. Coach Mike Leach.

The Red Raiders just might be the surprise team of 2008. There’s very little to repeat what’s already known: the Raiders have the most potent offense in the nation, with the best receiver, and a Heisman nominated QB. Graham Harrell will again take the snaps throwing to All-World WR Michael Crabtree, who only led the nation in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown catches on his way to the ONLY Freshman winner of the Biletnikoff award EVER. His and Harrel’s numbers are the gaudiest of the gaudy, and look almost unbelievable. Add ti this that all three running backs return, and the offense is poised to do its magic. But, the REAL improvement for the Raiders, is in their defense. Eight starters come back and new trasnfers shore up tough holes that needed filling. Marlon Williams, the top tackler is back along with DE Brandon Williams. With an improved defense and a high octane offense, the Raiders only need a favorable schedule with opportunities. They get it, but it wont be easy. Their season should hinge in a three game stint starting with hosting the Longhorns on November 1, hosting Oklahoma State, and then the showdown with Oklahoma on the road. Sweeping those three, you could see the Raiders in a BCS Bowl game.

#15 Kansas Jayhawks. Coach: Mark Mangino.

The Jayhawks came one game away from taking it all last year, losing to Missouri in a fantastic end of year game. But, the bad taste was a little mitigated thanks to a 24-21 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Many discounted KU’s team last year, but over and over they rose to the occasion. This year sees a returning Todd Reesing at QB who threw a TD pass and ran for another in the Orange Bowl, and nine returning starters on defense as a solid base on which to base optimism. With two years to play, Reesing already hold school career records with 36 TD passes and five 300-yard passing games. Jake Sharp takes over for Brandon McAnderson at RB, but is suitably experienced. Defensively, their top four tacklers return from 2007 led by 1st team All-Big-12 linebacker Joe Mortensen and fellow LBs James Holt and Mike Revera.  KU’s schedule wont quite be as kind as last years. They’ll have to play South Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri all on the road, which is a killer. Fortunately they’ll get both Texas and Texas Tech at home, but it will take quite a dedicated effort to equal 2007’s record and a repeat to a BCS bowl.

#16 Arizona State Sun Devils. Coach: Dennis Erickson.

Few teams in American enjoyed as much of a turnaround as the Sun Devils. Under Erickson, ASU turned a 7-6 season in 2006 (where they lost 3 of their last 6 games), to a 10-3 season in 2007. Entering 2008, six of eleven starters are back on offense and seven on defense, so certainly the foundation is there.  QB Rudy Carpenter returns after throwing 3202 yards, 25 TDs and completing 62% of his passes. His top two receivers, CHris McGaha and Michael Jones are returning, along with veteran RB Keegan Herring.  The receiving tandem combines for 107 receptions last year and 15 TDs. Herring and teammate RB Dmitri Nance ran for more yards than any duo in the PAC-10 last year, amassing 1315 yrards and 12 TDs.  Help is needed on the Offensive Line however, with only G Paul Fanaika (6’6″ 336) and G Shawn Lauvao returning. LB Travis Goethel, the top tackler on the defense is a welcome returner along with safety Troy Nolan. Both together combined for 64 tackles and 6 interceptions in 2007.  The front four is veteran, so no particular worries there. A key matchup early in the season will be in week 4 when they host top 5 opponent Georgia. This will probably be the headline game of that week and certainly can determine both team’s fate for the year, with regard to BCS post season play.

#17 Tennessee Volunteers. Coach: Phillip Fulmer.

The Volunteers come off a somewhat disappointing season, never really achieving what they thought they should during the Eric Ainge era. With the veteran QB gone, Tennessee must retool around a new face, Junior Jonathan Crompton, and a talented trio of running backs led by Arian Foster. Foster, who ran for 1193 yards and 12 TDs last year, will be ojined by Mantario Hardesty (373 yds and 3 TDs) and Lennon Creer. Their offensive line has 5 returning veterans led by All-American guard Anthony Parker, so a very solid offense seems poised to move forward. Defensively, the Vols lost Jerod Mayo to the NFL, but Rico McCoy returns as the top tackler from 2007 with 106 stops. Demetrius Morley and Eric Berry are surely one of the best safety tandems in CFB. Berry himself intercepted 5 passes with 222 totak return yards as a true freshman last year. Tennessee hits the ground fast in week 1 on the road at UCLA so a quick start would be beneficial for a new QB and some questions in the defense. Their road schedule is a killer this year having to travel to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. Keep in mind that Georgia may be vying for top honors all year, and they WONT want to let Tennessee spoil their party like they did last year!

#18 Illinois Fighting Illini. Coach: Ron Zook.

In the past two seasons, Illinois and South Florida may be the two teams that have literally risen from near nothing to become a national program of note. Coach Ron Zook has pulled together a talented team, installed a rigorous work ethic and inspired his team to play above their level each week. Now, he brings a talented group back this year and could be the surprise team in the Big-10.  Juice Williams, who has been specatcular in previous play, is determined to improve at the QB aspect of his game, rather than relying on his athletic prowess and running ability. Case in point, from his freshman year to sophomore year, he improved his passing percentage from 40% to almost 60%, and make equal improvement in TD/INT ratio. Also recall that in the Rose Bowl last year against USC, he was 21 of 35 for 245 yards. Arrelious Benn caught 54 passes in his first year as a collegiate and was named the Big-10 Freshman of the Year. He averaged 4.9 yards/carry on 32 rushing attempts also, and becomes the heir to Rahard Menndenhall. The offensive line is largely in tact from last year with highly touted recruits to fill gaps. But questions do arise on Defense. Zook must replace his best defensive player, LB J Leman, who dominated the team defensive stats last year.  The front four will be solid, but some shoring up in the secondary is needed.  To say that Illinois has a tough schedule would be an understatement.  Week one, they travel to take on Missouri, which could be a disaster for them defensively if they cant fill holes. With other road games to Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Illini will need to call on some massive doses of Zook inspiration. If they are able to survive in good shape till the end, they’ll get Ohio State at home the next to last week of the season. If this game counts for anything, watch out.

#19 South Florida Bulls. Coach: Jim Leavitt.

Coach Leavitt has turned the Bulls into a major contender in the Big East the past two seasons, upsetting traditional power houses and thrusting the program into national prominence. To gauge how far they’ve come, remember that South Florida only joined Division I-A in 2001 (after beginning collegiate play in only 1997). In 2007, the Bulls rose to the #2 spot in the nation. Certainly a tribute to dedicated players and an outstanding coaching staff. Even though they ended last year at 9-4, the return of most of last year’s team, along with a softer Big-East, points to even greater success this year. QB Matt Grothe, who pace the team in both passing and rushing last year (872 yards rushing/10TDs, and 2670 yards passing/14 TDs). Mike Ford, their speedy RB added another 645 yards and 12TDs as a true freshman last year, and proves to become more of a factor in the overall offense this year. Add to all this that their top four receivers are back and Grothe will be behind a line that needs only one replacement. Defensively, LB Tyron McKinney, the Bulls’ leading tackler last year returns with six other vets to anchor a speedy defense. DE George Selvie and safety Nate Allen anchor this unit.  The season really starts early this year for the Bulls as they host one of last year’s Cinderella’s Kansas. Getting an early win here could vault their stock early and move them up. However, their conference schedule is very tough, having to play Louisville, Cincinatti, and West Virginia (finale) all on the road. Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers, they get at  home tho.

#20 Oregon Ducks. Coach: Mike Bellotti.

What for a season-ending knee injury to All-American Dennis Dixon last year, the Ducks might have been playing for a National Championship. But the injury led to a year-ending collapse, and now the Ducks enter 2008 with alot of questions. Of course Dennis Dixon is gone as is 1722 yard rusher Jonathan Stewart, so the Ducks will need to rely on first-time starter QB Justin Roper or Nate Costa. LeGarrette Blount, another newbie, will probably take over the RB duties. Roper came in for the injured Dixon to finish the year andset a Sun Bowl record with four TD passes in their 56-32 win over South Florida. Roper is 6’6″ and a pocket passer, while Costa is the more mobile QB, but has been battling knee issues. Fortunately, Oregon’s two top pass receivers are returning.  Jaison Williams has caught 138 passes for 2073 yards and 17 TDs over his career, and right end Ed Dickson is back after a 43 reception, 3 TD year in ’07.  The offensive line seems to be intact, big and ready, with no apparent weaknesses. Safety Patrick Chung and CB Walter Thurmond are back defensively, after finishing 1-2 on the team in tackles last year.  USC, Arizona State and Cal are all mid-season road games for the Ducks, which could prove or disprove any progress to be made.

#21 Virginia Tech Hokies. Coach: Frank Beamer.

The Hokies are another team that just didn’t quite live up to expectations last year, though they rallied to finish a respectable 9th in the final polls. Certainly a good deal of that success was due to QB Sean Glennon who racked up 1796 yards and 12 TDs. Glennon and QB Tyrod Taylor, the dual threat will again work behind a largely unscathed offensive line with four returning starters. Missing however, is a dependable RB or a WR who caught more than 3 oasses in a game. Defensively,  VT always has a solid, tough defense, and you can expect the same this year, but replacing Xavier Adibi, Vince Hall and Brandon Flowers will be especially tough. The Hokies dont catch many breaks in their schedule. Road games against Nebraska, Boston College, Florida State, and Miami seems overly brutal.

#22 Penn State Nittany Lions. Coach: Joe Paterno.

Who can’t root for Penn State and Joe Paterno?  JoePa ranks one behind Bobby Bowden (also still coaching) in total number of wins at 372, and he’s welcoming back eight starters on offense, so more wins are on the way. Tailback Rodney Kinlaw and QB Anthony Morelli wont be among them tho, so tnew duties will go to new QB Daryll Clark who has experience (he sparked the Nittany Lions to a victory over Texas A&M in last year’s Alamo Bowl). The new tailback is sophomore Evan Royster who scored the game winning TD in that same Alamo Bowl game. The offensive line is all returning vets plus some. Defensively, Penn State is hurting with the loss of All-American Dan Connor (NFL) and Sean Lee (knee).  Replacing your two top tackles is very hard indeed. Road games for the Nittany Lions include Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State, but not until October. If State can iron the kinks out in a relatively easy front part of the season, they’ll be in contention to be in the mix in the Big-10 when the road trips get hard.

#23 Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Coach: Greg Schiano.

The Scarlett Knights lost 5 games last year and won 8.  Ther was a time not too long ago that this would have been a cause for massive celebration. However, this is another program that has re-emerged to national prominence, and in an up and coming competitive conference.  However, this year the Big-East seems to be a bit depressed, so Rutgers could make hay this year. But it won’t be easy.  They lost RB Ray Rice to graduation, which is a severe blow. Kordell Young and Mason Robinson are promising, but both will be new on the field. However, Mike Teel returns as the starting QB which will lend some stability. He had a pretty good year last year by anyone’s measure: 3147 yards/20 TDs. And fans can be encouraged that his top receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt, each of whom went over 1000 yds, are both returning. The 2007 Offensive line yielded only 10 sacks last year, but 3 starters will need replacing. The Defense remains basically in tact with DE Jamaal Westerman being the mainstay. This bodes well, seeing that the Scarlet Knight Defense finished 5th in the country last year in pass defense. Road games to Cincy, Pitt and South Florida will be challenging, but the big road game will come Oct 4 against West Virginia. As usuall, this will be crucial to any play in the Big East.

#24 Fresno State Bulldogs. Coach: Pat Hill.

With Hawaii under new management, Pat Hill’s Bulldogs could give the BCS something to watch. They come off a 9-4 season and a Humanitarian Bowl win over Georgia Tech, so they definitely have momentum. MVP Tom Brandstater returns at QB for his senior year. He completed 63% of his passes last year for 2654 yards and 15 TDs. He also ran for three more. His favorite targets are also back in the fold, WR Marlon Moore and TE Bear Pascoe. The tandem caught 93 passess and nine for TDs.  Ryan Matthews had a tremendous freshman year, running for 866 yards and averaging 6 yds/carry. Only token replacements are needed on the offensive line, so the offense shouldnt lose a step. Defensively, WAC Defensive MVP Marcus Riley has departed, as well as the team sack leader last year Tyler Clutts.  However, they have 3 returners in the secondary and a solid LB talent in Ben Jacobs.  As usual, Fresno State will play a hellacious schedule, getting Rutgers on the road week one and Wisconsin at home week two. Then they move into WAC play where they should dominate and find a nice bowl game at year’s end.

#25 Alabama Crimson Tide.  Coach: Nick Saban.

To be honest, this is just a crap shoot in 5, as most are this time of year, but you can’t ignore Nick Saban as a coach. A strong incoming class strengthens a 2007 Alabama team that saw no player drafted to the NFL. The strength of the team is at offensive line anchored by left tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell. This is an experienced group that will be counted on to make up for any shortcomings in the skill positions. QB John Parker Wilson returns after a 2007 season where he threw for 2846 yards and 18 TDs. The Tide has very good tight ends in Nick Walker and Travis McCall and plenty of options at running back, but the big play at wide receiver will probably have to come from true freshmen, either Julio Jones or B.J. Scott. Defensively, things are a little iffy at linebacker, but otherwise should be solid. Alabama will be tested right out of the gate on the road at Clemson week one. Regretfully they must play Georgia and LSU on the road also. However, if Saban Magic can come through, watch out for these guys pulling the upset.

Other teams to watch: Wake Forest, South Carolina, Utah, Florida State.

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