Florida will be playing Alabama twice this year. What happens the first time isnít of much concern to us, but we think they'll win the second time, in the SEC Championship Game.
Anyone who thinks Florida is in trouble without Tim Tebow probably doesn't know who John Brantley is. Don't worry, youíll meet him. Brantley's skills as a passer will cause Florida to shift to a pass-oriented spread rather than the run-oriented Tebow spread. His ability as a passer is complemented by a bewildering amount of speed at the skill positions, and between players like Deonte Thompson, Andre Debose, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee, Emmanuel Moody and Jordan Reed, we think Florida will move the ball against any defense.
2. Boise State
We think the National Championship game will be between Florida and Ohio State, but Boise State could earn itself a disputed national title by finishing undefeated and taking out a team like Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The only intimidating match for Boise State's regular season is the Week 1 matchup against Virginia Tech, and we think the Broncos have enough firepower to get the job done.
3. Ohio State
The Buckeyes might field the nationís best defense in 2010, and that's why we think they'll escape their regular season undefeated. However, what was the case in 2007 and 2008 is the case now: Ohio State can't keep up with the best of the SEC. We think the Florida offense will prove too much for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes offense wonít be able to save the day against what will almost definitely be a tough Florida defense.
We think that the difference between Alabama and Florida will be very little whichever way it goes. If this ranking were based on team talent rather than BCS rankings, we'd have the Tide at No. 2. We think Florida will take the lead over them this year, though, because last year's amazing defense isn't around to stop the Florida offense. The one remaining star from the front seven of last year, defensive end Marcell Dareus, was initially ruled ineligible for 2010 in late July, and that ruling has yet to be clearly retracted, though there is ambiguity over whether it still stands. The offense will still be high-powered thanks to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson at running back, but we're not sure the duo can keep up with Brantley and the lightning-fast Gator offense.
Few teams failed to meet their preseason expectations worse than Oklahoma did last year. Of course, that almost certainly wouldn't have been the case if Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham hadnít been out of commission due to injuries. It's not as if the loss of those two, along with top-five NFL Draft picks Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams, will make the 2010 season any easier. But the Sooners have a bunch of talent leftover from before.
The best player on the team is receiver Ryan Broyles, who scored a total of 17 touchdowns in 12 games last year. Broyles is joined by the explosive DeMarco Murray at running back, who should be one of the best in the country if he can avoid getting hurt. They'll team up with a defense that allowed only 14.5 points per game last yearóa surprising number for a team that went only 8-5.
We really like the Horned Frogs' chances of finishing the season undefeated. The problem is that, unlike their BCS-Busting counterparts in Idaho, TCU has a very weak schedule. Oregon State is the teamís only formidable BCS opponent, and teams like Utah and BYU figure to be weaker in 2010 than they have been in some time. Still, there really is no weakness in this program. The offense will be mostly unstoppable, and it seems like this team couldnít field a bad defense if it tried.
The entire Iowa offensive line from 2009 is gone, but it's doubtful that anyone will notice much has changed. Kirk Ferentz is that good. Just like always, Iowa will get by on running the ball on offense and disrupting the point of attack on defense. The Hawkeyes defensive line is on the verge of world destruction, and the pressure it puts on opposing quarterbacks will once again afford many turnover opportunities for the linebackers and secondary.
On offense, watch for running back Jewel Hampton to run wild, while receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt team up to give the team what might be its most dangerous passing game since 2005.
Cincinnati went undefeated in the regular season before getting obliterated by Florida in the Sugar Bowl last year. We think their 2010 season will take a similar course, except with one loss in the regular season to Oklahoma. Most people are down on Cincinnati for three reasons: the losses of quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and coach Brian Kelly. Zach Collaros will take over at quarterback, and we think heíll be an upgrade over Pike. Wide receiver is accounted for by Armon Binns and D.J. Woods as well as former USC transfer and five-star recruit Vidal Hazelton.
The loss of Kelly definitely hurts, but even that loss was accounted for. Coming in to take over for Kelly is former Central Michigan coach Butch Jones, who turned the MAC program into a juggernaut in its conference. The funny part? Kelly coached Central Michigan before leaving for Cincinnati, and Jones is the one who took over for him. In short, weíve seen this all before. Brian Kelly builds a good team, leaves for another. Butch Jones takes over, and the team barely misses a beat.
9. Virginia Tech
The Hokies defense is in for a decline after losing fixtures like defensive end Jason Worilds and linebacker Cody Grimm, but the offense will be the best itís been in ages (and it was really good last year, too). Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a senior this year, and he'll be aided with a running game led by the spectacular Ryan Williams and the steady Darren Evans. The Hokies are loaded at receiver, too, with Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts providing as much big-play potential as any receiver group in the nation.
Garrett Gilbert is up to the task of replacing Colt McCoy, but replacing stars like receiver Jordan Shipley, defensive end Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Lamarr Houston will be anything but easy. Still, Texas brings in top-tier talent in every recruiting class, and itís doubtful that there werenít talents lurking in last yearís background who are ready to make a big impact in 2010.
The Auburn defense was a disaster in 2009 and, while it isnít likely to be great in 2010, we like the way the team finished the 2009 season, and history says the defense will improve at least slightly. Furthermore, the offense should be unstoppable. The arrival of former five-star recruit and Florida transfer Cameron Newton will infuse a great deal of excitement in the offense, and the running back trio of Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer might form the most talented group of runners in the country.
Although Toby Gerhart is no longer around, everything is fine at Stanford. Since the team has a large group of good talents at running back, the rushing attack will take care of itself, while star quarterback Andrew Luckís progression as a passer will take the offense to a new level. Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett tend to get all the press as far as draft-eligible quarterbacks go, but we wouldnít be a bit surprised if Luck ends up being the best of the group. We have a feeling that Stanford winds up in the Rose Bowl this year.
It would be a true statement to say that USCís best days are behind it, but not if youíre referring to the 2009 season. The Trojans will be far better in 2010 (not that Lane Kiffin will have anything to do with it), and theyíre looking like a probable top-15 team to us. Despite the regression last year, the Trojans still pulled in excellent recruiting classes recently, including a 2010 one that arguably included the first, second and third-best receivers in the class. The reason we see success in 2010 for the Trojans is that the defense should be tough, and the running game should be ruthless. Both Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler have the potential to put up big numbers for USC this year, and we think they will.
Rutgers has sneakily established itself as one of the nationís best football programs, and 2010 might mark its highest point since its 11-2 season in 2006. The loss of 1st round NFL Draft picks in offensive tackle Anthony Davis and cornerback Devin McCourty will hurt, but the Scarlet Knights have a proven defensive system in place and return its nucleus on offense with quarterback Tom Savage and receiver Mohamed Sanu. Savage and Sanu looked very promising as freshmen last year, and we think both will emerge as stars soon enough.
Regardless of who starts between Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, the quarterback position will be in good enough hands for Oregon. The quarterbacks will do little more than hand the ball to LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, the two of which combine to make a nearly unstoppable rushing attack. Weíd have the Ducks higher, but their weak schedule will force them to play nearly perfect to outrank Stanford and USC, and weíre skeptical that they can do it.
Assuming Ryan Mallettís foot isnít problematic, this team simply has too much firepower to not fly right past most of the teams it faces. For all the talk the teamís passing game (rightfully) receives, itís easy to forget that Arkansas also has an excellent group of running backs to use when they feel like it. We donít think they have a legitimate shot at winning the SEC, but their strength of schedule and overall impressive performance this year will earn them a high ranking.
17. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is an intimidating team this season for one reason: former Houston offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen is calling the plays. The Cowboys historically tend to have one of the nationís better offenses, but Holgorsenís Houston-style offense should be a hit in the high-flying Big 12. Star running back Kendall Hunter is healthy again, and heíll run through defenses whenever quarterback Brandon Weeden isnít throwing over them. The Cowboys will be the Razorbacks of the Big 12.
18. Florida State
Itís difficult to tell why, but it feels like the Seminoles will be back this year. New coach Jimbo Fisher has brought life into what was a stagnant program, and an infusion of elite recruits has the team more talented than itís been in ages. At the helm of this new squad is the seasoned star at quarterback, Christian Ponder. Although heís being overrated as an NFL Draft prospect, Ponder still has what it takes to lead Florida State to a great deal of success this year.
19. Notre Dame
This would obviously be a remarkably quick turnaround for Notre Dame, but Brian Kelly is a coach weíre not eager to doubt. It also doesnít hurt that the Irish have a pushover schedule, for the most part. Kelly always makes productive quarterbacks, so Dayne Crist should be in for a good year, even though he wonít be as good as Jimmy Clausen was.
The arrival of Jeremiah Masoli has been greatly overhyped, but he should team with Nathan Stanley as the two serve as specialists between running and passing formations, respectively. The best reason to like Mississippi is that they can run the ball and they play tough defense. No matter what happens at the quarterback position, moving the ball on the ground and stopping opposing offenses is how you win.
It seems like quarterback Kyle Parker will resist Major League Baseball for another year, and thatís good news for Clemson. Parker was by no means brilliant last year, but throwing 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in your first year in the program will certainly make the team optimistic about future prospects. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington will power a running game just effective enough to make people forget stop longing for C.J. Spiller, while the defense will be disruptive, as always.
22. Oregon State
The Beavers might not finish this year with a great record, but theyíre a tough team who will finish the season respectably and will have their ranking pushed upward by their very high strength of schedule. We think they'll lose against TCU, Boise State, USC and Stanford, but we like the Beavers' chances of taking down the Ducks in the Civil War on December 4th. The teamís run defense is tough, and the incredible Rodgers brothers will make sure the offense is dangerous.
This is a pick thatís difficult to justify, particularly with how remarkably strong the Big East is this year. But itís just so difficult to bet against coach Randy Edsall, who continues to develop the talent of his program as well as any coach in the nation. The Huskies head into 2010 with one of the nationís elite rushing attacks in star running back Jordan Todman and USC transfer D.J. Shoemate running behind one of the nationís most touted offensive lines, and we think theyíll consistently move the ball and control the tempo of games.
Connecticut finished 2009 just 8-5, but those five losses combined for a point margin of just 15, with no point margin in any of the losses being any greater than four. This is a team that was close to greatness last year, but itís amazing how easy it was for almost no one to notice.
The Badgers should be successful in 2010, but their preseason ranking of 12 is too high. The teamís defensive backs are below average, and theyíll get beaten more in 2010 with the brilliant OíBrien Schofield gone to the NFL. The loss of the star defensive end leaves the Badgers with the probably futile task of trying to replace 12 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. Wisconsin should do relatively well stopping the run in 2010, as they boast one of the nationís best linebacker duos in sophomores Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, but the big play through the air will be Wisconsinís undoing this year.
25. Miami (FL)
The Hurricanes will be a good squad in 2010, but their schedule is just brutal. They very realistically could open the season 1-4, largely thanks to a road trip through Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Clemson. Beyond those games, Miami will find itself in tough matchups against Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Florida. Even Duke might put up a good fight. We just donít see them making it through all that with any less than four losses.
They have a good shot of making the top-25, we just donít see them as a top-15 team like many do.
Heisman Trophy Winner: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Boise State offenses are always a circus, but the 2010 edition might be the best yet. Given that Moore somehow threw 39 touchdowns to just three interceptions last year and the team ran for 30 touchdowns, thatís really saying something.
But all the pieces are in place. Mooreís top two targets from last year, star receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis, will both be seniors, and Moore will be in his third season as starter. The running back trio of D.J. Harper, Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin should run for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, leaving defenses no choice but to play the run.
We think the top five Heisman candidates will look like this: Moore, John Brantley (Florida), Zach Collaros (Cincinnati), Mark Ingram (Alabama) and Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State). Weíre guessing it comes down to Brantley and Moore, but Moore will probably have the bigger numbers.
We actually had Missouri ranked at 25, but the recent indefinite suspension of Derrick Washington could cross out a great deal of the team's offensive production. Kendial Lawrence is a decent player, but Washington is one of the more productive runners in the country.
The team's passing game should be very good, but we think Missouri and Nebraska are just about tied in the Big 12 North right now, and given how weak the Big 12 North is, that's not particularly impressive.
It was tough leaving the Mountaineers out of the top-25. They should have a great running game with the fantastic Noel Devine starring at running back, and the defense might be the best in the Big East, but we had to leave them out for two reasons.
First, the quarterback position is being led by Geno Smith, who has very little experience and lacks the running ability that the West Virginia offense has relied on at the quarterback position. Second, their schedule, like most Big East teams, is brutal. Their strength of schedule is very tough, and weíre not sure they can make it out with a record that would qualify them for the top-25.
Yes, itís true that Nebraska brings back the majority of last yearís starting squad, and theyíll definitely be in the hunt for Big 12 North. But the few players who did leave from last yearís team are potentially crippling losses for the defense.
The loss of the irreplaceable Ndamukong Suh alone creates a mind-boggling void of a team-leading 84 tackles, 12 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss, three blocked kicks and 10 pass deflections.
Once you pick your jaw up off the floor, consider that Nebraska will also be without linebacker Phillip Dillard, defensive end Barry Turner and safeties Matt OíHanlon and Larry Asante. In total, the returning Cornhusker defense will have to replace 367 tackles, 22.5 sacks, 45.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, six forced fumbles, three blocked kicks and two touchdowns.
Even if star running back Bernard Pierce misses some time, he has a great backup and valuable complementary runner in Matt Brown who should keep the Owls running game rolling. Temple has a defense with a remarkable ability to disrupt, as it sacked opposing quarterbacks 34 times and forced 27 turnovers in 2009. The teamís return game is also brilliant, with kick returner James Nixon and punt returner Delano Green each scoring twice on returns last year. But with games against Connecticut and Penn State, as well as a potentially tough match in the MAC Championship game, weíre skeptical that Temple can emerge with a record great enough to outweigh its weak strength of schedule.
Pitt will no doubt have a tough squad and will be a fringe top-25 team, but the Big East is one of the tougher divisions in college football right now, and the team suffered some very important losses this offseason. Quarterback Bill Stull was very effective for the team last year, and it would be surprising if his replacement, Tito Sunseri, could play at the level he did. The team also lost tight end Dorin Dickerson, who provided 10 touchdowns last year, as well as its top defensive player in defensive tackle Mick Williams.
The Bulldogs enter a new era with former five-star recruit Aaron Murray taking the lead at quarterback, and he seems to be a promising fit in this role. But the defense was a big problem last year, and the unitís best players in linebacker Rennie Curran, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and safety Reshad Jones are all gone. Itís not clear how Georgia will stop anyone, and we doubt their offense can keep up with everyone.
Butch Davis can feel the seat getting hotter. The Tar Heels have brought in a great deal of hyped recruits the past few years, but theyíve yet to have much to show for it. The problem has been that few of those big recruits were on the offensive line or at quarterback, and those two weaknesses will badly hurt the programís high ambitions for this year. The potential of players like defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little drawing the ire of the NCAA due to improper contact with sports agents isnít going to help them stay focused, either.
We think quarterback Jordan Jefferson played better in 2009 than most give him credit for, but he apparently didnít look so good in the spring. Furthermore, the LSU running game was weak last year and with last yearís top two runners (Charles Scott and Keiland Williams) graduated, itís hard to see how thatís going to change drastically this year.
Like all SEC teams, LSU has a tough schedule in 2010. They'll almost certainly receive two losses against Florida and Alabama, and games against teams like North Carolina, West Virginia, Auburn, Mississippi and Arkansas will also take LSU to the limit. Their odds of emerging unscathed from all of that don't seem great to us.
The loss of running back Jonathan Dwyer wonít be particularly significant loss for the Yellow Jackets, but the departure of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas could be painful. Thomas was a ridiculous big-play threat for Georgia Tech last year, taking his meager 46 catches for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns.
It looks like sophomore receiver Stephen Hill might be able to pickup somewhere near where Thomas left off, but asking him to be as good as Thomas is probably too tall of an order.
Furthermore, the Yellow Jackets lost their two best defenders in defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett. Their departures create a shortage of 140 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions in the Georgia Tech defense.
Penn State will be, as always, a difficult team to beat. Unfortunately for them, theyíve lost as much crucial talent as any team in the country.
None of the quarterbacking candidates will be able to match Daryll Clarkís production this year, and this complication is compounded by doubts on the offensive line. The defense also was gutted in the offseason, as star defensive tackle Jared Odrick is gone and so is what was the nationís best linebacker trio in Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.