Is Nick Saban and Co. primed for a repeat?
I’ve been looking at some of the early top 25 rankings by some of the so-called “experts” and feel many of them are not reflective of what the rankings really should be. That is why I am doing my own rankings. I know it’s early May, but this is how I believe the college football landscape looks right now:
1) Alabama -> Not a whole lot to say about this one; until someone takes the reigns from them, I have to keep them numero uno. They return their quarterback in Greg McElroy and still have Julio Jones on the outside catching passes. I haven’t even mentioned that Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram and star-backup Trent Richardson will shoulder the load for the Tide in the backfield. Dont’a Hightower and Jerrell Harris lead a talented linebacking core as the defense looks to stay relatively strong, despite losing Rolondo McClain to the draft. They play a ridiculous schedule this year, but still get the nod at the 1 slot.
2) Ohio State -> This is the year that Terrelle Pryor finally blossoms into the type of quarterback that fans thought he would become. He is versatile, strong and is finally healthy to start the year. Dan Herron should be a workhorse for the Buckeyes in the backfield, and DaVier Posey should see plenty of targets at receiver. If the offensive line can hold up, and it should as it is strictly made up of upperclassmen, watch out for this offense; it could be damn good. Cameron Heyward will have an All-American type year for the defense. Mark it. They still have to find replacements for key defenders Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell.
3) Virginia Tech -> This might come as somewhat of a surprise to some, but I for one feel with the dynamic duo they have in the backfield, this team could easily challenge for a national championship. Ryan Williams is the best running back in the country. I know, I know, I know, Mark Ingram is still at Alabama. Ingram is a very solid running back, but I believe Williams is better. Couple that with the fact that you have Darren Evans coming back, and this running back tandem is special. Tyrod Taylor has had another year to grow as a quarterback and defensively, the Hokies are extremely athletic. The only concern is their youth. The Hokies have no seniors slated to start on the defensive side of the ball or on the offensive line. That ought to tell you how much I believe in this team.
4) Boise State -> There is just something about this team that makes me believe they are never as good as their record suggests. The obvious reason would be because of the conference they play in, but perhaps there is more to it than that. They return arguably the best quarterback in football in Kellen Moore (a Heisman candidate), but play Virginia Tech in early September in Maryland. That could spell disaster for them right out of the gate. The thing that hurts them the most is losing their star on the defensive side of the ball, Kyle Wilson, to the draft as well as their defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, to the University of Tennessee. I’m not sold on their offensive line either; it is extremely unproven. This should be a very interesting year in Boise.
5) Texas -> Perhaps the biggest unknown in my top 5. They lose the winningest quarterback in college football history in Colt McCoy, but replace him with Garrett Gilbert, a heralded prospect who showed guts and resiliency during their national championship loss this past year to Alabama. Their running game is a huge question mark (who is their starter? Tre Newton? Fozzy Whitaker?) and losing Jordan Shipley to the NFL is going to have a huge impact on the Longhorn offense. But it is the University of Texas and they know how to reload about as good as anybody. Look for Marquise Goodwin, James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams to get plenty of targets from Gilbert. Defensively, they must re-tool immensely. Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown keep the secondary somewhat intact, but losing Earl Thomas, the gifted safety, is a huge blow. Also gone are linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Lamarr Houston.
6) TCU -> The Horned Frogs finally broke through last year with their first BCS birth, but were taken out by Boise State. This year, however, they have their eyes set on the prize yet again. They return Andy Dalton, their senior quarterback, who should have another strong year. Their running game of Turner & Wesley (sounds kind of like a law firm, doesn’t it?) should be strong, as this is probably going to be their bread-and-butter all season. Their offensive line should be very strong again this year. However, a huge question mark has to be their receiver corps, despite having gifted playmaker Jeremy Kerley for one more year (which reminds me to remind Coach Patterson to GET THIS KID THE BALL). Defensively, losing Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington isn’t crippling, but it’s pretty darn close. TCU has their work cut out for them this year, but should still be solid and a team to watch.
7) Florida -> The Gators have Tim Te…wait, wait. Never mind. The Gators have John Brantley now behind center as they pass the reigns to the former prep star from Ocala. I believe their receivers will have a great year and will provide Brantley with the type of help he needs to succeed in the always-tough SEC. The running game remains somewhat of a question mark, but Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody should hold steady. Defensively, the Gators should be monstrous. Watch for the emergence of linebacker Jon Bostic. The kid is fast, athletic and has a non-stop motor. Safety Will Hill should emerge as the Gators top playmaker in the secondary.
8 ) Wisconsin -> I like this team’s makeup a lot. They return their 2 offensive stars in quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay, and have playmaker Nick Toon to help shoulder the load in the receiving core. Couple that with the fact that their offensive line might be their strongest asset, and offensively, this team is loaded. On the defensive side of the ball, there are a few more question marks, most notably, who is going to rush the passer? Look for Louis Nezegwu to emerge as their pass-rush specialist. The Badgers, Buckeyes and soon-to-be-mentioned Iowa Hawkeyes should be the 3 teams vying for the Big Ten title next year.
9) Iowa -> I believe this team goes as far as Ricky Stanzi takes them. The kid has all the tools to be an extremely solid college quarterback, but he has to play smarter than he did last year. In the backfield, the Hawkeyes have a trio of gifted runners in Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton. Their receivers seem to be above-average in the Big Ten with Johnson-Koulianos and McNutt leading the way, however, look for Keenan Davis to emerge. Their biggest question mark offensively is the offensive line where they must replace first-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga as well as 3 others. Defensively, the Hawkeyes should be masterful. Their defensive line, led by behemoth man-child Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug, should be the cream of the crop. Also, look out for Jeremiha Hunter. This kid is a helluva football player and one of the unheralded studs of this football team.
10) Nebraska -> I would have this team a lot higher if I knew what they were going to get out of their quarterback. That, however, seems to be a mystery. Is it the enigmatic Zac Lee? How about Taylor Martinez? Cody Green, anyone? This is why, I believe, Nebraska might even have trouble winning the Big 12 North. I keep them this high because I know that their defense is going to be one of the strongest in the conference, despite losing All-World player Ndamukong Suh. Jared Crick leads the way on the defensive line and Prince Amukamara is a shutdown corner. Their running game, led by Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, should have no troubles bowling over opposing defenders. Who will step up for them receiver-wise? Niles Paul needs to have a monster year.
11) Oklahoma -> Landry Jones finally knows that he is the guy. And after a year of getting beat up, he will have an offensive line that is a year older, despite losing first-rounder Trent Williams. Is this the year that DeMarco Murray emerges? People have been waiting and waiting, and I believe, this is the year. Ryan Broyles is a tough-nosed receiver who will take a hit and Brandon Caleb should see more looks as well. Look for Dejuan Miller and Kenny Stills to get solid playing time as well. I’m interested to see if a tight end can emerge to replace Jermaine Gresham. Defensively, they must replace Gerald McCoy, Keenan Clayton and Dominique Franks who were all lost to the NFL Draft. I think linebacker Austin Box is in-line for a huge year.
12) Oregon -> Losing Jeremiah Masoli for the year already puts the Ducks behind the eight ball. I would have had them in the 5-7 range if he was still their starting quarterback; that’s how big of an impact that kid had on this team. However, they still have running back LaMichael James (also suspended for a game to start the year) shouldering the load in the backfield. Also, look for Kenjon Barner to steal some carries from James. Nate Costa should be named starting quarterback by the start of the season; the offensive line should be huge for the Ducks this season as well, with Bo Thran and C.E. Kaiser paving the way. They must find someone to replace tight end Ed Dickson. Defensively, the Ducks have to find a replacement for T.J. Ward, their plamaking safety from a year ago. They must also find a guy who can rush the quarterback consistently.
13) Pittsburgh -> This team is extremely interesting. They return their phenom running back in Dion Lewis (the third-best back in the country, behind Williams of VA Tech and Mark Ingram of Alabama) and Jonathan Baldwin, their go-to receiver, who looks like a man among boys with his 6-5 frame. Tino Sunseri takes over the reigns at quarterback which, to me, is the only real wildcard they have on offense. If he can step his play up and remain consistent, Pittsburgh’s offense should not miss a beat, especially with their already steady offensive line. On defense, Greg Romeus, a sure-fire first-rounder in next year’s draft, remains as the focal point. This means that any quarterback that plays the Panthers this year should be on the lookout for a 6-6 defensive end who can lay the wood. Pittsburgh looks like the team to beat this year in the Big East.
14) USC -> Always evolving, but never out of the college football picture, the Trojans come into this year facing many uncertainties. Losing their coach, Pete Carroll, has to be tough, but they immediately went out and hired young-gun Lane Kiffin. They have sophomore Matt Barkley under center with a year of starting experience already under his belt and have Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable toting the rock in the backfield. However, they lost playmaking receiver Damian Williams, explosive back Joe McKnight and receiving tight end Anthony McCoy to the draft. How tough is it going to be to replace those guys? Only time will tell, especially with Williams. Ronald Johnson should have a big year for USC catching the ball. Defensively, the defensive line looks to be the cog that makes the defense go. Losing Christian Tupou for the season hurts, but USC is a plug-and-go type team, meaning they can just plug someone in and still remain successful. The secondary still needs some major help.
15) Miami ->The “U” would be even higher on my list if they didn’t play such a brutal schedule to start the season (games at Ohio St., Pittsburgh and Clemson). Jacory Harris leads the way for the Canes and is primed for a huge year. Damien Barry is the Canes starting running back and should venture north of 1,000 yards this year (Graig Cooper will be lucky to play this season). Laron Byrd and Leonard Hankerson should do a fine job of catching passes this season and the offensive line should be stout. Defensively, Sean Spence leads the way for the Canes (no offense to Aaron Bailey). I expect this defense to be extremely fast this year and I expect safety Ray Ray Armstrong to become a dynamic playmaker.
16) Florida State -> In Jimbo Fisher’s first year, I expect the Seminoles to be fiery and aggressive. Heisman hopeful Christian Ponder leads the way at quarterback for FSU with Bert Reed and Jarmon Fortson as go-to-guys in the receiving game. The offensive line looks to be replenished and, as a whole, the offense looks to be ready to fire on all cylinders. On the defensive side of the ball, Mark Stoops comes in from Arizona to become the new defensive coordinator. Nigel Carr and Jeff Luc lead a very deep linebacking core and Greg Reid should emerge as the major playmaker in the secondary for the ‘Noles. Their schedule, however, is absolutely brutal with games against OU, Miami, Florida & BYU. Ouch.
17) Arkansas ->I’ve been going back and forth with this team because as far as talent-wise goes, I don’t think they are as deep as most of the teams on this list. They have Ryan Mallett at quarterback, who is a very solid player, and Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams catching the ball. But who is going to tote the rock this season for the Hogs? I’m guessing Ronnie Wingo and Knile Davis. The offensive line is somewhat of a question mark as well. Defensively, Arkansas looks to be very young. They are extremely athletic, but questions remain including ones surrounding the defensive line. Who is going to step up for them this season along that line? One positive is that their schedule looks to be very favorable.
18) LSU -> Les Miles needs to turn this program back into a perennial top-10 team or his job will be in jeopardy. Jordan Jefferson will be the starting quarterback, which should make Tigers fans already feel a little uneasy before the season even starts. I’m very interested to see how Russell Shepard is used. I believe you have to get this kid the ball; he’s that elusive. Also, freshman star Reuben Randle will play a lot this year and should be vital to the Tigers success. Is Terrance Tolliver ever going to be the playmaker people thought he was going to be when he arrived in Baton Rouge? We shall see. On defense, it’s all about the secondary with Patrick Peterson running the show. This guy knows how to cover and should be a high draft pick come 2011 draft day. Also, Jai Eugene should step in and be a huge contributor as well. Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard could don All-American honors with a monster year. This is a make-or-break year for Miles and the Tigers.
19) Georgia -> You heard it here first: If the offensive line can keep Aaron Murray off of his ass, this will be the surprise team in the SEC this year. Washaun Ealy is a reliable back who should have a very nice year and receiver A.J. Green is the best receiver in the country. He should provide a very nice “security blanket” for Murray (sarcasm, folks. We all know this kid is an absolute freak and will have a huge year). Todd Grantham becomes the new defensive coordinator this year for the Dawgs and will switch to the 3-4 scheme. Losing Rennie Curran and Geno Atkins hurts, but the front 7 should still be extremely stout, especially with DeAngelo Tyson penciled in as the starting nose tackle. The secondary is somewhat of a concern, but should still be OK. Georgia also has the best kicker and punter in the conference in Blair Walsh and Drew Butler.
20) Texas A&M -> Many fans might not agree with this too much, most notably Texas Tech fans, but I’m putting them this high anyways. I believe that the Aggies will be much improved this season with Heisman candidate Jerrod Johnson running the show once again. The best 1-2 running back punch in the Big 12 resides in College Station, where Cyrus Gray and Offensive Freshman of the Year Christine Michael look to build on last year’s success. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Fuller’s game and see a big year from him; Uzoma Nwachukwu is also a kid that should have plenty of catches at the end of the year. Defensively, Von Miller leads the way. If he can consistently get to the quarterback like he did this past year, then the Aggies could be for real. Tim DeRuyter’s new 3-4 defense should make him even more dangerous.
21) Cincinnati -> Losing Brian Kelly as head coach will have a very big impact on the Bearcats this season. Many are saying it won’t, but I believe it will (nothing personal against new coach Butch Jones). They still have Zach Collaros at quarterback who will take over for Tony Pike; he looked absolutely spectacular last season. They also have a big-time transfer coming in this year in Vidal Hazelton (formerly of USC). Couple him with Armon Binns, and the receiving core should be just fine despite losing Mardy Gilyard to the draft. Darrin Williams should get the nod at starting running back to begin the season. On defense, Cincinnati could be in some trouble. There is nobody defensively that really screams playmaker. Not to say somebody won’t step up at some point in the season, but defense is definitely the weak link for the Bearcats. The non-conference schedule doesn’t do them any favors either.
22) Georgia Tech -> Paul Johnson’s triple-option spread offense will be tested this year as they lose starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. Josh Nesbitt is still under center, but they are going to have to find someone to replace Dwyer’s running ability (Roddy Jones? Marcus Wright?). Also, losing Demaryius Thomas hurts. Al Groh comes in as new defensive coordinator for Georgia Tech and should upgrade the defense immediately even though they lost Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett to the draft and have no seniors starting. I expect cornerback Dominique Reese to have a big year.
23) North Carolina -> Their defense is just too good to keep them out of the preseason top 25. With guys like Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin up front, and Deunta Williams in the secondary (keep in mind that these 3 guys are all possible first-rounders), this team should be extremely fun to watch when on defense. That’s without even mentioning linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter. However, the problems seem to lie on the offensive side of the ball. T.J. Yates remains the quarterback. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Greg Little remains their top receiving threat and Shaun Draughn their number one running back. The offensive line has to be better this year or it could be a rough one in Chapel Hill.
24) Texas Tech -> Call it homerism, bias, whatever, it doesn’t really matter to me. This team is going to be good. Coach Tommy Tuberville knows what he’s doing and with most of the offense coming back, this team shouldn’t miss a beat. Taylor Potts remains the starter as of now and Baron Batch the starting running back. Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers should also see extended playing time in the backfield. At receiver, it’s like a revolving door for the Red Raiders. Detron Lewis and Alex Torres lead the way. The offensive line has to do a much better job than it did last year for Tech to be successful. Defensively, James Willis steps in as the new defensive coordinator and brings the 3-4 defense along with him. They must replace Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard’s success as pass-rushers and need to have big year’s from linebackers Brian Duncan and Bront Bird. I expect to see D.J. Johnson emerge as a big-time playmaker in the secondary for the Red Raiders.
25) Penn State -> Last in the top 25, but certainly not least, Joe Pa’s crew is young, but still very good. Sophomore Kevin Newsome looks to be the starting quarterback going into the season, but other than that, the Nittany Lions seem to be in a state of flux. The starting tailback job is up for grabs and the offensive line was gutted. Offensively, it remains to me seen just what Penn State really has. Defensively, the Nittany Lions should have a little bit better picture of what they have. Defensive end Jack Crawford is the dynamic playmaker for them and should record double digit sacks by the end of the year. However, they lost all 3 of their starting linebackers and must re-tool in that area as well as defensive tackle Jared Odrick. Penn State has the talent, but they are extremely young. This should be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions.