Come next Saturday, I’ll be planted in front of the TV for every Saturday afterwards as giant dudes bash heads for school pride (or something like that.) Better take a look at who’s competing for the chip this year, and who’s got the best shot. (Note: this is how I’ve arranged the top 10, I know Georgia’s #1 going in, folks.)
(Rey Maualuga is coming for you, puny quarterbacks.)
1. USC – This isn’t pure SoCal homerism. I think the Trojans get the better of the Buckeyes and the Pac-10 isn’t a whole lot outside of Arizona State this year. If Mark Sanchez (or Mitch Mustain) can be anything resembling good and there is a wide receiver that stands out, they have the easiest path to get to the MNC game. The defense will be nasty, but the offense needs a star to pop out — whether that’s Joe McKnight, Vidal Hazelton, Damian Williams, somebody needs to be a go-to-guy. Of course, you can win big-time with team effort, and the fact that the Pac-10 looks to be in a bad swoon (Arizona State is the only other program that has any upside to look at this year) means a nice, laid-out path to the BCS game. Of course, we wrote all this last year before Stanford.
2. Ohio State – If there is any sort of karmic justice in the sport, OSU will find a way to nab a 2nd loss after losing to USC, thus promptly knocking them out of title contention. However, it took a miracle from Illinois to do it and they still have the best talent in the Big 10, by a long shot. Their odds of making it back to the BCS title game really do depend on how much the defense can make up for losing Vernon Gholston to Sundays and whether Todd Boeckman will be consistent enough in throwing to the two Brians at wide receiver. If not, the Sweater Vest may bring in Terrelle Pryor earlier than he’d like to.
3. Georgia – The Dawgs’ in-conference schedule will eat them up. Probably won’t have more than one loss, but I don’t think they make it unscathed. They could live up to this pre-season #1 ranking they have if Matthew Stafford can up his completion percentage and Knowshon Moreno continues the form that had everyone drooling last year. Probably second best defense in conference to LSU.
4. Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has a real good chance to go undefeated in the Big 12 — but that defense allows way too much on the ground. The Sooners have laid eggs in their last few bowl games, but bring Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray back for what was a good, solid offensive attack last season. That said, there are few coaches I loathe more than Stoops — he’s whiny and petulant, an SEC coach without a bit of the inherent humor that comes with coaching in that conference. He should be fortunate that OSU has lost two straight BCS championship games — otherwise, someone would notice he’s 0 for his last 4 BCS bowl games in the past four years.
5. Mizzou – If the Tigers’ vaunted defensive haul is true, then Chase Daniel and Co. stand a real good shot at taking out Oklahoma come Big 12 Championship Game time — and even though teams will probably double team Jeremy Maclin all season, it will only make Daniel and the spread attack in Columbia that much more dangerous. The thought that Gary Pinkel has a bunch of defensive starters returning and is confident that this team will keep others out of the end zone could make them a dark horse favorite if the tops falter.
6. LSU – Fear the Hat, but Les Miles has a quarterback deficiency. If Ryan Perrilloux hadn’t been such a dunce cap, this team likely would have been #2 pre-season with their loaded status at all the skill positions on offense and a robust defense returning, even with Glenn Dorsey moving on to play on Sundays. As is, they’re a favorite for the SEC West crown and a chance to knock off UGA.
7. Florida – The Gators are here until the team proves it has a secondary, essentially. I don’t care how much Tim Tebow you throw at opponents — there are teams they won’t be able to keep out of the end zone and there are defenses (the U, LSU, Georgia) that will pound Tebow, Percy Harvin, and Emmanuel Moody around.
8. Texas Tech – Mike Leach’s Pirate Academy could put a very real scare into OU, Texas and any of the Big 12 South’s regular powers. I don’t expect them to make a championship game yet — but the defense will be a load better and Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are back. If nothing else, Leach’s teams are nothing short of fun to watch — and hopefully Fox Sports will do a lot of regional games with them.
9. Clemson – In a very, very weak ACC (Virgina Tech is offensively depleted; Boston College is trying to replace Matt Ryan), Tommy Bowden is running out of excuses. He has Cullen Harper, a backfield tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller (plus a freshman back by the name of Jamie Harper hoping to get PT), and he’s fallen short the past few years. An ACC title has to be his or he may not be back.
10. West Virginia – The Mountaineers go as far as Pat White’s legs and arm will take them, and as long as Bill Stewart will stay out of the way as head coach. (This was still an epic hiring error.) They certainly won’t be in a position to make the BCS game — not that the conference is great, but when USF has your number, no division is yours.
- Fresno State: Although the reputation of Pat Hill’s Mustache Riders is largely built more on an ethos than actual results, credit them for being willing to go play (and lose) anywhere. Thing is, this looks a lot like a year where they could win some of those games they’re supposed to lose. UCLA being absolute crap helps, but beyond that…probably not BCS worthy, but still fun. (Has anyone noted that the reason Hill may have an “Anytime, Anywhere” philosophy is not only for good press, but because the athletic department at Fresno needs the money to pay off all those sexual harassment lawsuit settlements and verdicts against them?)
- Brigham Young: It’s hard to believe that the squad that Bronco Mendenhall took to the Las Vegas Bowl and barely beat UCLA with is going to be everyone’s dark horse favorite to crash the party, but if you’re returning the important cogs of your offense (particularly QB Max Hall) and you have a rep as a tough, defensive minded coach, that’ll get you a lot of places.
Teams of Curiosity:
- Notre Dame – At least they’ll go .500 this year….I think.
- Alabama – Does Nick Saban have a Charlie Weis-like leash or will the Tide faithful be turning on him if he doesn’t grab at least a share of the SEC West?
- UCLA – This could be a year of historic levels of sucking. Rick Neuheisel really has no idea what he got himself into with a program where the QBs are made of papier-mache and an offensive line made out of palyers that used to play other positions.
- Miami – The ACC needs some other team in the conference to be at least half decent. The Hurricanes at least have a defense, even if Randy Shannon has decided to suspend starting QB Robert Marve for the first game.
- Arizona State – Rudy Carpenter could be something else if Dennis Erickson can get an offensive line to block for him for once.
- Michigan – No better than 4th in the Big Televen. It’s not going to be pretty, and I suspect there won’t be a lot of games at the Big House picked up nationally.
- Colorado – Worth a check on because of Darrell Scott deciding to spurn USC and Texas to play in Folsom Field. Personally, I like Dan Hawkins (he blogs and it makes for good material), and the Buffaloes deserve a chance to come back after that morass they were in under Neuheisel and Gary Barnett.
- Iowa – mostly for the Kirk Ferentz Death Watch.
Already Annoying Aspect of the Upcoming Season: I already heard Brent Musberger talking about next Saturday’s night game on ABC, and those of us on the West Coast will be getting Michigan State-Cal instead of Alabama-Clemson. Not even half of Berkeley wants to watch this year’s Cal team struggle. Christ. I see a lot of remote throwing on my part and viewing of Raycom/Lincoln Financial SEC games via Yahoo (if they still offer that.)
I just have to remember to do all the shopping for beer, chips, and any other food-related items on Friday before going to work so I don’t have to leave the apartment at any point.
Filed under: college football, The Shakedown Tagged: | Alabama Crimson Tide, arbitrary Top 10 lists, Arizona State Sun Devils, BYU Cougars, Clemson Tigers, Colorado Buffaloes, Florida Gators, Fresno State Bulldogs, Georgia Bulldogs, Iowa Hawkeyes, LSU Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Michigan Wolverines, Missouri Tigers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Tech Red Raiders, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, West Virginia Mountaineers