Being that it is already nearly the 2nd week of August, I am fascinated that none of the major sports websites have really released any of their preseason predictions yet. At least if they have, I can't find them anywhere on the CNNSI/ESPN, etc. websites. If memory serves, they are usually up by this point, so I am curious why they have not posted all that stuff yet. But, that's just as well. I can give my prognostications without being influenced by other media bias.
Let's take a look at how I perceive the Top Ten for the season. For that, we have to start with Florida, which has won 2 of the last 3 National Championships, much to the horror of Tennessee and Florida State fans everywhere. Unfortunately, there is just no getting around the fact that Florida is the defending champ and has All-Universe College QB Tim "I walk on water" Tebow coming back for his senior season. (As an interesting side note to consider, Florida did not have a top ten recruiting season. What that means in the long term, I am not sure.)
My general premise for preseason polls and such is to keep the previous seasons champ at No. 1. I have never understood the rationale for disrespecting a defending national champion until they prove on the field they are no longer the champs. I don't think even the cheeky armchair fantasy football quarterback types could make much of a case for having anyone but Florida at No. 1 going into the 2009 campaign.
That having been said, do I think at the end of the season will Florida still be No. 1? Possibly. I think they will likely still be in the top 5, but everyone and their brother is going to be gunning for Tebow and Florida this year, even more so than last year. I think people are tired of Florida, and Tebow in particular who suffers from what I call the "goodie two shoes" effect. Tebow can seem to do no wrong both on and off the field, which is good for him as a role model and all as we need all the athletes like that we can get. However, that doesn't sit too well with people over the long haul. (See: Manning, Peyton, and the Heisman Trophy fiasco.) Unless all other competitors die, I think Tebow is cooked in terms of getting another Heisman unless, ironically, he does something stupid like get busted for DUI. People just want someone different unless he trips up off the field. (For the record, I have no respect for the Heisman trophy because of this phenomenon.)
I could be wrong, but I think Florida, given their schedule, might well go undefeated again. Their schedule is a lot easier than last year. They don't play Mississippi, which was their one trip up last year, and have Florida State and Tennessee both at home (neither of which will be all that good this year), with Georgia in the Cocktail Bowl. They do have to play @LSU, which is really their only tough road game. I think they will lose one, but only because of their own arrogance.
Then from the Big XII, there is what I call Texahoma. Whoever wins the Texas/Oklahoma game will likely go undefeated or close to it. Both teams have excellent QBs, one of which will likely get the Heisman. I am torn as to whom might come out on top. Texas brings back just about everyone on offense, but Oklahoma still has Bradford, and their defense is going to be incredible this year. My head is telling me Texas will do it, but my heart is telling me "defense wins championships" and go with Oklahoma. This one could be either way. And we could have a repeat of the bizarre incident last year where Texas beats Oklahoma in the regular season, and then loses a close game down the line, and Oklahoma gets the BCS invite because Bob Stoops is a media darling.
Then there's USC, which even though it lost Mark Sanchez to the draft, always seems to have more talent than it knows what to do with. Head Coach Pete Carroll drives by more blue chip recruits on his commute to work that some places like Nebraska or Tennessee have in the entire state. As such, USC doesn't really rebuild, it reloads, as they say. Even with Sanchez' moving on, USC is still bringing back nearly the entire offense that lit up Penn State in the Rose Bowl. They are having to replace nearly all the defense, but they have several players, defensive end Everson Griffin, linebacker Chris Gallipo and defensive backs Shareece Wright and Will Harris, which have plenty of playing time already, they are just moving up to starters.
I admit I don't know much about USC, as is the case with most of the people outside PAC-10 country. I did get to watch USC smack Nebraska around a few years back, and was quite impressed with their level of talent at that time. Perhaps Father Tim, who is a USC grad I believe, can speak to USC's prospects this year better than I. Their schedule looks solid but not dreadfully difficult, so I imagine they will end the season in the Top Ten barring meltdown, although I hear they are breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators. The few preseason prognostications I have read thus far seem to think USC might have a bad (bad as in 10 win season), which is usually when Pete Carroll shines the most, especially given that USC's major seasonal trip up, Oregon, is having a head coaching change.
Alabama is also a question mark. They had a stellar year last year, and gave Florida all it could handle in the SEC championship game, much to everyone's surprise. Alabama did have a bit of brouhaha in the off season, getting hit with some stiff but not severe NCAA sanctions. They also have a harder schedule than last year, opening with Virginia Tech with away games @Ole Miss and @Auburn, though they do get LSU at home with a week off before the LSU game. Alabama was way ahead of schedule under Nick Saban (one might say overachieving) with its surprise undefeated regular season last year, which was a feat given how young the team was. They have two fine running backs and a new QB which was much heralded. But with the NCAA infractions hanging over their head, its tough to see them repeating last year's surprise feat. They might win the SEC West again, but likely not go undefeated in doing so.
I think the top ten sleeper is Houston Nutt's Ole Miss. They had a pretty explosive offense down the stretch last year, with a shocker win against Florida. Nutt recruited pretty well, and their QB might make a run at the Heisman if they do well down the stretch again. Their defense was the question mark last year, but given that Nutt has had a year to work on that, I imagine that front will only get better. The one bad thing about Ole Miss is that their one open date is after the first game of the season, which means they have to end the season playing 11 games in a row, ending with Tennessee and LSU in the last 3 games, both at home though. They look attractive in the preseason, but I don't know if Nutt has the depth yet to make a long run down the stretch.
Then there is Oklahoma State which returns all its major players from the explosive offense last year. I think they are another Big XII sleeper. Defense was the major rough spot last year, but they return 7 starters, so more experience usually means better performance. My sources in Stillwater tell me they practiced defensive drills hard during spring practice, so that will likely improve their defense as well.
Then there is LSU, which had a bit of a rough go of it last year with 5 losses, a first for Les "Mad Hatter" Miles. LSU finally got its QB situation sorted out in the Peach "I refuse to call it the Chick-fil-a" Bowl when they routed a very good Georgia Tech team that was basically playing a home game in the bowl as GT is just a few blocks from the Georgia Dome. They also have a star running back returning, and the defensive front is as strong as ever. I think LSU might give Alabama a run for their money in the SEC West this year.
Then there are unknown stalwarts like Virginia Tech. VT has had 5 10-win seasons in a row, which is not shabby as they play an incredibly tough non-conference schedule which offsets the pretty weak ACC regular conference schedule. Its hard to gauge how good VT ever really is. I think we will know pretty quickly how good or not VT is, as they play Alabama and Nebraska within the first three games of the season (both at home). VT squeaked by Nebraska early last season, and were lucky they played Nebraska early on, as I think Nebraska could have easily beat them later in the season when Bo Pelini got things cranking.
Then there is Ohio State, which lost a good deal of its starters from last year, but do have a highly touted QB names Terrelle Pryor. I think Ohio State is going to be rebuilding this year with all the personnel losses, but may make it into the Top Ten legitimately by season's end.
After that, there is the usual cast of characters that like to congregate around the Top Ten but never seem to make it for long periods. Utah's defense is returning, but most of the offense graduated. And, it's Utah. They play in a little conference, so its hard to tell how good they are or not. Penn State looks like the best of the Big Ten again, but considering how lousy the Big Ten has performed in bowls the last few years, its hard to gauge as the conference tends to be inbred. Then there are folks like Oregon (head coaching change), Oregon State, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Georgia who all in theory have the capacity to make Top Ten showings, but usually manage to have a brain cramp or two somewhere down the line. Its basically a crap shoot on any of those.
Non-Top Ten Teams to watch:
Nebraska-see my previous review on that here. Up and coming, might make a run at the Big XII North this year as Missouri is going to be rebuilding.
Tennessee-new coach, new schemes, lots of attitude. Again, read my comments here. Could go either way. If Kiffin bombs, Tennessee becomes a coaching hornet's nest and will have a hard time attracting a quality coach thereafter.
Auburn-Weird hire to replace a successful Tommy Tuberville in Iowa State's head coach Gene Chizik, a man who found a way to tank Iowa State. That takes real talent. Auburn could have done much better.
Boston College-ran off up and coming coach Jeff Jagodzinski in a bizarre incident for Frank Spaziani (gotta love that name).
Kansas State-fired disaster Ron Prince and brought back the war horse, Bill "I'm a million years old and never faced a spread offense" Snyder. I think K. State should not have gone back to the well for Snyder. They will regret that in the end, as everyone on the Synder bandwagon seems to have forgotten that Snyder last few years at KState were mediocre at best . He's too old to oversee another massive rebuilding program to its conclusion.
Washington-fired Tyrone Willingham and brought in Steve Sarkisian. That will be interesting.
Notre Dame-last but not least, the soap opera that is Notre Dame football. Head Coach Charlie "I told you I ain't no genius even though I didn't deny it at the time" Weiss somehow stayed on for a 5th year, despite having the identical record of predecessor Tyrone Willingham (who got canned) after 4 seasons. When the Administration is calling press conferences to endorse you, you know its just a matter a time unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat.
So, without further adieu, here be my Archer's Preseason Top Ten*:
2. and 3. Texahoma (tie)
7. Oklahoma State
8. Georgia Tech
9. Ole Miss
10. Nondescript Big Ten Team to be named later
*Subject to change without notice. May cause gastro-indigestional distress. No animals were harmed in the making of this list, unless you count the coffee beans I ground up. Void were prohibited. I'm the Archer of the Forest and I approve this message.