We've taken all the spring games, all the scrimmages, all the injuries and processed them into this post-spring Top 25.
|Heisman candidate Darren Sproles leads another strong Kansas State team.(Getty Images)|
Notice no Florida and no Wisconsin. We'll take the hits for those omissions for now, but the Gators and Badgers will have to prove themselves. There are just too many good teams.
1. Oklahoma: When Bob Stoops says, "We should be decent," the nation better watch out. Once again, the defense is loaded, recruiting is great. Pencil the Sooners into the Big 12 championship game and probably the Sugar Bowl.
2. Auburn: The Tigers head into Saturday's spring game loaded. They are three deep at tailback, finally settled at quarterback (Jason Campbell), the linebackers could be the best in the country with Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas. Tommy T. is safe with a contract extension. Now, just beat USC and everything will be OK -- until the first week of September.
3. Ohio State: Jim Tressel continues to be a coaching genius. No need for Maurice Clarett to even see the field in the spring game. It was wise of Tressel to hold him out despite Clarett's shoulder being 100 percent. It's hard to believe that the Buckeyes can win half their games by seven points or less again but why not? In a couple of short years, Tressel has proved himself one of the best in the country.
4. Kansas State: The BCA Classic against Cal is finally finalized -- the first game of the college season on Aug. 23. If the Wildcats go all the way they will play 15 games. Two Heisman candidates in quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles.
5. Miami: Derrick Crudup played even with Brock Berlin in the spring, but Berlin was handed the job last week. Crudup made veiled claims of racism. (Crudup is black, Berlin is white). Crudup met with coach Larry Coker and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner and cleared things up. But what happens if Berlin falters?
6. Virginia Tech: An uncharacteristic down performance in the conference (3-4) "doomed" the Hokies' season (10-4). We're betting Tech bounces back behind tremendous quarterback depth -- Marcus Vick, Bryan Randall, DeAngelo Hall, Kevin Jones etc. Randall is the starter at quarterback for now, however Vick, brother of you-know-who, will get some snaps. Seven starters or top backups missed the spring because of various injuries but will be back in the fall. Defensive back DeAngelo Hall spent the whole spring on offense and will get about 30 plays per game at receiver next season. Biggest advantage: The Miami game is at home Nov. 1.
7. Georgia: There is much work to be done in both lines but the guess here is that Mark Richt will be able to make a heck of a run at defending that SEC championship. It says a lot for the stable of talent that the Dawgs can lose Boss Bailey, Musa Smith, et al and still be a top 10 program.
8. Pittsburgh: If Miami falters, blame the Panthers. Pittsburgh has the horses and schedule to pass the 'Canes. Pittsburgh gets Virginia Tech and Miami at home, which means it basically controls the Big East race. If everything falls right, Walt Harris goes to the Sugar Bowl and then, finally, to the NFL.
9. Texas A&M: Dennis Franchione came out of spring calling Reggie McNeal and Dusty Long co-starters at quarterback. McNeal is the better athlete. Long, right now, is the better thrower.
10. North Carolina State : An 8-1 start is not out of the question when the Wolfpack play host to Virginia on Nov. 1. The highest-ranked ACC team (12th, AP) is coming off a school-record 11-win season. Tailback T.A. McClendon was held out of spring to rest his injured wrist but will be back 100 percent in the fall.
11. Texas: Even with Cedric Benson, Texas was near the bottom of I-A in rushing. Combine that with a new quarterback and Roy Williams alone won't be enough for the 'Horns to win the Big 12 South.
12. Virginia: A team for the MTV Generation. Forty-one lettermen returning, 17 starters. A freshman or sophomore started at 19 spots in the Continental Tire Bowl game over West Virginia. The best quarterback in the ACC, Matt Schaub, will challenge N.C. State for the conference title.
13. Washington: Maybe optimistic this high but the Huskies defense can't be that bad again, can it? Two Heisman-quality players on offense (Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams) should have U-Dub improving on a 7-6 record. It's the defense that will decide whether Slick Rick breaks into double digits. The guess here is this year, or pretty darn near it, and a Rose Bowl berth for Washington.
14. Arizona State: The new Terrell Suggs is ... well, no one can replace the nation's leading sacker, but junior Jimmy Verdon will try. More flexible than Suggs, Verdon is quick enough to rush from the edge or stop the run from the inside. Coach Dirk Koetter got Boise State going in his third year. The same should happen in his third year at Arizona State.
15. Michigan: John Navarre is back for his 37th year as quarterback of the Wolverines. Just kidding. This is one program that can absorb the loss of six players to the NFL Draft. That means it won't be a Rose Bowl year for the Wolverines, just another solid one.
16. Notre Dame: Sophomore quarterback Chris Olsen had a big spring game but he is unlikely to replace junior Pat Dillingham as the backup to Carlyle Holiday. If Holiday progresses, as expected, under Tyrone Willingham the Irish offense will be much improved. The defense is a given with eight returning starters. If Notre Dame can overcome a tough schedule -- by Oct. 17 it will have played only two home games -- another double-digit win season isn't out of the question.
17. Southern California: We don't like the Trojans as high as some others because of new faces at quarterback, tailback, linebacker and safety. They lost a Heisman Trophy winner, their leading rusher and a first-round draft pick at safety. Pete Carroll's defense will hold the Trojans in the Pac-10 race, but it won't be enough for them to win it.
18. Alabama: The Mike Price era starts with plenty of talent. Former Texas Tech runner Shaud Williams gets the tailback job. The quarterback job is finally all Brodie Croyle's. With no bowl in sight, Price can keep the wolves away from his door by duplicating Franchione's final act: Winning 10 games.
19. LSU: Matt Mauck returned to the practice field for the first time since injuring his foot last season. That's good for the depth at quarterback but there is still much work to be done on offense. The Tigers tied for the SEC West title with an offense that was No. 86 in the country. Then Nick Saban lost his top two rushers, Domanick Davis and LaBrandon Toefield, to the NFL. Replacement Joseph Addai rushed for 438 yards last year.
20. Penn State: Controversy has been swirling around JoePa all spring. It seems he played defensive back Anwar Phillips in the Capital One Bowl after Anwar has been expelled following a sexual assault charge. Paterno's latest blast is that it is none of the media or fans' business. Uh, wrong JoePa. Your salary is paid by the public and you are accountable to your bosses -- remember them? -- and hundreds of thousands of alumni. President Graham Spanier said publicly that Anwar shouldn't have played in the bowl. Meanwhile, back on the field, Zack Mills looked pretty good. He will have to with the loss of Larry Johnson.
21. Maryland: Almost a forgotten team at a basketball school where the best football news is elsewhere in the ACC. Terps have the nation's best punt returner, Scott Suter (four touchdowns), who underwent knee surgery on April 5. Ralph Friedgen needs a backup behind Scott McBrien. Bruce Perry -- remember him? -- is back at tailback.
22. Florida State: The Seminoles' 2003 fortunes hang by the fragile psyche of Chris Rix. He was made off limits to the media during spring practice after last season's meltdown. Greg Jones could be a Heisman candidate and there is the usual collection of athletes, but why do we get the feeling a dynasty is ending in Tallahassee? The offseason disaster created by Adrian McPherson and the school won't go away any time soon. The only distraction is top-notch football. Is FSU back in the top 10 or seeing the end of the Bowden era?
23. Oklahoma State: There are few programs in the country with this much optimism. The Cowboys will challenge for the Big 12 South title on the strength of 13 returning starters that include Biletnikoff candidate Rashaun Woods and 1,000-yard rusher Tatum Bell. Hey, how many teams have beaten Oklahoma twice in a row?
24. Tennessee: The offensive line has been nicked up. The running game is a huge question mark. The schedule is tougher than last year when a six-overtime victory over Arkansas kept the Vols from a 7-6 embarrassment. (They finished 8-5). There is no sympathy for the rebuilding in the SEC. A good place to start is scoring more than 30 combined points against Alabama, Miami and Florida. Free safety Rashad Baker should be an All-American, which means he'll probably be making a lot of tackles 10-20 yards down the field.
25. Arkansas: Just another dogfight in the SEC. The Hogs return 19 starters from a team that lost the SEC championship game and are the sixth SEC team on this list. News flash: If everything falls right, Arkansas could be back in that title game. Quarterback Matt Jones also spent time at receiver. That's good news. Coach Houston Nutt always says he wants to pass more but the Hogs usually end up leaning on a solid running game. If they can throw better (Jones completed only 52 percent of his passes), the Hogs will be tougher than Nolan Richardson's lawyer. Watch All-American offensive tackle Shawn Andrews. His new defensive coach is former Lombardi and Outland Trophy winner Tracy Rocker.