Updated March 21
It's that annual rite of spring.
No, not Billy Packer ripping teams he has never seen play. Not Barry Bonds stiffing reporters while his stiffened muscles continue to "grow." Not mock(ed) drafts. Not Canucks-Oilers on OLN.
|Will Jim Tressel and Troy Smith be all smiles after the Fiesta Bowl? (Getty Images)|
1. Ohio State: The Kool-Aid has been distributed. Everybody ready? Drink. Troy Smith is this year's Vince Young. Ted Ginn Jr. will be better, at least more consistent. A new killer defense starts being assembled March 30 when spring practice starts. Besides, who else are you going to put up here?
It's still early but ... the Texas game (in Austin) looms large. The Bucks are aiming at this even more now that the Horns are defending national champs. Texas will be favored. Ohio State must avoid going all in emotionally. There's a long season ahead.
2. LSU: RB Alley Broussard has a knee. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell is nursing a shoulder. Sugar Bowl hero Justin Vincent is hobbled by an injury. What are we going to learn about the Tigers this spring? If nothing else, even more is expected after last year's hurricane-ravaged 11-2 season.
It's still early but ... don't assume that the spring battle between Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux is merely for No. 2 behind Russell. Also, LSU finally has run out of all-star defensive tackles. Replacements must be found for Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams.
3. West Virginia: Everybody's sexy 2006 pick. Why not? The Mountaineers went 11-1 and beat Georgia at "home" in the Sugar Bowl with a young roster that will only get better. The only schedule concerns are Thursday night games at Louisville and Pittsburgh. Can you spell F-i-e-s-t-a?
It's still early but ... remember how coach Rich Rodriguez came from Tulane and Clemson with a reputation as a spread offense guy? The truth his, he adjusts his scheme to his personnel better than anyone. Pat White threw only 114 times last year.
4. Auburn: A true SEC power, the Tigers are 26-4 in their past 30 games. Tommy Tuberville needs only to tinker with the offensive line to get ready for 2006. Auburn was an overtime loss to LSU away from playing in the SEC Championship Game. Shades of 2004 -- let's hope the preseason schedule isn't too weak just in case (and by that we mean just in case Auburn goes undefeated). The Weakling Four are Washington State, Buffalo, Arkansas State and Tulane.
It's still early but ... the Tigers might have to go to a two-tailback set because of a spring injury to fullback Mike McLaughlin. Tuberville has done it before with Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown.
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|UCF (Central Florida)|
5. Notre Dame: The defense must get better. The memory of Ohio State rolling up a Notre Dame opponent bowl-record 617 yards in the Fiesta Bowl can't be pleasant. Everybody knows Brady Quinn will compete for the Heisman. It would be great for the defense to break into the top 50 in total defense. (It was 75th last year, allowing almost 400 yards per game).
It's still early but ... we can't stress enough the defense needs lots of work. The secondary was porous but isn't that a product of a front seven that can't put pressure on the quarterback? Take away the seven sacks against Stanford and ND averaged only two per game.
6. Oklahoma: Bob Stoops was due a "down" year, but a strong finish in an 8-4 season raises hopes again. Adrian Peterson is rededicated. Rhett Bomar gets it at quarterback. Most of the offense is back. We somehow feel that Stoops will be able to build a defense.
It's still early but ... the offensive line needs work. Spring practice started Monday. Get ready for reps, reps, reps for a line that loses four starters.
7. Texas: Save your e-mails, Orangebloods. There is a reason Oklahoma is ranked higher. Call us heretics but we're thinking your guys might lose at least one this year, and one of them might be to OU. The Sooners will have had a year to think about the thrashing last year in Dallas.
It's still early but ... this ranking is very tentative. Colt McCoy doesn't have to be a superstar at quarterback. If the Horns beat Ohio State and everything falls right, they could be back in the national championship game.
8. USC: Still the class of the Pac-10. And there's no reason to believe there will be much of a drop off at quarterback (John David Booty) or running back (tailback Herschel Dennis has 968 career rushing yards). Six starters return on defense, the weak spot in 2005. This team could easily win 10 games.
It's still early but ... the linebacking corps of Oscar Lua, Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing and freshman All-American Rey Maualuga could be the best in the country.
9. Florida: Year 2 under Urban Meyer, which means big things if you consider his past at Bowling Green and Utah. An up-and-down first year produced nine victories. Not too shabby. Now the Gators will be favored to win the SEC East.
It's still early but ... Meyer has threatened to play without a running back if someone doesn't step up. The Gators averaged less than 150 yards per game rushing last year.
10. Georgia: Maybe the Dawgs are overvalued here in the top 10 but we have faith in Mark Richt. D.J. Shockley sat around for four years. That was an upset in itself. Then he had a spectacular senior season. We have faith that Joe (Three Sticks) Tereshinski III or freshman Matthew Stafford will be able to get it done this year. This is a fantastic staff that continually is able to rebuild.
It's still early but ... how can you not pencil this team in for nine wins based on history alone?
11. Oregon: If USC slips, the Ducks are ready to take over the Pac-10. Everything is in place for a Rose Bowl run.
It's still early but ... Mike Bellotti is well on his way to rebuilding the defensive line that was the strength of the team last year. Get used to the name David Faaeteete, who will take over for All-American Haloti Ngata.
12. Virginia Tech: The Marcus Vick saga is ended, thankfully. That means Sean Glennon will get a clear shot at quarterback.
It's still early but ... expect Tech to win a second consecutive Coastal Division title. With Miami in flux, the Hokies could win the ACC title they blew last season.
13. Iowa: The Hawkeyes were our darlings last spring. We're hedging this time although the Ohio State game is at home and there's an easy September schedule.
It's still early but ... After the loss of Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge at linebacker, things don't look bleak. Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal saw extensive action.
14. Boston College: If quarterback Matt Ryan is going to progress, senior receiver Tony Gonzalez has to step up.
It's still early but ... is an Atlantic Division title out of the question? The Eagles have to go to Miami and Florida State.
15. Louisville: Bobby Petrino keeps looking at other jobs (Oakland was the latest) and the Cardinals keep winning. If not West Virginia in the Big East, then it's The 'Ville.
It's still early but ... Cards fans already are looking forward to Armageddon games at home against Miami (Sept. 16) and West Virginia (Nov. 2).
16. California: Nathan Longshore is back at quarterback. The Bears are two-headed at tailback (Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett). There are eight returners on defense.
It's still early but ... look for the offense to be even better. Northwestern assistant Mike Dunbar joins the staff. The Wildcats were No. 4 nationally in total offense last year.
17. Clemson: Can it be, Charlie Whitehurst leaves and the Tigers are better?
It's still early but ... the answer is yes. Will Proctor now has the job to himself and running back James Davis is a budding star. Kicker Jad Dean has shown he can win close games.
18. TCU: Everybody's favorite to break into the BCS. Eleven starters are gone but Gary Patterson isn't. As long as the sixth-year coach is around, the Frogs will be competitive.
It's still early but ... at least SMU isn't on the schedule. How do you explain a season in which TCU won at Oklahoma but lost to the Mustangs? We'll know about these guys by the night of Oct. 5. Baylor, Texas Tech, BYU and Utah are the first four opponents.
19. Penn State: Anthony Morelli has the receivers but does he have Michael Robinson's leadership qualities?
It's still early but ... the best thing that happened to the defense was the knee injury to Paul Posluszny. It kept him out of the NFL and in State College where JoePa will need him badly.
20. Michigan: What can the Wolverines do for an encore? Hopefully nothing much worse. They are coming off their worst record since 1984.
It's still early but ... this is a pivotal year for, Lloyd Carr who must get Michigan back among the elite. A top 10 finish and victory over Ohio State wouldn't hurt.
21. Miami: Let the hate mail begin. Twenty-first? You bet. Upheaval in the coaching staff. Not quite top flight that Miami is used to. Plus, the ACC has proved to be a witch.
It's still early but ... No. 21 for the Canes is about right. The No. 21 team in the final AP poll was Clemson. The Tigers finished 8-4.
22. Nebraska: With no one else stepping up, the Huskers should win the watered-down Big 12 North.
It's still early but ... two fantastic recruiting classes should begin to contribute -- or else. 23. Florida State: AD Dave Hart complained about the FSU hoops team not getting into the tournament but he gladly collected a $17 million check for football going 8-5? Something's not right there.
It's early but ... the rushing offense has to get better. Being 109th in the country simply isn't acceptable.
24. Georgia Tech: Is this team a factor in the Coastal Division or just another 7-5 squad? The whole program must become more consistent starting with quarterback Reggie Ball.
It's still early but ... Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice should start at tailback. Two years ago he backed up Peterson at OU. Last year he was behind P.J. Daniels. There could be great balance on offense with receiver Calvin Johnson ready to win the Biletnikoff.
25. UCLA: The Bruins won't win 10 again, but there is enough left to get to a bowl.
It's still early but ... the spring reports on quarterback Ben Olson were not glowing. The former BYU recruit hasn't played organized football in three years.