Notable Teams Not on List
Auburn – A few too many good players lost, quarterback looks like a big issue, and the coaching overhaul may or may not work out this year.
Connecticut – A difficult omission, but they lost a few too many players and will really miss running back Donald Brown.
East Carolina – Despite noteworthy wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia to start the year, overall they really weren't that good. They might improve in 2009 but it's hard to see them doing better than 1-2 against West Virgnia, UNC and Virginia Tech, and they'll likely lose a couple in C-USA.
Fresno St – They've got a shot at making some noise, but they lose their starting quarterback from a team that really wasn't very good. There have been too many down years to give this program the benefit of the doubt anymore.
MAC team X – Someone from the MAC will probably end up in the top 50, but I can't figure out who.
Missouri – Just too much lost from last year's squad.
South Carolina – Too many personnel losses, and the Spurrier era has lasted long enough without any accomplishments of note to stop believing they'll be good without specific reasons.
Troy – They gave a mediocre LSU a game (and should have won), but that's not enough to convince me they were good last year, or that they ought to be good this year after suffering a number of personnel losses.
Wisconsin – They weren't very good last year and lost their best player in PJ Hill plus a bunch of other good players. Bielema is a good head coach but he's probably not good enough to improve much on last year's record, despite another non-conference cakewalk and no Illinois or Penn St on the schedule.
#50: Wake Forest
They won't replicate +17 turnovers, the offense should be decent but not much more, and they lost the strength of their team when the whole linebacker corps graduated. However, this is still a well-coached team that finds a way to do better than people would expect.
If anyone is going to knock off Boise in the WAC, it'll probably be these guys. They lose a few good receivers and the linebackers are rebuilding, but Colin Kaepernick is a good quarterback, the offensive line should be decent, and they can definitely run the ball. Their offense is difficult for opponents to handle, which will give them at least a chance of winning big road games against Notre Dame and Boise.
#48: Arizona St
2008 was a major disaster for the Sun Devis, going 5-7 despite a fairly reasonable schedule and a good senior quarterback in Rudy Carpenter. However, this is a talented, well-coached team that should do better this year. With a newcomer at quarterback and the loss of the #1 receiver from pass-first attack, the offense will struggle, but the defense should be good enough to carry them at times.
#47: Boston College
The Eagles return a number of performers from a team that was legitimately good last year. However, quarterback is a question mark, and upheaval at head coach is generally not a good thing. If quarterback turns out to be decent and there are no coaching transition issues, then I'll probably have underrated them, perhaps substantially so.
The offense will be strong again, but the defense has been completely gutted, and the schedule got substantially tougher, with non-conference games against Oregon St, Fresno, and Illinois. They'll still make a bowl, but it probably won't be by very much.
On paper, I love this team. They have excellent receivers, the defense should improve a bit from a good unit last year, and the running game should improve with Nic Grigsby returning as well as a solid backup in Keola Antolin. Moreover, they suffered a number of close losses last year (8 to New Mexico, 1 to Stanford, 7 to USC, 10 to Oregon, and 2 to Oregon St), while all of their wins were by 10 or more, which usually heralds improvement. However, there are a few problems: first, their schedule was very easy last year, with no one good non-conference and five Pac-10 home games against a league that was very down, and this year things will be much tougher; and second, under Mike Stoops Arizona is pretty much always lousy in close games (their best showing was 2006 where they were merely around .500 in close games), so it's hard to believe that this will be the year when it finally turns around. Moreover, this was a fundamentally pass-first team that now replaces the quarterback with someone who has basically zero experience; even with a very good group of receivers that could very well be trouble.
#44: North Carolina St
This team was on fire late last year, and even though they finished with a losing record after their bowl loss, they should be a good team this year. Russell Wilson had an excellent freshman campaign and at the least should do about as well; if he can improve then the Wolfpack could take a big step forward. The receivers are back, as is much of the defense. Losing running back Andre Brown, a few offensive linemen, and much of the secondary won't help, but overall this team should be better than 2008, and has a chance to be much better.
After seven straight years without a bowl game, Stanford has a decent chance of finally reaching the magic number six, despite a difficult schedule. In 2008, they were held down by awful play at quarterback and a lousy secondary; both areas should be substantially better this time around, and they should improve in most other areas as well, with running back Toby Gerhart leading the offense and a number of veterans leading a defense that should improve a bit from what was a fairly mediocre unit.
The Gophers collapsed at the end of 2008, but were still overall a decent team, and return too much talent to not have a good campaign in 2009. They open with a road game at a Syracuse team that won't be totally horrible, and in week three they get a very good Cal team at home, so we'll know very quickly whether this team is capable of moving up in the rankings or if the late-season collapse was a sign of things to come.
How much do you believe in talent? That's really the question you have to ask when looking at this team. Last year was a disaster, but there are a bunch of very good players returning, especially on offense, where the only person of note they need to replace is quarterback. The defense has to replace many players, but things went badly enough last year that it may not be so horrible to bring in a new unit, and many of the new players are talented recruits and backups. This team will certainly struggle at times, but this year will be the bridge to a much stronger future.
#40: Texas Tech
Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are both gone, as is much of the offensive line, and it's the end of an era in Lubbock. However, Taylor Potts will probably be OK as a replacement, there are still talented receivers, and the defense should certainly be better than the unit that struggled so much last year. This is definitely not a contender for the division, but they could still turn out to be a strong team.
They lose Pat White, they lose most of their offensive line and they lose some key players on defense. All in all, they're likely to drop off from where they were last year, and it's not like things were great in 2008, being relegated to the Meineke Bowl.
It may seem strange to rank 38th a team that went 4-8 and last went to a bowl game in 1994, but this is a much better team than they might look on paper. Quarterback Robert Griffin had an excellent showing in 2008 and will improve in 2009, most of the receivers and offensive line return, and the defense is largely intact. As long as Griffin stays healthy (when a quarterback runs as much as he does it's never a given), this is a very dangerous team and, despite a tough schedule with games against Wake, UConn, Oklahoma, OK St, Nebraska, Texas, and Texas Tech, they should still find a way to six wins and a long-awaited bowl berth.
This is definitely a team in transition, but they should improve from last year's disappointing showing. An early game against UCLA will give them a chance to make some noise early on, while a trip to the Swamp will show whether they're at least capable of hanging with an elite team.
#36: Southern Miss
Someone from C-USA is going to be good, and there's a reasonable chance it'll be this team. They return virtually everyone of note from a team that was on fire at the end of last season.
Say what you will about the man's character, but Bobby Petrino is a winner, having built some juggernaut teams at Louisville and coming up with a decent performance in 2008 at Arkansas despite inheriting a team that was rebuilding pretty much everywhere. This year, they'll be better, and the record will reflect that. They're still well short of where they need to be to be a SEC West contender, but they'll make some noise and will pull one upset in their five games against Georgia, Bama, Florida, Miss, and LSU.
#34: South Florida
The Bulls suffer a few too many personnel losses to take them seriously as a Big East contender, but they've made a name for coming up with some big wins and will do so again this year. Matt Grothe is now a senior and should improve, though a slightly tougher schedule means that they'll probably more or less duplicate their 2008 record.
#33: Michigan St
The Spartans lose star running back Javon Ringer and quarterback Brian Hoyer, so some sort of dropoff is likely. However, they return talent everywhere else, and have proven themselves to be a consistently dangerous team under Mark Dantonio and will be so once again in 2009.
This is the first of the three Pac-10 teams (UCLA and Oregon St being the other two) that have a chance of moving up in a big way, and they're certainly a majorly hyped team, with many pundits putting them in the top ten. They've got some big-time weapons in quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount. However, they don't have much quarterback depth after Masoli (plan B is Nate Costa, who's gone down the last 2 years with ACL injuries), especially after backup Justin Roper's transfer, which means that if Masoli goes down (far from unusual for running quarterbacks), this team is in serious trouble. Moreover, the offensive line is completely rebuilding, as is the defensive line and to a lesser degree the secondary. If everything breaks right (no major injuries at QB or RB, the line develops and plays well, the defense is strong, no issues with the coaching transition) this team could compete for the Pac-10 title, but if everything breaks wrong, they won't even win six games, since the only true gimme on the slate is Washington St.
They lose quarterback Joe Ganz, their top two receivers, and a few other key players, but they are still a strong team with a very good running game and a solid defense. They're stuck with Oklahoma and Texas Tech, and they've got Kansas on the road, but they miss both Texas and Oklahoma St, and have a reasonable shot at the division.
This will be a very different football team from the one that ran the table last year, including a dominating Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Quarterback Brian Johnson was the star and is now gone, as are the top three receivers, a couple linemen, and some key defensive players. This team squeaked by a few teams last year (Air Force, Oregon St, New Mexico, TCU), and won't have the same close-game success. Moreover, they will have a huge target on their backs for everyone in the Mountain West, and this time they won't be good enough to avoid all of those shots.
This is a tough team to peg. After a disastrous 4-8 campaign in 2008 (substantially worse than anything much-maligned former coach Karl Dorrell ever put up), the Bruins return a boatload of talent, will be much better in the areas where they struggled heavily last year (quarterback, offensive line), and should substantially improve on defense. However, likely starter Kevin Prince is a largely unknown commodity, they have to figure something out at running back (not much has been working lately), and they need to find a way not to embarrass themselves on the road.
Pitt may be the best Big East team, but Rutgers has a very realistic chance of knocking them off and winning the league. They play virtually no one non-conference, and get only three league games on the road (two against cellar-dwellers Syracuse and Louisville). If they can beat Pitt, they'll be in great shape to win the Big East, and even if they don't, they could certainly beat everyone else, which could be enough to take the title.
#27: Texas Christian
Just like Utah, this team loses far too much not to slide, but they're very well-coached, and should flirt with the top 25.
#26: Oregon St
This is a dangerous team to discount, as they showed last year with exactly the same amount of experience returning as they do now. Whoever wins the quarterback job (looks like Canfield right now) will be good, the Rodgers brothers will do well at running back, and the offensive line should be decent. One thing the Beavers always do well is plug in guys on defense, so they'll likely do that again, though the secondary is a serious concern, as they lose all four starters there. They won't win at USC or Cal, but they could potentially go something like 9-1 or 8-2 in the other games if everything falls into place.
This will be a much better team than 2008 saw. Juice Williams will improve, the receiver corps is great, the offensive line should be good, the running game will again be strong, and the defense will be decent. Going to Ohio St is a tough challenge, but the other Big Ten road games are reasonable, they skip Iowa, and they get Penn St, Michigan St and Michigan all at home.
The schedule does the Jayhawks zero favors, with games against Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. However, Todd Reesing returns, as well as most of his receivers, running back Jake Sharp, and most of the defense (except for the linebackers). In a Big XII North that lacks anyone great, this looks like the best team, though the gap isn't very wide.
#23: Penn St
In 2006, Penn St returned nine starters and went from 11-1 to 9-4. In 2003, they returned ten starters and went from 9-4 to 3-9. The talent has improved enough that a truly massive drop is unlikely despite major personnel losses, but it's hard to see them as being a legitimate Big Ten contender after losing both their defensive ends, pretty much their whole secondary, and most of their offensive line. Darryl Clark is a good quarterback and will carry them at times, as will running back Evan Royster, and the Happy Valley crowd is always a major weapon. They're a very real threat to split home games against Iowa and Ohio St, but will probably lose two of their league road games (Illinois, Michigan, NW, Michigan St).
#22: Brigham Young
The offensive line is basically gone, the receiver corps is decimated, and the defense loses a couple of key players. However, Max Hall is an excellent quarterback, Unga is a decent running back, and the defense should overall improve. Home games against both TCU and Utah make the Cougars the team most likely to win the Mountain West, but they'll be hard-pressed to even split their non-conference games against Oklahoma and Florida St, which means that they're not a serious contender for a BCS at-large bid, especially with the other two non-conference games being so weak.
It looks like Dave Wannstedt has finally figured out how to coach in college after a disastrous first three seasons. This year, he's got the strongest team he's had yet, with a senior quarterback, a pretty good defense (though the linebackers are a question mark), and best of all, a league devoid of anyone close to elite. Yes, LeSean McCoy is gone, and that's a huge blow, but someone has to win this league and Pitt looks like the best bet.
Miami definitely isn't "back" yet, but they're moving in the right direction. The defense will be good, the offense has a bunch of weapons, and they're definitely good enough to win one of their games against Georgia Tech (who'll have a short week), Virginia Tech and UNC.
#19: Boise St
This team loses Ian Johnson, their top two receivers, a couple of offensive linemen, and most of their defense, but they have a good quarterback, a strong home field advantage, and will once again win ten or more games. They have too many question marks and too many potential landmines (mainly Oregon, Tulsa, and Nevada, though Fresno and LA Tech will have a puncher's chance) to think they have a serious shot of running the table, which they'll need to do in order to get an at-large bid.
It's always dangerous picking Clemson to do well, given their penchant for under-achieving, but this team is still talented, and is still a legitimate contender to win the Atlantic division. They have an easier Coastal draw than the ‘Noles and get them at home, so they've definitely got a chance. They lose one of their runners but still have Spiller returning, and while it's never a good thing to lose a quarterback, it's not like Cullen Harper was doing a great job before, so at the least they're unlikely to get much worse there. The defense and offensive line should be among the ACC's best, so they'll be a tough out for everyone they face.
#17: Georgia Tech
To a certain degree, it feels like I'm underestimating the Yellow Jackets, as they were a legitimately good team in 2008 and return a bunch of good players. However, they had a few very bad performances (nearly losing to Gardner-Webb, losing to Virginia, getting blasted by UNC and LSU), and many of their wins were uncomfortably close. They probably won't be as lucky in close games this year, and though they should be a better football team, I'm not sure that their record will improve, and I don't think that they're good enough to pass both UNC and Virginia Tech in the Coastal, especially with both Clemson and Florida St on the schedule.
This is a major crossroads season for LSU. Last year, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss demolished them, and Alabama seems to have passed them as the SEC West's "name" team. If they don't push back now, it's only going to get harder for them. However, quarterback remains a huge question mark until proven otherwise, the defensive line has virtually no experience (bad in a league where most teams emphasize the run), and they got a really bad SEC draw, with road games against Georgia, Bama and Ole Miss, plus a really tough home game against Florida.
To me, this looks like the team with the most serious chance to overcome Ohio St in the Big Ten. The schedule does them absolutely no favors with Penn St, Wisconsin, Michigan St and Ohio St all on the road, but they may just be good enough to go 2-2 in those four games, sweep the rest, and win the Big Ten on a tiebreaker of some sort. Losing Shonn Greene is a very big blow, but Jewel Hampton should be a competent replacement, the passing game should improve, and the defense looks like the Big Ten's best.
#14: Notre Dame
On paper, this is an obvious top ten team. The receiver corps is one of the best in the country, they've got a talented, experienced quarterback, the offensive line returns four of five, and the defense has solid incoming talent to replace their losses. However, this is a flaky team that doesn't seem to be very well coached (though Jon Tenuta on defense is a big plus). Well-coached teams don't choke against Syracuse (and nearly SD St and Navy) in 2008, just about everyone in 2007, and probably one or two out of Purdue, Washington, BC, Navy, UConn and Stanford in 2009.
#13: North Carolina
This is a team that would have been in the ACC title game but for a three point loss to Virginia Tech (or if they hadn't lost in overtime to Virginia and by two to Maryland), and that dominated enough teams (Rutgers, UConn, BC, Georgia Tech) to make a strong impression. They suffer major losses at wide receivers, with their three leading catchers all graduating, plus some offensive line losses, but return a decent quarterback, a good running back, and a strong defense. They are a very legitimate contender in the Coastal Division, though road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia tech will be difficult to overcome.
#12: Oklahoma St
This team definitely has major upside. Last year they made it clear that they can beat anyone on the right day after winning at Missouri and nearly winning in Austin. If they can split against Texas and Oklahoma and avoid any other league losses, they could sneak into the league championship game or at least an at-large BCS game. The defense isn't good enough to consider them an elite team, but they have enough firepower on offense to beat anyone when they get hot.
It's weird for Georgia to fly under the radar, but that seems to be happening this year. There's plenty of talent throughout the roster, but quarterback is going to take a major step back, never a good thing for a team that was as pass-heavy as they were last year. With no Alabama and no Ole Miss on the schedule, it's safe to say that the Florida game will be for the SEC East. They won't win, but they'll make it more of a game than last year, and will have an outside shot of grabbing a BCS at-large bid
#10: Florida St
I know I'll likely take some flak for this pick, but Florida St looks really strong. The defense loses a number of important players, but replaces them with a strong set of recruits, and while the offense does lose its leading rusher and top two receivers, Christian Ponder returns behind center and ought to substantially improve from a 14-13 TD-INT ratio, especially given an offensive line that returns intact. This team flew under the radar last year, especially after the beating that Florida gave them, but had some extremely impressive performances, especially the 34-point win at Maryland and the bowl thrashing of Wisconsin. If they can put the pieces together and avoid bad performances like the early season stinker vs Wake, there's no reason why they shouldn't win the Atlantic division.
This is either a really smart pick or a really stupid one. On paper, the Bears look loaded; they lose a couple of great linebackers, plus a couple of offensive linemen, but otherwise they seem strong everywhere. The secondary should be outstanding, they have one of the best running backs in the country, and Kevin Riley should improve with an extra year of experience and without Nate Longshore competing with him for playing time. That said, this can be a very flaky team, and there's no way to know whether they can finally start playing well on the road or whether they're going to spend another year losing to pretty much everyone with a pulse outside of Memorial Stadium. Of the "maybe they'll be good, maybe they won't" teams (basically everyone from LSU up to now), they have the most upside, but there's definitely no guarantee.
#8: Ohio St
No one in the Big Ten looks great, but the Buckeyes should be better than the rest, with a strong defense and an offense that won't be great but should be good despite the heavy personnel losses. This is the first team where I'm confident that there's not much risk of them finishing in the 20's or worse. They'll either win the league or grab another at-large, probably the Fiesta. Anything worse would be a substantial surprise.
Alabama returns a lot of talent, and is definitely a legitimate SEC West contender. However, losing quarterback John Parker Wilson, running back Glen Coffee, and most of their offensive line really doesn't help. We'll know early on whether they're for real, as they open in Atlanta against a very good Virginia Tech team. No Florida and no Georgia means that their game against Ole Miss will probably be for the SEC West, but it will be very tough for them to win that game in Oxford.
#6: Virginia Tech
On paper, this is the best team in the ACC. The gap isn't huge, but they should still be good enough to win their division, especially since they get both Miami and UNC at home, and pass over both Clemson and Florida St from the Atlantic. They're not a truly serious national title contender but are likely to return to the Orange Bowl for the third straight year.
#5: Ole Miss
This pick terrifies me, to be honest. On paper, this looks like the best team in the SEC West, as they're loaded everywhere, with a strong defense and the best quarterback in the league not named Tebow. But this is also the same team that lost at home both Vandy and South Carolina, and that barely held off Arkansas, and that seems likely to suffer at least one bad loss again this year. With about as easy an SEC slate as humanly possible (no Florida, no Georgia, Bama and LSU both at home), plus zero meat in the non-conference slate, they should win their division and at least ten games (which likely means an at-large BCS game), but much like Auburn in 2004, they're going to be left out of the national title game if there are two other contenders with the same or fewer losses.
I'm somewhat hesitant to have the Trojans this high up, given that they've got an unproven quarterback, and a bunch of holes to fill on defense. On the other hand, there's a dearth of obviously elite teams this year, and it's safe to say that USC will still churn out a really strong defense, and unless quarterback turns into a disaster (unlikely), there's so much talent on offense that it'll still be a very strong unit. I'd be surprised to see this team in the national title game, given a road-heavy schedule and three really strong teams ahead of them, but they seem like a virtual lock to once again play in a BCS game, most likely the Rose Bowl for the fifth straight season.
I know that most people have them a solid #2, but I'm not feeling it. This was a legitimately good team last year, but I don't think that it was a great team. In addition, having been anointed as the Big 12 favorites is probably not a good thing psychologically for a team that has found a way not to make the title game the last three years, despite two wins over Oklahoma in that time period. The roster is stacked, though defensive line is a concern after losing a bunch of key performers.
It's amazing that a team that just went to the national title game, that won their league three straight years, and is loaded just about everywhere is an underdog in their own division, but that's the case here. All things being equal, Texas arguably has a bit more overall talent returning, but they're pretty much neck and neck, which means that I'd rather go with the team that's going to have a chip on their shoulders, that really wants to prove themselves, and that came off a year where they proved themselves to be elite in number of big wins (Cincy, TCU, Nebraska, Tech, OK St, Mizzou). Offensive line is a major question mark, but everywhere else they look exceptional, especially on defense.
Me and the rest of the world. The Gators look like a really good team, returning pretty much everyone from a team that steamrolled through just about everyone last year. This is a very strong favorite, good enough that you can actually have a serious discussion about whether they should be the odds-on favorite. Probably not, since it's a long season, injuries and bad games can happen, etc., but it's amazing that it's even a point of discussion.
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