What are the top ten college football teams heading into the 2009 season?
There are so many college football polls out there it is difficult to decide which one to rely on. It seems every newspaper and sports venue has their own ranking of the top 10, top 15, top 25, or even top 130 teams in the country.
To make things easy, we’re going to take a look at the top 10 teams in this year’s preseason Associated Press poll. While many of you are sure to disagree, this is the concensus opinion of a ton of journalists who tend to know what they’re talking about. We’ll break down the strengths and weaknesses of each team, as well as where we think they’ll REALLY end up at the end of the season. To keep things interesting, let’s start at the bottom — number 10.
10. Ohio State
A perennial poll darling, Ohio State has the tradition you’d expect from one of college football’s greats, not to mention a good deal of recent success — including a National Championship in 2002. Ohio State has one of the toughest schedules this season — a factor that can give your team a ton of respect (if they win games) or make them a national laughingstock (if they blow it). Just look at the matchup with USC on September 12 — one of the most intriguing games of the season. Also, OSU has road games at Penn State and at Michigan, not an easy task when both of those teams are close to their peak. With Sophomore sensation Terelle Pryor at the helm, the Buckeyes ought to put up big numbers. I predict they’ll end up much higher than their preseason number ten spot — look for them in a BCS game at season’s end.
Boise State made the Western Athletic Conference its bitch last season, plain and simple. An 8-0 conference record (and a 12-1 overall record) is what placed them in the AP top 10 this preseason. But do the Broncos have what it takes to stay in the AP’s good graces? Let’s take a look at their schedule for starters — they only play one other ranked team, and it is in their first game at Oregon. Let’s be honest, the Broncos will likely lose this first game and fall quickly out of their poll position. The running back Ian Johnson, who pulled off 13 touchdowns last season could offer some spark, but this team will not end up in the top 10 — heck, I’d be surprised if they ended the season ranked at all. Sleep on this team.
Much like Boise State, Texas Tech is benefitting from their amazing performance last season. You remember — they nearly swept the tough Big 12 conference, including an embarassing defeat of rival Texas (remember that last second catch by Michael Crabtree?) but got spanked by Oklahoma and moved from number 2 in the nation down to number 7 or 8. Tech lost plenty of talent in the offseason, including phenoms Crabtree and QB Graham Harrell. Put simply, this is a rebuilding year for the fans in Lubbock, Texas. This team simply won’t match up to last season’s record breaking season. Looking at their schedule, there’s some problems but some bright spots. Tech will face three top 15 teams this season — Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. Luckily for Tech, they face Oklahoma on their home turf — and Tech’s stadium can put an opponent in his place. Don’t forget about Tech’s awesome passing game — four of Tech’s last five QBs led the nation in passing, and new star Taylor Potts could follow in his fellow QBs footsteps. Time will tell — but don’t expect this team to remain in the top 10.
Poor Utah has been the victim of a BCS system that is crippled at best. In the past couple of years, Utah has been the little engine that could — they finished 13-0 overall last season and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. If their manhandling of Alabama wasn’t proof enough that “non-BCS” schools should be given greater consideration in the polls, then nothing will be. The Utes have a pretty tough schedule this season, including three ranked teams all of which are away games. Plenty of experienced upperclassmen return to a high powered offense, including Senior running back Matt Asiata and Senior receivers John Peel and David Reed. All in all, the Utes chances at returning to a major bowl game look good . . . just don’t expect another undefeated season. I expect Utah to remain in the top 10 all season.
6. Penn State
Yes, Joe Paterno is likely the greatest college coach still in action. And yes, the Nittany Lions are a powerful team. I don’t think they deserve the high ranking they’ve been given by the AP. For one, the higher up you go in any top ten poll, the tougher schedule you expect, and Penn State’s schedule just doesn’t deliver. Sure, they’ll face three top 25 opponents, but look closely — those opponents are Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Let’s face it — Penn State can’t take on Ohio State’s talent, they’ll lose that home game for sure. The other two — Iowa and Michigan State, are at the bottom of the top 25 poll, and aren’t exactly big ticket items. For a team like Penn State to stay in the top 10, they’ll basically have to go undefeated, and the Big 10 offers plenty of opportunities for the Nittany Lions to blow it. I expect Penn State to remain ranked, just not in the top 10.
Another perennial poll topper, USC has a good shot at going all the way this season, even though they are only ranked 5 in the preseason top 10. Two tough away games — at Ohio State and at Oregon — aren’t the least of their worries. USC has two possible bracket busters — at Notre Dame and at home against Oregon State (the team that came out of nowhere to beat them up last season). Still, USC has plenty of talent to back up their number 5 preseason rank. Their senior QB Garrett Green has been waiting in the wings for his coming out party, and don’t write off Adam Goodman, the senior FB. His impact on the Trojans game may be the difference between a BCS game and a disappointing season. I expect USC to float around the top 5 for most of the season.
Sure, the Crimson Tide got shocked in last season’s Sugar Bowl by an underrated Utah Utes team. And yes, the schedule that Alabama faces is pitifully weak — just two games against ranked opponents. But the SEC gets mad respect from pollsters, and Alabama is a constant threat to win that tough conference. Rumors abound that the Crimson Tide are switching to a spread heavy offense, which means one of two things. Either the team will be confused by the new offensive tactics, or their opponents will be left looking silly. As the season plays out, the ability of this Alabama team to follow their new offense will determine their SEC dominance, and that dominance will in turn determine if they can stay ranked as highly as they are. Look for Alabama to finish in the top 10.
This is difficult for me to say — I believe Texas got the shaft in this year’s preseason AP poll. As an avid Texas Tech fan, I loathe the Longhorns — that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them. Colt McCoy is back for another year tearing up the gridiron, and if he can stay healthy, I expect Texas to beat out their rivals Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. If that happens, and if Texas can take down their tough schedule (four ranked opponents in six weeks and a tough away game at Texas A&M at season’s end), expect to see the Longhorns (sigh) playing for the National Championship. Obviously, I expect Texas to be highly ranked for the entirety of the season, perhaps landing as high as number one.
I just don’t get it. Oklahoma above Texas in the preseason AP poll? Sure, their schedule is as tough as any in Division One football — four ranked opponents amid a conference that’s getting better every year — and sure they ended last season well — ranked number 2 overall — but do they have the deep talent necessary to take out Red River rival Texas? Sam Bradford’s back, and he’s only a junior. Bradford is a force under center, and is a leading contender for the Heisman trophy. Don’t forget about the Sooners tough linebackers — two returning seniors (Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton) will give the Big 12s QBs headaches all season long. However, I have doubts about the Sooners offense outside of Bradford. Do they have the receiving corps needed to catch Bradford’s masterful passes? I expect Oklahoma to end up in the top 10, but not to end up as high as the AP has them.
We deal with this every year. Florida fans (and many sports analysts) moaning about how Florida should be ranked higher than they are. Well here you go, Gator fanatics — you can’t get any higher than number one. What bothers me is that the Gators ended the season with a 13-1 record in a year when we had an undefeated team (Utah). I believe Florida unfairly benefits from their position as a “BCS perennial”. Another thing bothers me — a weak schedule. Florida only has two ranked teams in their sights, and these are lowly Georgia and Florida State, either one of which could potentially be a loss. Am I excited about Florida’s prospects at repeating as National Champion? No. I believe they’ll fall out of the top 10 and stay there.