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Preseason Top 25 | The Sports Report Girl - Part 2

College Football Preseason Top 25: #11 Florida

Why They’re Here: It’s the end of the Tebow era and no one is quite sure what that means. John Brantley is the man now and I think he’s got Peyton Manning Danny Weurffel-level talent. The defense lost five starters and so did the offense, which is a lot of leadership to give to the NFL. How good they are this year will be determined by how well they fill those holes.

The Good: Everyone in Gainesville is excited for John Brantley. He’s not Tim Tebow by a long shot, but he excels in a number of different areas. From what we’ve seen of him in Gator blowouts and this year’s spring game, he’s got a rocket for an arm and is tremendously accurate. They’ve also got freshman Trey Burton and the converted tight end Jordan Reed to run the option. Burton’s feet looked great in the spring game. He had a 76-yard scramble where he ran through tackles and spun around defensive backs.

This year’s recruiting class also has Gator fans doing backflips. Coach Meyer’s class was ranked number one in the nation by both ESPN and Scout.com. Word is, this class could be as good – or better (gasp!) – than the 2006 class that included Tebow, LB Brnadon Spikes, and WRs Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper. While the question of how good this class really is remains to be seen, if they can contribute the way the class of ’06 did, don’t sleep on this team.

The Bad: The Gators are basically playing this season without a senior class. In addition to the notable departures of CB Joe Haden and DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida also lost all-conference tight end Aaron Hernandez, PR/KR/WR Brandon James, one-half of the Pouncey twins, C Maurkice Pouncey; and S Major Wright. This is in addition to the stellar senior class that is gone and of course…this guy http://bit.ly/cDPJ8E. It’s tough enough to lose a leader and a player like Tebow and a group like the 2010 class, but losing most of the big names from the 2011 class may just be too much.

The Last Word: The questions for the Gators this season aren’t at QB, they’re everywhere else. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Brantley will be phenomenal. Had the 2011 class come back for their senior year, I would absolutely have this team rated in the top 5, maybe even in the top 3. But they didn’t. Even with all that, Florida still has the best head coach in the business and the best recruiting class in the nation. If guys like Burton, Jelani Jenkins and Dee Finley can be difference makers for the Gators, they can challenge Alabama again for the SEC title (Alabama-Florida III!). Even if all that happens, Florida’s schedule includes a tough Georgia team this year and Alabama at Tuscaloosa followed by LSU the next week. Add to that, they’ll face the biggest challenge from Florida State they’ve had in seven years.

Final Record: 11-3

College Football Preseason Top 25: # 12 Nebraska

Why They’re Here: Some people have the Huskers ranked above the Longhorns and the Sooners in the Big 12 this season. While I’m not going to go that far, I will say this team can be dangerous. Apparently Bo Pelini is a recruiting savant. Since he’s been in Lincoln the Blackshirts are finally back – I know the so-called experts say this every time Nebraska’s defense isn’t pathetic, but I think this is the first year it’s actually been true.

The Good: Bo and baby brother Carl Pelini have the Nebraska defense back at a level of respectability they haven’t had since the 90s. He’s also found his running game with the emergence of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. The offense also returns 10 starters, including four out of five offensive linemen.

The Huskers had a top 25 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, which goes a long way in the ultra competitive Big 12 conference they’ll be leaving next year and the not-at-all competitive Big 12 North.

In fact, the Huskers only challenge in the North this year will come from Missouri, who they devoured 27-12 in a rainy day affair last year. They’ve also wisely replaced Virginia Tech on this year’s schedule with South Dakota State. Save for some monumental hiccup, the Huskers should be 5-0 heading into their October 16 showdown with Texas.

The Bad: The defense returns seven starters from last year’s defense, none of whom are named Ndamukong Suh. Here’s the thing, having a DT who can get 12 sacks, 85 tackles and 10 passes defended in a season will really help hide any deficiencies in your defense. Suh was a monster and probably one of the best to ever play the position (most people probably don’t realize how out-of-this-solar-system those stats are for a defensive tackle). Without him there to disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback, it remains to be seen what Nebraska’s defense is really made of. There’s also the question mark at quarterback. Zac Lee is back, but apparently his spot is being challenged by redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green, who were very impressive in Nebraska’s spring game. Quarterback controversy is never good for a team. To paraphrase the old adage, if you have three quarterbacks, you have none.

The Last Word: If Nebraska can settle on a starter before the season starts and stick with him through the season and if the defense proves to be more than 10 guys who rode Suh for 14 games last season, they could compete for their final Big 12 Championship. They’re almost assured to be there by virtue of the competition, or lack there of, in the North, but what’s important is what they do when they get there.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #13 Wisconsin

July 1, 2010 by Dion Rabouin  
Filed under College Football, Football, SRG's Blog

Why They’re Here: The Badgers return 10 starters on offense from a team that finished last year with 10 wins. It looks like the Badgers are back to hard-nosed, grind-it-out football, with a renewed commitment to running the ball. They’ve also got QB Scott Tolzien returning as the guy who gets the ball from the center and hands it off, which is a definite plus. Tolzien may not be a big stud with first-round potential, but he’s a senior and he’s had experience in the offense, which is always a good thing.

The Good: Wisconsin should have the best one-two punch of running backs in the Big (12?) Ten. All-conference hoss RB John Clay will bring the wood and at 6’2 and 247 lbs, defenders would be advised to watch out. Clay is a big, bad man who brings to mind recollections of Ron Dayne…and Shaft. The Badgers also have a great change of pace back in Montee Ball, who – at 5’11, 225 – is no punk, himself. These two big, beefy beasts will be running behind a line that returns all five starters, including All-Big Ten OT Gabe Carimi and OG John Moffitt.

The Bad: The defense will need to be rebuilt and Tolzien will need to be effective for the Badgers to be anything other than the third best team in the conference. And he will have even greater expectations now that backup Curt Phillips has torn his ACL and will be out for the season. If Tolzien is truly plebian, the Badgers could even finish fourth in the conference like they did last year.

The Last Word: This team will go as far as Tolzien takes them. Teams are going to load the box to try to stop Clay and will probably be daring the Badgers to throw on them. I’m confident that with Ball and RB Zach Brown to spell him, Clay will be a destructive highlight machine this year, the question is whether that will translate into big wins or just SportsCenter highlights. If the Badgers can put some wins together (they play Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back-to-back-to-back) Clay could be a finalist for the Heisman and this team could compete for the Big (12?) Ten title.

Final Record: 9-4

College Football Preseason Top 25: #14 Georgia

Why They’re Here: There’s another hot seat in the SEC and it belongs to Mark Richt. The fact that Les Miles (although, he deserves it for that monumental brain fart in the Ole Miss game) and Richt have questionable job security really shows you how outrageous people’s expectations are in college football. Richt is 90-27 all-time at Georgia and has a 7-2 bowl record. But that’s not what’s important to people in Athens. All they know is Richt hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005 or even an SEC East title since that year. They’ve been owned by fierce rivals Florida (excluding that little episode in 2007 that we won’t speak of) and Georgia Tech since 2005 as well. Having a number one draft pick guide the team, which was ranked number one to start the season, to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Capitol One Bowl in 2008 didn’t help things. And last year’s starter Joe Cox and an 8-5 record weren’t much help for Richt’s cause either.

The Good: Georgia is still considered an elite SEC team and can legitimately make a run in the polls. The team returns its entire O-line, star-in-the-making RB Washaun Ealey, and WR AJ Green, who is probably the best receiver in the conference. This team has weapons on offense and if there’s a coach in the SEC, other than Urban Meyer, who knows how to use offensive weapons, it’s Mark Richt.

The Bad: Quarterback isn’t just a position in college football, it’s THE position in college football. Having a quarterback is 90 percent of the battle at this level and the knife cuts both ways. The Dawgs had a QB in waiting with Logan Gray and a top 25 recruiting class this year that included two potential QB starters, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. Unfortunately Mettenberger was dismissed from the team and Gray was converted to wide receiver and then almost transferred. With guys like Matt Stafford, DJ Shcokley, Quincy Carter and David Greene in recent memory, it’s hard for Dawgs fans to put up with sloppy quarterback play. Last year’s starter, Joe Cox, was probably the worst Georgia QB in 15 years. If no one shows up behind center for Georgia this year, it’s game over.

The Last Word: The big question for Georgia going into the season is what Richt will do at quarterback. With a stacked running attack (rhyme unintentional) and an offensive line like the one Georgia has returning this year, anyone worth a scholarship should be able to get out there and put some points on the board. The defense should be rebuilt as well, but may still have some problems getting to the quarterback. This team is flying under most people’s radar right now, which should help them. Their September 11 game against South Carolina will go a long way toward measuring both teams potential this season.

Final Record: 9-4

Preseason College Football Top 25: # 15 LSU

Why They’re Here: Last year, an uninspired offense kept LSU from challenging for the SEC Championship. Well, that and Les Miles blowing it against Ole Miss and costing me $150. This year, Jordan Jefferson and co. are looking to show the Southeastern Conference and the nation that they’re not all defense. Losing RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, RB/WR Trindon Holiday and RB Keiland Williams is going to make that a little tough, though. Last year was a rebuilding season for Miles’ team, but in the SEC you don’t really get too many of those, so it’s expected that the Tigers will be back on their game this year.

The Good: It might just be me, but I really think Jordan Jefferson could make a case for the Heisman this year. With Scott gone to the NFL, the offense will really be on his shoulders. If Jefferson can have the kind of season that he’s capable of, the Tigers can compete for a title. My favorite player in all of college football, center T-Bob Hebert (pronounced Tee-Bob A-Bear; I’m not kidding), is still anchoring the offensive line and wide receiver Terrence Toliver is poised to have a big year.

The Bad: Did you see the list of players the Tigers lost on offense? They only return four starters on that side of the ball. And that’s just on offense. They’ll only be returning four starters on defense as well, and defense is the backbone of any LSU team. The benefit of the doubt is generally given to a great defensive mind like Les Miles, but with all the talent he had last year and what he was able to do with it (9-4 and a loss to Penn State in the Capitol One Bowl) maybe Tigers fans should be worried.

The Last Word: This season will come down to two people: Les Miles and Jordan Jefferson. If Miles has recruited the talent to step in and play – and it certainly looks like he did, bringing in a top 10 recruiting class – and Jefferson can play at an elite level, LSU could reclaim some of its past glory. If the freshmen aren’t ready, though, and last year’s backups haven’t done what it takes to prepare themselves for the big stage of SEC football, this could be another rebuilding year and Les Miles’ seat could start getting pretty warm. Fans in Baton Rouge still haven’t forgotten about that Ole Miss game and nothing short of an SEC championship is going to get them to.

Final Record: 10-3

Preseason College Football Top 25: #16 Oregon

Why They’re Here: Like everyone else, I originally had the Ducks in my top 10 coming into the year. Then QB Jeremiah Massoli got suspended for the season and things changed a bit. Then I heard about the quarterback situation, with Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, and things changed some more. This team is the ultimate unknown coming into this season and just like last year (admittedly a poor decision) I’ve decided to sleep on them.

The Good: There is a ton of good coming into this season for the Ducks. They return their entire offensive line, which is always a big, big bonus, plus a total of nine starters from last year on offense. RB LaMichael James is another (superlative beginning with ‘s’) sophomore, and his running ability – along with the emergence of fellow sophomore speedster Kenjon Barner – will make the Oregon running attack one of the best in the nation. This is a very well coached team and head coach Chip Kelly may even be the best in the Pac-10. If these guys can live up to their potential, the Pac-10 could easily reemerge as one of the top conferences in all of college football. There’s also freshman CB Terrance Mitchell, who put on a show, returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in the spring game, and the number 13-rated recruiting class in the nation.

The Bad: Replacing Massoli is a lot like replacing Tim Tebow for Florida. So much of the Ducks offensive identity was based on the way Massoli played. He wasn’t an imposing physical presence or a tremendously talented passer, but he made big plays in big situations and his leadership and poise at the quarterback position will be impossible to replace. The Ducks also play at Tennessee, at Arizona State, at Cal, at Oregon State and at USC this season. Last year, all of Oregon’s tough games were played in the Autzen Zoo. The Ducks have one of the best home crowds in the nation and in that environment playing your toughest games at home gives you quite an advantage. Having to go on the road for all of the big games, with a new starting quarterback who wasn’t expected to play this year…not easy.

The Last Word: The Ducks biggest opponent this year is themselves. They have every excuse to let this season slip away and start worrying about next year early. If this team proves not to have what it takes, it won’t take long to show. Don’t be surprised to see a loss at Tennessee on September 11 and even a loss to Arizona State. However, if they can make it to the USC game undefeated, they may just be battle tested enough to pull out the win. Nothing from a 6-6 to 12-0 record would really surprise me for this Oregon team. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on the former.

Final Record: 8-5

Preseason College Football Top 25: #17 TCU

Why They’re Here: Even though they had some big losses on the defensive side of the ball, this is a team that has shown it can reload with the best of them. The offense returns nine starters, including quarterback Andy Dalton who could become a star this year. But even with an almost guaranteed great offense, the Horned Frogs will have their hands full.

The Good: The high-flying Horned Frogs offense will be back and probably better than ever. First team all-conference QB Andy Dalton will again be at the helm and we’ve all seen what he’s capable of. Coming off his AP Coach of the Year win, Gary Patterson seems more determined than ever to get TCU to the next level. The Frogs will also have last year’s loss to Boise State, a game in which they got physically manhandled, to motivate them all offseason.

The Bad: LB Daryl Washington was the heart and soul of not just the TCU defense, but the entire team. Andy Dalton showed he withers under pressure in last year’s Fiesta Bowl and with no Jerry Hughes around either, the Frogs are in desperate need of some leadership. I honestly don’t think there will be another TCU team as good as the team last year – that team was great on offense, defense and special teams. They’ll still be good on offense, but defense and special teams, where the Frogs were able to turn the tables in close games and separate themselves from competition last year, are big question marks.

The Last Word: Has any conference ever come out of nowhere to be legit as quickly as the Mountain West? With Utah, BYU, Air Force and TCU, the Mountain West has really put the rest of the college football world on notice. The MWC has been so impressive the past five seasons that the BCS is considering bringing them into the fold. That’s no small task considering the money-grubbing, conscience-free venture capitalists who run the system. If TCU can find a leader and a stud to replace Washington, they can be very good again. If not…

Final Record: 11-2

Preseason College Football Top 25: #18 Florida State

Why They’re Here: Eh heh heh hee, Bobby’s gone. Apparently, in his absence new coach Jimbo Fisher has been putting in work. The Noles had the 10th best recruiting class according to Rivals and Scout.com and number six, according to ESPN. They lost a lot of talent on defense last year, including LB Dekoda Watson and DBs Myron Rolle and first-round pick Patrick Robinson. I know I said no one from Florida State’s 2009 team deserved to be picked in the first round, but for a Seminole he wasn’t bad.

The Good: As hard as it is to say anything good about Florida State, this is their year. If the Seminoles are ever going to end their six-game losing streak to Florida, this is the time. Christian Ponder looks like a solid quarterback and their offense returns all 11 starters. Last year Gary Danielson remarked at one point during the UF-FSU game, “It’s the varsity versus the JV out there,” and he was completely right. Since Florida beat Florida State in the Chris Leak sweepstakes, the Noles haven’t even been competitive (outside of that 2003 game we won’t speak of). But with the loss of Tim Tebow and almost the entire 2011 senior class to the NFL draft, Florida State is in great position. They’ve also got probably the best offense in the ACC this side of Virginia Tech.

The Bad: It’s hard to replace guys like Watson, Rolle, Robinson, Kendrick Stewart, Kevin McNeil and Korey Mangum. The Florida State defense is probably going to have to start some of the freshmen from its stellar class this year and whether or not they’re ready to make the leap to the college level will determine how far the Noles will go this season.

The Last Word: The ACC is back and Florida State is one of the teams leading the way. If Christian Ponder can play like the conference’s MVP, this is a team that can go places. This season is on his shoulders. He’ll have his whole offense from last year back, but everyone will be looking to him to lead. From what I’ve seen, I don’t know that he’s up to it, but we’ll see.

Final Record: 11-3

Preseason College Football Top 25: #19 Auburn

Why They’re Here: Former Gator and 6’6 250 lb QB Cam “Lootin” Newton. Not only is he a physical monster, he’s got 4.5 speed. Just imagine for a second a 6’6 250 lb quarterback running at you with that kind of velocity. I call him “Lootin” Newton because he got kicked out of Florida for stealing another student’s laptop and then throwing it out a window when police came to ask him about it. Obviously, the young man is a mental juggernaut as well.

The Good: If you don’t know about “Lootin” Newton, check this video out (http://bit.ly/8vb6Q8). He single-handedly makes Auburn a threat this year. I have my doubts about coach Gene Chizik, but getting Newton, a player a lot of people (myself included) thought was a lock to Tennessee, is quite a coup. The Tigers also had the number four recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals and ESPN, which is huge. I may have to rethink my stance on Chizik. Also, they got rid of Chris Todd who was a bonafide scrub. AND WHEN YOU GET RID OF NOTHING AND YOU GET SOMETHING, YOU DIDN’T GIVE UP TOO MUCH!! Sorry, I was channeling Steven A. Smith again. The Tigers also get to play Georgia and LSU, their two toughest games not called The Iron Bowl, at home this season

The Bad: Ben Tate is a big loss for the running game. Mario Fannin will step in, but I don’t see the Tigers running game being on par with where it was last year. Also, the Tigers are attempting to run the spread offense with Kodi Burns listed as their number two receiver. Not that Burns is a terrible player, but he’s a quarterback. He was recruited as a quarterback and stepped in behind the center when Todd wasn’t capable of rolling five steps to his right to make a pass. A big, fast QB will take you a long way, but without the speed and talent around him to pull it off, the spread ain’t happenin. Also, there’s that Iron Bowl game at Alabama.

The Last Word: With a quarterback like “Lootin” Newton there’s always the potential that he’ll get caught trying to rob a convenience store (because he didn’t wear a mask and didn’t realize no one is going to miss the football team’s 6’6 250 lb quarterback on tape) and get kicked off the team. Newton is like LeGarrette Blount; he’s a hoe and you can’t make a hoe a housewife. If Newton can keep his nose clean and in his playbook, however, he could be one of the biggest names in college football. If he can’t, the Tigers season may be hinged on Kodi Burns…no, seriously.

Final Record: 8-5

Preseason College Football Top 25: #20 Penn State

Why They’re Here: Evan Royster is back, Joe Pa is still there and, well, they’re Penn State. All of those things could be either good or a bad. Royster is a stud and should be a first round draft pick next year, but putting too much of the burden on his shoulders could make Penn State one dimensional and against Big (11, maybe 12 next year) Ten defenses, that’s not going to cut it.

The Good: I love Evan Royster. He’s been one of my favorite running backs in college football for the past three years. Now that Jahvid Best and Toby “White Power” Gerhart are playing on Sundays, he’s probably my favorite. He’s got a big, powerful, Big (11, maybe 12 next year) Ten O-line to run behind and should be a force in the conference, and the nation, this year. They lost a lot of talent on defense, but I can’t imagine Linebacker U not reloading on linebackers, can you? Hopefully Joe Pa won’t have to answer questions every week about if and when he’ll retire, which should ease his role as a figurehead/marketing gimmick masquerading as a coach. Reporters should really just accept that Paterno is going to coach until he dies. Literally. His performance over the past few seasons has pretty much earned him a lifetime contract, so don’t be surprised if Paterno dies midseason in 2013.

The Bad: I don’t think Joe Pa has actually done any coaching in about 10 years. In that time they’ve played for a couple conference championships, made the BCS and were even in competition for the national championship game two years ago. So whoever’s actually been coaching the team is doing a pretty solid job. The Nittany Lions’ greatest challenge will be at QB. Judging from their spring game, they don’t have a guy who will make Penn Staters forget Daryll Clark anytime soon. The receiving corps is also a question mark. Last year, Clark would make plays for the offense in spite of his receivers. This year, there’s nobody that’s going to step up and do that for them.

The Last Word: If the Lions have to start giving Royster the ball 35 times a game, they’re in trouble. With Ohio State, Iowa and a resurgent Michigan looming, Penn State cannot afford to be subpar at quarterback. There’s no sign that they’ll be anything but. However, if their defense can bounce back and the running game can open up enough holes in the secondary, this team could be pretty good. I’ve got 50 bucks on them losing to Alabama in the second game of the season. That game will be their measuring stick, in the conference and in the nation. If they get destroyed, they’re basically done – Iowa and Ohio State are too good – but if they can keep it close or even cost me 50 green backs, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Final Record: 8-5

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