Counting down College Football Resource’s preseason top 25 teams.
As always, this is a "power" ranking reflecting team quality over expectations relative to schedule. I assembled this list a few weeks ago and am not intellectually bound to it as the on-field and off-field events of the season will obviously dictate future rankings. Frankly it’s difficult to rank teams beyond the top 10-15. There are many many teams who are within range of these rankings, so fear not neglected fan. Enjoy.
(5) – Texas
Briefly: Colt McCoy’s a soon-to-be superstar, the defense looks to be more aggressive this year and can’t play any worse against the pass and Jamaal Charles bulked up to add some power to the running game. The ‘Horns also have that mental edge of having beat Oklahoma last year. Like Boise State, this is about the upper limit of Texas’ reach in the rankings, but they’re probably no worse than 10th regardless.
Phil Steele Says: This year they have 7 starters back (on offense) and will be more potent. The Horns have 6 starters back on D, which is their fewest since 2002 but ironically that year they allowed 16.3 ppg (fewest in last 5 years). Despite UT’s 6-2 mark in the Big 12, they only outgained Big 12 foes by 43.9 ypg (4th best), a big drop from 2005 (211.0 ypg). The Horns are a legitimate National Title contender this year.
Preseason Consensus: No. 3 nationally, No. 1 Big 12 South
(4) – Michigan
Briefly: Theoretically this is a Michigan outfit not too dissimilar from last year’s group. The real issue is that the Wolverines lost some All Americans on defense. That said, I think they can play at the same level or better this year. Remember, last year’s performance was a bit of a surprise after a deeply disappointing 2005. The defense was exposed in the last two games last year but it was also against two incredibly talented offenses and a lot of good defenses would have suffered similarly. Mike Hart and Chad Henne have a lot of ghosts chasing them and this should be an incredibly motivated and no-nonsense team capable of being among the nation’s top 5 or so teams. The defense will replace All Americans with some pluggers but there’s still some playmakers in Tim Jamison, the great Shawn Crable and potentially Brandon Graham.
Phil Steele Says: This year UM has 6 starters back on offense including Heisman candidates QB Henne and RB Hart. The D does lose seven starters but is still loaded with talent and the 15.9 ppg they allowed last year was their best since their National Championship year of 1997. This year all four road games fall into the winnable category as they get to host both Ohio St and N. The Wolves are once again a National Title contender.
Preseason Consensus: No. 4 nationally, No. 1 Big Ten
(3) – West Virginia
Briefly: The Mountaineer offense has a little of that USC 2005 unstoppable feel especially if superfrosh Noel Devine can make any kind of impact. White and Slaton are now three-year starters, and are surrounded by talents like the bruising Owen Schmitt and the elusive Darius Reynaud. Any defensive stops are like presents, and I think one thing in the program’s favor this year is that they know this could be a special year. Count on at least modest defensive improvement which should be enough to help them through the Big East gauntlet and perhaps show enough to be in national championship game consideration.
Phil Steele Says: The defense has just 5 starters back in the last two years and has their most veteran unit since 2001 with 8 starters back. This year they face 7 teams that made it to bowls last year. The Mountaineers do have to play 4 of those teams on the road including USF and Rutgers but will be favored in all 12 games, so they are a legitimate National Title contender.
Preseason Consensus: No. 5 nationally, No. 1 Big East
(2) – Florida
Briefly: The big talking point is that this team only returns two starters on defense. Many had the same worries about Ohio State last year but I liked the Buckeyes’ available talent then and I like the Gators’ now. Besides, this team is loaded on offense as we should see even more of Tebow (who can throw the football, believe it or not), Harvin, Fayson, Ingram, Walker, Rainey, Moore, Caldwell, etc. Urban Meyer has taken a page from the Lou Holtz sandbagging playbook because he has what by the end of the year could be a better overall squad than last year’s national champions. Like Boise State, the underdog win has this team completely believing in itself which will help them win some close ball games. I see a lot of 2001-2004 USC in how Meyer keeps beating expectations in his early years and loads up in recruiting before finding the special players to become his team’s center of gravity (Tebow/Harvin vs. Leinart/Bush). I see the Gators greatly surpassing lowered expectations this year and making a serious push for the BCS championship game.
Phil Steele Says: This year the Gators have 6 starters back on offense, but lose QB Leak, their top RB and WR. They also have just 2 starters back from the D that allowed 13.5 ppg (best since 1983). Eleven of their top 13 tacklers are gone. UF did have a tough schedule last year having to face Tenn, Aub, UGA, Fla St, Ark and Ohio St all away from The Swamp. This year most of the tough opponets are at home but a couple of things trouble me. UF benefitted from 5 net close wins last year (pg 299) and is a lot less experienced than last year’s senior-laden team. They also lose a ton of talent to the NFL. Even with the heavy graduation losses, the Gators are clearly still one of the best teams in the country but it will be very difficult to repeat as National Champs having to face LSU, Georgia and SCar away from The Swamp.
Preseason Consensus: No. 6 nationally, No. 1 SEC East
(1) – USC
Briefly: Where have we seen this before? Oh yeh, 2005. USC is a bit more of an enigma this year, as it returns a ridiculous defense and the great John David Booty, but the offense is different and no longer as fierce as during the Chow years. I’ll address my other concerns about USC on another entry sometime soon, but it’s safe to say there are questions about this team’s offensive line and running game. The talent is there at every position and USC can clearly manage expectations. There’s no doubt that on paper this is the best team in the country. Although there are inevitable scares, USC has barely disappointed against staggering annual expectations from 2002 to the present. How good will this team be? It’s up to them. The all-time talk is premature if not ridiculous, but maybe this team plays effortlessly and surprises as opposed to the choppy play seen in 2005 and 2006. I really don’t know, but they’re good and an easy choice to be No. 1 on here.
Phil Steele Says: The defense has 10 returning starters which is the most they’ve had in over 20 years. This is the first time since 2002 that USC did not lose a player in the first round of the draft. Last year, Carroll called it the faste
st D he’s ever coached and they most likely will be among the top D’s in the country this year. USC has some tough road games including Nebraska, ND, Oregon, Cal and Ariz St but the Trojans are the most talented team in the country and will be favored to win another National Title.
Preseason Consensus: No. 1 nationally, No. 1 Pac-10
Previously at College Football Resource: