January 9, 2010

Looking ahead: An early 2010 preseason top 25

The 2009 season ended two days ago, which means it's time to look ahead to 2010. Thus, our early, early top 25 for next season (did we mention it's really early?).

This top 25 was put together on the assumption that underclassmen who haven't declared for the draft will stay in school. That's a dangerous assumption, of course, and we will revisit this early, early top 25 in about two weeks, when all the dust has settled in regard to the underclassmen.

Without further ado:

1. Alabama
BUZZ: The Tide will return numerous key offensive players off this season's title team, but coaches will need to replace seven defensive starters. Will there be a drop-off? And can the Tide make it two in a row?
2. Ohio State
BUZZ: The non-conference schedule isn't that daunting, and if coach Jim Tressel loosens the reins on the offense - as he did in the Rose Bowl - the Buckeyes should cruise to the Big Ten title. DE Cameron Heyward's decision to stay in school is an important one for Ohio State.
3. Oregon
BUZZ: QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LaMichael James will return and they'll get to run behind a veteran line. The defense should be better, too.
4. Boise State
BUZZ: The Broncos have key non-conference games against Oregon State and Virginia Tech. If they win both, they could return to Glendale, Ariz. - but this time for the national title game.
5. USC
BUZZ: Coaching rumors aside, the Trojans will have the talent to get back on top in the Pac-10. A young defense this season will be an experienced defense next season.
6. TCU
BUZZ: The Frogs must replace standout DE Jerry Hughes, star LB Daryl Washington and CBs Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, but TCU always finds a way to put together a quality defense. That TCU returns the vast majority of its 2009 offense suggests the Frogs could sail through the regular season unbeaten again
7. Nebraska
BUZZ: Coach Bo Pelini has said he thinks the 2010 team will be better than the 2009 team. Given the state of the Big 12 next season, that means the Huskers easily could go into the season as the league favorite.
8. Texas
BUZZ: Replacing Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley is going to be impossible. But the defense should be stout, and perhaps McCoy's departure will provide the impetus to establish a solid rushing attack.
9. Wisconsin
BUZZ: RB John Clay's decision to remain in school was a boost to the Badgers' Big Ten hopes in 2010. QB Scott Tolzien should be better, and the offensive line will be a team strength. The defense should be one of the best in the Big Ten.
10. Florida
BUZZ: Urban Meyer's future remains up in the air. But even without Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden and the other departing stars, the Gators have a ton of talent. And who in the SEC is going to challenge them?
11. Virginia Tech
BUZZ: The presence of RBs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans and QB Tyrod Taylor in the backfield should give the Hokies one of the nation's most fearsome rushing attacks. The loss of DE Jason Worilds from a defense that already had to fill plenty of holes is worrisome, but if the Hokies are unbeaten after knocking off Boise State on Oct. 2, they could jump into the national title picture.
12. Oklahoma
BUZZ: The Sooners suffered though Landry Jones learning on the job this season. They will benefit from that next season. Plus, the offensive line should be much improved.
13. Pittsburgh
BUZZ: Dave Wannstedt and Pittsburgh was a win away from a BCS bid in 2009. RB Dion Lewis will be a candidate to be the fourth consecutive sophomore to win the Heisman. The Panthers need to replace some key players on defense - both tackles, a couple of veteran linebackers and CB Aaron Berry - but the Panthers should be the preseason favorite in the conference.
14. Iowa
BUZZ: The Hawkeyes should be fine everywhere - except perhaps the offensive line, where four starters have to be replaced. QB Ricky Stanzi must curb his penchant for throwing interceptions. The defense will be strong again, especially if CB Amari Spievey stays for his senior season.
15. Georgia Tech
BUZZ: The Yellow Jackets won the ACC title with only six scholarship seniors, but WR Demaryius Thomas likely won't be the only Georgia Tech underclassman to enter the draft. Paul Johnson faces a big hire as he attempts to replace fired defensive coordinator Dave Wommack because Georgia Tech won't make a serious run at the national title until it upgrades its defense.
16. LSU
BUZZ: The coaching staff will be under the gun next season. The offense has a lot of room for growth, especially the offensive line, which was the biggest problem this season.
17. North Carolina
BUZZ: When six junior starters announced that they planned to return, it assured that the Tar Heels would head into 2010 as a popular sleeper pick for a BCS run. UNC should boast one of the nation's top defenses next season, but the Tar Heels must make significant improvements to their dormant offense.
18. Miami
BUZZ: The Hurricanes were seen as a potential preseason top-10 team until they closed 2009 with a poor performance in a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Miami's chances of contending for an ACC title depend on whether Jacory Harris can reduce his interception total and the Hurricanes upgrade their offensive line.
19. Connecticut
BUZZ: The Huskies finished 8-5 for the second consecutive season, but they were awfully close to a major breakthrough. None of the losses were by more than four points. If the Huskies can turn those close losses into narrow victories, as they did over the last month of the season, Connecticut could contend for the Big East title in 2010. The Huskies must replace leading receiver Marcus Easley, Big East sack leader Lindsey Witten and two starting defensive backs.
20. Oregon State
BUZZ: The Rodgers brothers will be back and the offense will be a good one as long as the Beavers can find a competent quarterback. The defense should be one of the best in the Pac-10, as the Beavers lose just one starter.
21. Houston
BUZZ: QB Case Keenum and all his skill-position playmates will be back, which means averaging 50 points per game is a legit goal. But unless the defense makes massive improvement, scoring 50 points might be what it takes to win games.
22. Utah
BUZZ: The return of QB Jordan Wynn and 1,000-yard rusher Eddie Wide should give Utah a potent offense. A challenging non-conference schedule includes a home game with Pittsburgh and a trip to Notre Dame, but Utah does have the benefit of playing TCU and BYU at home next season.
23. Arkansas
BUZZ: Aside from Alabama, the SEC West looks to be wide-open. For the Hogs to take advantage, though, QB Ryan Mallett and the defense must improve.
24. Penn State
BUZZ: Replacing QB Daryll Clark will be Job One in spring practice. RB Evan Royster's decision to stay in school is important, and there should be a nice receiving corps and an OK offensive line. The defense has some holes to fill, but it's hard to imagine Penn State having a mediocre defense.
25. Cincinnati
BUZZ: Butch Jones succeeded Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and won two MAC championships in three years. Could the same happen here? Jones inherits backup QB Zach Collaros, who is a dual-threat similar to the Chippewas' Dan LeFevour. The defense will have to rebuild again - Cincinnati loses six seniors, including FS Aaron Webster - but it can't be much worse than it was in 2009.



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