BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
FIVE ON THE CUSP:
ACC: Miami Hurricanes: In Calais Campbell and Kenny Phillips, the Canes have two of the most talented players in the nation, however they must regain their swagger. New headman Randy Shannon is an unproven commodity and quarterback Kyle Wright needs to start living up to his schoolboy hype.
Big 12: Nebraska Cornhuskers: The Cornhuskers clearly have the talent to break the Top 25, however at this point they have more questions than answers. Can Sam Keller put it together in one year? Can Marlon Lucky carry the load? Will Bobby Purify stay on the field? How do they replace Adam Carriker?
Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes: The Hawkeyes figure to finish fifth, but could end up as high as second in the Big Ten, that is how close they are. Offensively they are deep at the skill positions, as long as sophomore Jake Christenson settles in at quarterback, while they return all four starters along the defensive front.
Pac-10: Oregon St. Beavers: OSU returns eight starters on both sides of the ball and on defense, the Beavers are set to start 11 upperclassman. The only thing that keeps them out is inexperience at the quarterback position. Tailback Yvenson Bernard and receiver/returner Sammie Stroughter are a dynamic duo.
SEC: Arkansas Razorbacks: No one can rival Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in terms of running with the football or versatility. To crack the polls for a second straight season, the Hogs must replace the SEC’s top pass-rusher (Jamaal Anderson) and cover corner (Chris Houston), among others (Tony Ugoh, ect.).
Boise St. Broncos: In his first season as the HC Chris Peterson went 13-0…what will he do for an encore? For one thing, he will have to replace three-year starter Jared Zabransky at quarterback, as well as the Broncos top four pass catchers. All-American candidates Ian Johnson and Ryan Clady return.
Brigham Young University Cougars: Did you know the Cougs finished tenth in the nation in scoring defense? Making it even more impressive is they did it with an all freshman line, a trio that should be that much better this season, complimenting a speedy linebacking corps and stellar secondary.
Hawaii Rainbows: No one can match the prolific passing of Colt Brennan, who has three star receivers to throw to in Davone Bess, Jason Rivers and Ryan Grice-Mullen. Each has an 80-reception season to their credit. The problem…can they stop anyone of substance? Looking at the schedule, they could be perfect.
Houston Cougars: They may have lost star signal caller Kevin Kolb, but they return 15 starters, which should make the Cougars a formidable opponent once again. Anthony Alridge is the most exciting player you have never seen, the senior tailback averaged ten yards per carry last season (95 carries/959 yards).
Southern Miss Golden Eagles: The last time Jeff Bower’s program failed to produce a winning season was in his third year as head coach, which was in 1993. They usually win with stellar defense, their strength again with eight starters returning. Super soph (TB) Damion Fletcher could be a difference maker.
Utah Utes: Even after Urban Meyer left, Utah has continued to post winning seasons. Brian Johnson returns after missing last year, giving Utah a dynamic player under center, to go along with nine other returning starters on offense. The schedule is a killer: @ Oregon St., vs. UCLA, @ Louisville, @ TCU & @ BYU.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
Arizona Wildcats: The last two seasons, the Cats have come up with big second half wins and it is time to put together a full season under Mike Stoops. The questions are can signal caller Willie Tuitama stay healthy on offense, as well as flourish in the spread and can D-End Luis Holmes become a pass rushing force?
Arizona St. Sun Devils: Dennis Erickson takes over a team with nine starters back on offense, including quarterback Rudy Carpenter. He has thrown 40 TDs to 16 INTs in his first two seasons. Underrated Ryan Torain ensures they will have a balanced offensive attack, placing the onus on the defense.
Clemson Tigers: The Tigers appear to be a year away from big things. They return 12 starters from last season’s team, but next year that number could rise as high as 17. The combination of James Davis and C.J. Spiller makes them contenders if youngsters such as Ricky Sapp and Jacoby Ford step up.
Kansas St. Wildcats: Josh Freeman is the real deal at quarterback. If they can improve along the offensive line and the defensive personnel adjusts to the three-four scheme the Cats could be a surprise team. They start two new players at linebacker, while Ian Campbell is learning to play in a two-point stance.
Kentucky Wildcats: There are few teams that can match what Andre’ Woodson and Keenan Burton can do and even fewer that can slow them down. The defense returns eight starters and has ability, but they have yet to do it on the field. After an eight-win season, the Cats will not surprise anyone this year.
Missouri Tigers: In all likelihood, the Tigers will be the top challenger to the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 North, however they have yet to get over that hump under Gary Pinkel. The offense is there, with Chase Daniel throwing to Will Franklin, Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, but the defense is not.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: ND has lost a ton of talent, particularly on offense where their leading passer, leading rusher and top two pass catchers have moved on. Hold your hats Golden Domers, but a 0-3 start and a losing record are not out of the question. This is Charlie Weis’s toughest test as the headman.
Oklahoma St. Cowboys: The Pokes could have an impact in the Big 12 South with an explosive offense, led by the dangerous combination of Bobby Reid to Adarius Bowman. When they are not throwing the rock, tailbacks Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston can pick up yards in big chunks as well.
Oregon Ducks: Only once in the last five years have the Ducks won more than eight games and they figure to win about seven or eight this season. For them to have a better year in 2007 tailback Jonathan Stewart will have to have a Heisman-esque season and quarterback Dennis Dixon must become consistent.
Purdue Boilermakers: Curtis Painter to Dorien Bryant, Dustin Keller and Selwyn Lymon could be among Joe Tiller’s most lethal combinations since arriving in West Lafayette. Defense has never been the strength of his teams, but they do return nine starters on defense, including the entire secondary.
South Carolina Gamecocks: This is Steve Spurrier’s best unit since he arrived in Columbia, as his recruiting skills begin to pay off. They could challenge for a spot in the Top 25 but are probably a year away, especially with a schedule that includes road games at Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia…ouch!
Texas Tech Red Raiders: Tech has made a bowl in all seven seasons under headman Mike Leach, so I would not be too worried about the losses they suffered. Graham Harrell still figures to top 4000 yards and 35 TDs, however with A & M and OSU on the rise a fifth place (Big 12 South) finish is possible.
Virginia Cavaliers: After taking a step back the Cavs could be back bowling this season. Ten starters return on defense, led by defensive end Chris Long. On offense, the entire line is back, as is quarterback Jameel Sewell, who flashed some potential as a frosh. He must become more consistent in his second season.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: They will be hard pressed to repeat as ACC champs, nonetheless, with nine starters returning on offense, including QB Riley Skinner, who exceeded expectations as a freshman, we cannot count the Deacs out. A repeat would solidify Jim Grobe among the best in the coaching biz.
Check back tomorrow as CFI begins its preseason Top 25 countdown