THE BEST OF THE REST (26-40):
Boise St. Broncos: Ian Johnson returns for his third season as the Broncos top weapon—he has more career rushing yards and total touchdowns than any other active player. They are not as good as they were in 2006, but are always well coached. Defensively, the front seven looks solid with an experienced linebacking corps and excellent ends in Mike Williams and Ryan Winterswyk.
Cincinnati Bearcats: It’s looking more and more like Ben Mauk will not be back for the Bearcats, which is major loss for this season. In the broader picture, headman Brian Kelly is building a foundation (started by Mark Dantonio) for a perennial winner. Whoever is under center will have playmakers and defensively they return their top three players led by CB Mike Mickens.
Colorado Buffaloes: The Buffs took a major step forward and while another is not a given, Coach Hawkins is the goods in Boulder. They are young, but sophomore Cody Hawkins improved as the season went on and with targets Scotty McKnight and Josh Smith getting better as sophomores, as well as potential franchise back Darrell Scott, this offense could have some firepower.
Connecticut Huskies: It is easy to say the Huskies got lucky last season and weren’t as good as their record…because they did and they weren’t. But that has nothing to do with this year. The backfield of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown will be tough to stop and QB Tyler Lorenzen ensures they play mistake free football. Sophomore LBs Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson are rising stars.
Fresno St. Bulldogs: The Dawgs are everyone’s darling heading into the season, ranked No.25 in the Coaches Poll. QB Tom Brandstater made major leaps from his sophomore to junior seasons and could be among the top passers in the nation this season. FSU is primed to knock off Rutgers, Wisconsin and/or UCLA in out of conference play, but their first WAC Title since 1999 would be sweeter.
Florida St. Seminoles: They are probably a year away from getting back into the top 25, so FSU fans must remain patient if they can. The offensive line is developing and in TB Antone Smith and WRs Greg Carr and Preston Parker they have playmakers. Speed is the main course on defense as well with DE Everett Brown, CB Tony Carter and SS Myron Rolle all potential impact players.
Kentucky Wildcats: The ‘Cats lose their top passer (Andre Woodson), rusher (Rafael Little) and top two receivers (Steve Johnson & Keenan Burton), and they play in the SEC East which is death. However, they return most of their defense and will—by necessity--change their identity this season. CB Trevard Lindley and DE Jeremy Jarmon are two of the best players people don’t know much about.
Maryland Terrapins: A strong offensive line and plethora of talented receivers, starting with junior Darius Heyward-Bey, means a bounce-back season in College Park. They showed flashes last season with upsets of Rutgers and Boston College and could have easily finished with a winning record considering they lost by three to UNC, by one to UVA and in OT to Wake Forest.
Michigan St. Spartans: Sparty appears to have found their man in Mark Dantonio, who ended a three-year bowl drought and more importantly, the “here we go again” mentality MSU seemed to have when things would go wrong. They’re set with QB Brian Hoyer and TB Javon Ringer, with sophomore ‘backers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon leading the way on defense.
North Carolina Tar Heels: The Heels are the up and coming team in the ACC and Frank Beamer and the Hokies better watch out--Butch Davis’ boys mean business. The architect of the Championship team in Miami looks to build another winner, and with DT Marvin Austin, DT Aleric Mullins, LB Quan Sturdivant and FS Deunta Williams—all sophomores—Davis has the foundation in place.
Oklahoma St. Cowboys: The Pokes’ offense gives them a chance to win any game. QB Zack Robinson can do it all, TE Brandon Pettigrew is a big target and sophomore WR Dez Bryant is ready to step up as the No. 1 target in Stillwater. The Cowboys averaged 46.6 PPG and 486.3 YPG and should be just as explosive this season. The only thing holding them back is a poor defense.
Oregon Ducks: The Ducks are ranked 20th in the Coaches Poll, but I cannot get their three-game losing streak to end the regular season (without Dennis Dixon) out of my head. The defense should be better, particularly in the secondary where Rover Patrick Chung is joined by junior corners Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond. If they solidify the backfield, Oregon could get back on track.
Penn St. Nittany Lions: The Nittany Lions have top 25 talent and I could see senior signal caller Daryll Clark having a Michael Robinson-esque final campaign. However, that dark cloud over Happy Valley is hard to ignore and it is difficult to predict how a bunch of 20-year olds will react. OLB Sean Lee (INJ), and DTs Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor will not be easily replaced.
Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers are the trendy pick out of the Big East this season, but before I can rank them in the top 25 they have to show me something. Dave Wannstedt has recruited well, but has yet to go bowling. Defensively, they should be improved behind the play of MIKE Scott McKillop, with super sophomore LeSean McCoy the workhorse on the offensive side of the ball.
South Carolina Gamecocks: With the likes of OLB/DE Eric Norwood, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Captain Munnerlyn and SS Emanuel Cook the Gamecocks have a top-ten caliber defense in place. However, quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher may not inspire much more than a whole lot of visor throwing this fall. If Coach Spurrier straightens that out, the sky’s the limit at USC.
Ten More to Keep an Eye On: Arizona, Boston College, Florida Atlantic, Nebraska, Oregon St., Purdue, Rutgers, TCU, UCF, UCLA
Tomorrow: The Top 25 Countdown Begins; Photo Credit: CU Sports Information Office, Collegiate Images, SEC Sports Media
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
THE BEST OF THE REST (26-40):