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Fearless Rick's 2010 NCAA Top 25

Rick Gagliano | 8/4-11/2010

NCAA TOP 25 - Predicted order of finish

1. Alabama Crimson Tide - The team which finished on top last season returns with much the same offense, including QB Greg McElroy, who will be throwing more to wideouts Marquis Maze and Julio Jones. Especially dangerous, Jones received double-coverage attention in most of his SEC games last year, so look for the 'Bama offense to find more ways to get him involved, like butterfly or pop-up screens and reverses.

Having a Heisman Trophy winner on your squad certainly doesn't hurt, and running back Mark Ingram will be back to punish defenses again. Teamed with Trent Richardson, the Crimson Tide backfield will be one of the best in the nation.

On defense, there are some holes to fill, especially linebacker Rolando McClain, but that shouldn't be a problem. The recruiting done by Nick Saban and his assistants has filled the Alabama roster with plenty of beefy hitters and talented newcomers. This team has returned to the glory days under Bear Bryant and a repeat as national champions is within their expectations.

2. Boise State Broncos - The Broncos are returning 21 of 22 starters from a team which ranked 1st in scoring and 14th in points allowed nationally, went undefeated (14-0) and finished their season with a 17-10 win over TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. They or the Horned Frogs probably should have had a shot at Alabama, but, as usual, the cockeyed BCS brain trust denied the players, coaches and fans of a true national championship game.

It was obvious that Boise had to do something to change its fortunes, so in June they announced their move from the WAC to the Mountain West beginning in 2011. That still leaves the current campaign up in the air, and whether the Broncos will have to go undefeated again (they went 12-0 in 2008 prior to losing to TCU, 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl) and be denied again might be predicated on the outcome of their season opener in Landover, Maryland vs. a very good Virginia Tech squad on September 6.

Boise's won 114 games over the last 10 years, the most of any college football team, yet hasn't played for a national title yet. Could this be the year? Probably not, unless either Alabama or Ohio State stumbles to two losses and the Broncos again go undefeated.

Stay tuned. Coach Chris Peterson has the talent to win every game this season. He's 49-4 since becoming head coach in 2006, and the Broncos should roll through their conference schedule with ease.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes - The Buckeyes are once again the pick to win the Big Ten, though they will be tested by Iowa and Wisconsin, two teams against which they struggled in 2009, but will have to play on the road this season. Ranked no worse than third in any preseason poll or preview, the Buckeyes will depend on the maturation of Tyrelle Pryor at QB to lead them back to a spot in the national championship game.

The Buckeyes return 10 starters on offense and six on defense, though Jim Tressel has a wealth of upper-classmen and plenty of depth upon which to draw.

Ranked in the top 15 in just about every category, the Ohio State defense will welcome some new faces and could actually be an upgraded group from 2009.

While they went 11-2 and won the Rose Bowl (26-17 over Oregon), there's more expected in Columbus this time around. A key match-up with Miami on September 11 is the only big opponent outside the conference, but playing at Wisconsin on October 16 and at Iowa on November 20 will be the true tests. If the Buckeyes are as good as everyone believes, they can win every game and have a hand in the last game of the season.

4. TCU Horned Frogs - It's not that it just seems like TCU is a national championship contender every year, it's reality, though one which hasn't made it's way to the BCS selectors who put them in a no-win situation against the other "small" conference upstart, Boise State, in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Both the Broncos and Frogs deserve better, but TCU will probably end its reign of terror in the Mountain West conference with another unbeaten record before whatever realignment comes to fruition in 2011. Whether they play for the national championship is once again up to the BCS, though it would appear that their only chance - and Boise's - is to go undefeated and hope none of the other big conferences have any teams with less than two losses.

TCU returns nine players on offense and they appear to be just as unstoppable as they were last season when they rolled up 40.7 points and 469.1 yards per game. QB Andy Dalton and running backs Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley all return for another season.

The defense will be as ferocious as ever, with seven returnees. They led the nation in yards per game allowed in 2009, at 233.3, and there's little reason to believe they won't be almost as good, if not better, in 2010.

The two out-of-conference games for the Frogs come early in the season, with a showcase game against Oregon State in Arlington, Texas, to kick off the season on September 4, and a September 18 visit from an improved Baylor team. Should TCU win both of those, look for another 12-0 season and more BCS intrigue.

5. West Virginia Mountaineers - This may come as a surprise to many, but the Mountaineers could wind up in the national championship. Finishing 9-4, following a disappointing loss to Florida State in the Gator Bowl (33-21), there are eight starters returning on offense and nine on defense.

One key will be how well Geno Smith handles the QB position. Jarrett Brown didn't make many mistakes, but Smith's upside potential could be huge, and that would make a monstrous difference in how well the Mountaineers do in 2010. With Noel Devine getting the bulk of the carries, West Virginia won't have to worry about the running game, as that is in exceptionally-talented hands.

The defense was a question mark last year, but the Mountaineers more than held their own, allowing 20.8 points per game, and they did well against their two biggest Big East rivals, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the two teams they'll have to beat if they expect to get back to winning the conference.

Playing Cincinnati at home on November 13 after a week off is a big plus, but consecutive road games at Louisville and Pitt (on a Friday night, no less, Nov. 26) will test their mettle.

Bill Stewart has done well since taking the reins from Rich Rodriguez, with 9-4 records in each of 2008 and 2009. This could be the year in which he takes them back to a BCS bowl game.

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6. Florida Gators - OK, so this team won't be as good without Tim Tebow, but it's time to turn the page in Tallahassee and move on to life with John Brantley taking snaps. A better passer than Tebow, Brantley won't do anywhere near as much running as Tebow, but the offense will open up substantially with a trio of wideouts that may comprise the best receiving corps in the country: Chris Rainey, Deonte Thompson and Andre Debose.

With those guys in Florida's usual spread offense, the SEC must brace for an aerial attack each and every week. With speedy Jeff Demps the #1 back, the Gators will be good on the ground as well, with the offensive line returning all but center Maurice Pouncey.

While most fans love the Florida offense, the defense is often overlooked, but they were as good as any out there in 2009, ranking 4th nationally. There were NFL defections and graduations, and the Gators must find a way to replace Joe Haden, if that's at all possible. He was the top corner in the country, so there's likely to be some fall-off in the secondary this season.

Still, the Gators are a team used to winning national championships, so another trip to the SEC Championship (their only loss in 2009, 32-13 to Alabama) is a goal they will certainly pursue. It appears that the SEC will be a showdown again between the Gators and Crimson Tide unless injuries take a toll on either side. One possible stumbling block could come November 13, when former Gator coach Steve Spurrier brings his Gamecocks calling to the Swamp.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers- The graduation of college's most dominating player, Ndamukong Su, is certainly a cause for concern in Lincoln, but the Cornhuskers are coming off a very successful 2009 campaign in which they not only beat Oklahoma, but should have won the Big 12 title, but lost due to a questionable clock in the 13-12 thriller last December.

The Huskers took out their frustrations on Arizona, whom they thoroughly thumped in the Holiday Bowl, 33-0 and have plenty upon which to build. They return ten starters on offense, though that's the area which needed improvement, and while they'll get maximum production from RB Roy Hedu and QB Zac Lee, there is some question to their upside potential.

Seven starters return to the defense that was one of the best in the country in 2009, ranked second in points allowed at 11.2 and ninth in total yards (284.5). They may not be as dominant as they were in '09, though they could actually be better as there's plenty of depth on this squad.

Winning the conference is likely to be a goal, and it's achievable if the offense doesn't make mistakes and the defense comes in as good as advertised. The Big game is October 16 against Texas and the Cornhuskers will be seeking atonement at home. A win there and Nebraska could be on their way to a top 5 ranking, though even a loss won't diminish their season by much. They should be very good and a possible challenger for a national title spot.

8. Pittsburgh Panthers - While there are plenty of detractors to the Panthers' cause, coach Dave Wannstedt has improved this team each year and fell just short of winning the Big East championship in a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati. Pitt graduated half of their starters - six on offense and five on defense - but the strength of the program has caused recruiting to improve, so there's plenty of talent to fill holes.

One position Wannstedt won't have to worry about is running back, as freshman phenom Dion Lewis returns for another year. If Lewis is as productive as he was in 2009, don't be surprised if he jumps to the NFL after this season.

In the defense department, the Panthers will be looking to improve on a solid season which saw them ranked second in the conference and 23rd overall, but there are big shoes to fill on the line and both cornerbacks will be brand new starters.

With Cincinnati losing coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame, this appears to be the best chance for the Panthers to win the Big East and make it to a BCS game. The schedule finishes with the same two teams which beat the Panthers in 2009, though they play at West Virginia this season and get the Bearcats at home. Wins in those two games would probably be enough to propel Pitt over the top.

9. Wisconsin Badgers - The Badgers are one of a handful of teams which could upset the BCS apple cart. They are big, bold and can play with any team in the nation, as evidenced by their 9-3 record from 2009, when they lost only to Big 10 teams - Iowa, Ohio State and Northwestern - and finished off their season in fine fashion with a 20-14 win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Returning all but one player to an offense that scored 32.8 points per game in 2009 and was one of the most balanced in the nation, the Badgers will have options beyond the hard-running John Clay, who would normally be more than enough for any college team. Senior QB Scott Tolzien has matured into a solid thrower with generally great decision-making skills and he's got a couple of real burners on the wings in Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon, who is destined for the NFL.

Three of four linemen were lost to graduation on defense, so there may be some early shuffling there, but the linebackers and secondary enter 2010 nearly intact. The Badgers were tough to run against last year, and will have to step it up in the secondary in order to surpass their win total of 2009 and finally find their way past Ohio State.

The biggest games of the season in Wisconsin come back-to-back on October 16 and 23, when the Badgers host Ohio State and travel to Iowa the following week. A perfect season would include winning both of those games and the Badgers are looking to avenge an ugly 31-13 loss in Columbus last year. They also get Northwestern at home for the season finale, the Big Ten tea that upset them in 2009.

10. Oklahoma Sooners - The Sooners lose Sam Bradford, though they played without him for much of 2008 and 2009, RB Chris Brown and Jermaine Gresham, who is likely to be a bigger loss, but return three starters on the offensive line and have a budding star in QB Landry Jones. He will team in the backfield with DeMarco Murray, one of the premiere running backs in the nation, so the Sooners are reloading rather than retooling the offense, returning nine starters.

On defense, only five starters return from last season, including two linebackers, but coach Bob Stoops has a nice recruiting class coming in and the Sooners may turn out to be better than expected at stopping the other guys.

As usual, Oklahoma will have more than their fair share of key games, including early tilts with Florida State (Sept. 11), Air Force (Sept. 18) and at Cincinnati (Sept. 25). All of that prior to their usual Big 12 schedule should have Oklahoma up and running when they meet Texas on October 2, though that game may have a little less significance than it did in prior years. The conference is there for the taking, and Oklahoma should find its way back to prominence after a couple of disappointing campaigns.

Click here for teams 11-25

Copyright 2010, 2011, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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