I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of preseason rankings primarily due to the fact they’re mainly based on a teams’ performance from a year ago instead of projecting for the year ahead. With that said, as a reader I see their value primarily being to draw conversation and stir up controversy between fan bases and since every other credible site does one, I’ll give you my top 10 teams going into the college football season.
No. 10 Miami
The Hurricanes return 14 starters from a team that finished last season ranked No. 19 in the AP poll. At quarterback returns junior Jacory Harris who had a breakout year last season and could be a Heisman candidate this year. Surrounding him is a plethora of offensive firepower including running back Greg Cooper and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who led the team with 801 yards receiving and six touchdowns a year ago. The one problem on the offensive side of the ball lies in perhaps the most important part-the offensive line. Miami will be breaking in new starters at center and both the tackle positions. So while the skill position players may be well above average, the offensive line, or lack-thereof, may hinder their ability to perform up to their abilities and affect the game as they’d be expected to.
Defensively the Hurricanes are led by cornerback Brandon Harris who recorded two interceptions and had 15 pass-breakups. He was a first-team All-ACC performer last season and a third-team All-American. The defense returns eight starters to a unit that was solid last season so there’s no reason to expect a drop-off this year, and they will have to be dependable especially if the offensive line fails to build cohesiveness causing the offense to struggle.
One thing that may hold Miami back this season is its schedule, which to put it kindly is brutal. After a cupcake in their opener against Florida A&M, the ‘Canes are on the road for three straight games against Ohio State, Pitt and Clemson, followed by a game at home against rival Florida State. Throw in later games against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, and it could be a recipe for disaster. With that said, this will be the best team Coach Randy Shannon has had since he arrived in Coral Gables in 2006. He has the talent to have his team competing for a spot in the ACC Championship game this year and perhaps a BCS berth. While the talent is there this year, the ‘Canes may be building towards next season when they should be a team contending for a National Championship.
No. 9 Wisconsin
After finishing last season with a 10-3 record including a beat-down of the above
mentioned Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl, the Badgers are riding high going into this season. On offense they return bruising running back John Clay, who is your prototypical Wisconsin/Big Ten back. He led the Big Ten in rushing last year with over 1,500 yards and should emerge as a Heisman Candidate, because Wisconsin has one of the biggest offensive lines in the country, averaging 321 pounds per man. Scott Tolzien is back as the Wisconsin quarterback and as usual with Wisconsin quarterbacks, his numbers aren’t going to blow you away. He’s consistent, will manage the game and not turn the ball over.
Defensively, the Badgers don’t have many standouts but they’re solid across the board. Strong Safety Jay Valai is an emotional leader and he’s as steady as they come back there. The biggest problem may be the lack of a pass rusher on the defensive line, but someone should emerge and look for that someone to be defensive end J.J. Watt.
Also in its favor is Wisconsin’s schedule. It’s only tough non-conference game is against Arizona State which is at home and Ohio State, also at home.The Badgers will be tested with trips to East Lansing to take on Michigan State as well as a trip to Iowa, but for the most part the schedule is manageable.
No. 8 Florida
You may see Florida ranked higher in other preseason polls but don’t be fooled. You simply
can’t replace Tim Tebow with an inexperienced quarterback and expect the same results. John Brantley looks like he has all the tools to be a capable replacement for Tebow, but he simply is unproven. With Brantley in the fold, Coach Urban Meyer’s offense should be different than in year’s past. Brantley is more of a pocket passer than Tebow was so expect a more traditional passing game. The offensive line should be a strong point for the Gators so running backs Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody will likely be the beneficiaries. Also look for slot receiver Chris Rainey to be used much like Percy Harvin was during his tenure at Florida. Rainey has the speed to break one at any time.
Defensively the Gators are absolutely loaded. Their secondary will be one of the best in the country with corner Janoris Jenkins and safeties Will Hill and Ahmad Black anchoring the bunch. Sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins has gotten rave reviews as have freshmen defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd and Ronald Powell, who are both projected to start.
The schedule is always tough in the SEC and there are a few road-bumps in games at Alabama and Florida State, but for the most part the schedule is manageable and if some of the young Gators grow up fast, Meyer could have his team once again playing for an SEC Championship.
No. 7 Oklahoma
After a disappointing 8-5 record last season, the Sooners will look to bounce back in a big way. Coach Bob Stoops will not allow his team to have back-to-back embarrassing seasons, per Oklahoma standards. Quarterback Landry Jones got valuable experience filling in for injured Sam Bradford last year and he performed admirably. The offense should be equally good running the football with senior DeMarco Murray back and upstart sophomore Jermie Calhoun in the fold as well. While the Sooners are stacked in the backfield they are a bit thin at receiver and someone will need to step up and help out Ryan Broyles, who was their leading receiver a year ago.
Defensively the Sooners should be good enough all the way around with the one area of concern being the defensive line, and in particular the interior of the line. Gerald McCoy anchored that unit for the past two years but he’s now in the NFL. The Sooners have recruited well at that position so the talent should be there, it will just a matter of guys like former five-star recruit Jamarkus McFarland being able to live up to the hype.
Two games on the schedule jump out and that’s Oklahoma’s second game, which is at home against Florida State and its annual showdown in Dallas against Texas. Its season will more than likely come down to the outcome of those two games.
*No. 6 through No. 4 will be previewed tomorrow.