Season Preview: July Preseason Top Ten

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July 14, 2005

By Brian Curtis

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It is a bit early for a true preseason Top Ten list, but I'm going to give it a go anyway.  Before you start with the angry emails, let me just throw out three disclaimers:


1)       A lot can happen between July and the opening kickoff in September--injuries, suspensions, etc., so things may change

2)       There are probably twenty teams who could be ranked in the Top Ten

3)       Keep in mind it's not just about players, it's about schedule


That's it.  Now here's my take:



July Preseason Top Ten


1.       USC: Who else?  Even though I don't believe they will win a third straight national title, they still are the best team heading into the season.  If you take into account the players returning, including tremendous athletes who have been buried on the depth chart; the Heisman Trophy winner and a relatively winnable schedule, it's hard not to like the Trojans.  Yes, they need to revamp some on defense and yes, the loss of Jeff Byers to injury hurts, but these are Pete Carroll's Trojans and there are replacements in the wings.  I don't think the defense will be as dominant, but the offense will be better even without Norm Chow.  As for the schedule, Notre Dame may be the toughest non-conference game and we know how they've been lately.  Games against Arizona State, Cal and Oregon may be the stumbling blocks.


2.       Tennessee: The Vols are another team who are loaded but an appearance in the BCS title game in January may not happen.  Why?  Their schedule is simply too tough, but we'll get to that.  Phillip Fulmer has his most talented team in years.  He has tremendous speed in the backfield, at wideout and on defense.  Erik Ainge will firmly take control at QB, and Gerald Riggs will pass 1,000 yards rushing.  The linebackers are good, if not great, and the DBs can run with anyone.  Now, about that schedule.  At Florida, at LSU, at Alabama, at Notre Dame with Georgia, South Carolina and a tough Memphis squad at home.  They finished last season by whopping Texas A & M in the Cotton Bowl and expectations are high in Knoxville.  They need to stay injury-free and out of off-field trouble.


3.       Michigan: This season, the offensive and defensive lines may be the best in the Big Ten, if not in the country.  On offense, they will protect surprise QB star Chad Henne and sensational RB Michael Hart.  I know WR Braylon Edwards has moved on but do you really think the Wolverines have no one to replace his size and speed?  Year after year, Lloyd Carr takes his team to a nine or 10-win season, and in the last two years, Rose Bowl appearances.  Still not enough to many, who want to see another national title.  This could be the year.  Northern Illinois, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan are all at home and easily winnable.  Their two toughest conference games are Iowa and Ohio State, but that last one is at home in November.  Michigan might just win it all.


4.       Texas:  I don't want to hear about how the Longhorns can't beat Oklahoma.  Well, yes, that may be right, but this year is the year.  Texas is up, Oklahoma is down and probability says it will happen.  Vince Young showed the nation what he can do against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and you can expect an even bigger year from him.  The lines are strong and big.  Greg Robinson left to take over at Syracuse, but Texas hasn't missed a step.  The Big XII South will be winnable but tough, with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and A & M on the slate.  A non-conference showdown with Ohio State in early September will tell us a lot about the make-up of the Horns.  They will beat Oklahoma (well, maybe.)


5.       Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer has done an amazing job making Blacksburg, Virginia, a must stop for the nation's top recruits.  What many thought would be a down year for the Hokies after a mediocre start last season turned into an ACC title, in a conference that includes heavyweights like Miami and Florida State.  But what about 2005?  They will be even better.  Marcus Vick is back on the team and on the field and he can be electric.  Tech can put points on the board and can prevent them, as they held opponents last year to a mere 12.8 points per game.  If they get by a tough opener at North Carolina State, the Hokies could roll until facing Boston College and Miami late in the season.  I don't think they are title contenders, but they probably will return to the BCS.


6.       Ohio State: Simply put, the Buckeyes have the nation's top linebacker crews.  They are mean, fast and can stuff the run.  Last year, the defense wasn't the problem.  The offense boasts all-everything Ted Ginn Jr. as well as speedy receiver mates.  The biggest dilemma for Jim Tressel is at QB.  My bet is that Justin Zwick starts the season and holds off Troy Smith.  Four losses in the Big Ten last year is simply not acceptable at Ohio State.  They won't lose that many this season, but Iowa and Michigan could be two of them.  OSU has Miami (Ohio) as a warm-up for the Texas showdown and then faces San Diego State before the Iowa clash.  Pretty decent schedule.


7.       Iowa: OK, so they'll beat Ohio State, so why aren't they ranked ahead of the Buckeyes?  Well, to start, there is not a lot of experience returning to Iowa City.  In fact, only eleven starters return, far below the national average.  Amazingly, the Hawkeyes are 20-4 in the last three Big Ten seasons, but they might only get 8-9 wins this year.  A strong linebacking corps, led by Abdul Hodge, and an exciting Drew Tate at QB, makes things interesting.  Injuries hampered Iowa all last year and still they did well.  To win the Big Ten, Iowa must win on the road at Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin, all very tough road environments.  Every year, it seems Iowa gets counted out, so maybe they'll win all those!


8.       Texas A & M: Reggie McNeal is the man in College Station.  The senior QB rushed for 718 yards last year and almost reached 2,800 passing.  He can run and pass, which makes him a game breaker and a game saver.  The rest of the offense is good, not great, and the running game has been missing.  The defense is good, not great, but experience will make up for any deficient skill.  There are two very difficult games on the slate--Oklahoma and Texas to end the season.  It is possible the Aggies could be 9-0 heading into the Oklahoma showdown in November.  Keep in mind that this team went 7-5 last year, including the blowout loss to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl.  They will be much improved, but a conference title?  Nope.


9.       Miami  The offensive line is great, the secondary are studs, the speed is Miami-esque and Willie Williams can play.  Watch out.  If Kyle Wright ends up the starting QB and holds his own, Miami may be tough to beat.  They don't have a sensational running game, which means a lot will fall onto Wright.  Things looked great last season after the opening 16-10 OT win against FSU, but the Canes went on to lose three games--three too many.  So, how about 2005?  They just might have the easiest schedule, outside of USC, in the Top Ten.  Opponents include Clemson, South Florida, Duke, Temple and Georgia Tech.  Yes, FSU will be good, as will Virginia Tech, but Miami could do something special this year.


10.    I lied, there is no #10.  This is really a Top Nine list.  There simply are too many other quality teams to leave out of the 10 spot, let alone any of the Top Nine.  How about LSU, which returns so much talent for new coach Les Miles?  Or Florida, with Urban Meyer and Chris Leak leading the way?  Florida State may be a QB away.  Oklahoma won't be that bad.  Dirk Koetter has his most talented team in Tempe, as does Tom O'Brien in Chestnut Hill.


Stay tuned, as things can change (I reserve that right.)


Brian Curtis serves as an analyst and insider in all of CSTV's football programming and is CSTV's Senior Editor. To ask Brian a question or comment on his column, e-mail him at Read Brian's latest insiders' book, Every Week A Season, on sale now at all major bookstores and online.



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