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2009 College Football Preview

After an utterly unbelievable 2008 season, which was in by no manner short on thrills, the 2009 college football season is nearly upon us. Training camps are into high gear, and the season is roughly a month away. Recently the Preseason Coach’s Polls were released, with the top of the rankings looking very familiar to their predecessor. Defending National Champion Florida is sitting at number one, with Texas and Oklahoma sitting squarely behind at two and three, with USC and Alabama filling out the remainder of the Top-10. All five of these teams are loaded, and it is a very real possibility that one of these five teams will be the BCS National Champion of 2009. So with that said, let’s take a look at each of the Top-25 teams, and see what 2009 may have in store for them.

1.) Florida Gators

After winning their second BCS Championship in the last three years, Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, and the Florida Gators look to add another one to the trophy case. Doing so will arguably make them team of the decade, which most would hardly argue with. Florida has 20 returning starters, and one of the finest recruiting classes in the country, which make for another run for a title very, very possible. Their schedule isn’t near ly as difficult as it was the previous year, with the only real challenge coming when they travel to Death Valley to meet LSU. Seriously though, we could be witnessing history when it’s all said and done. Tebow could win his second Heisman, and the Gators could win their third BCS Championship in four years. So, 2009 could very well feel like its predecessor, because the Gators are once again the team to watch, and the team that probably won’t get beat.

2.) Texas Longhorns

After defeating Oklahoma last year, the Texas Longhorns were denied a spot in the National Championship Game. As a consolation prize, they had to settle for besting Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, which isn’t bad either. However, that is the past, and Mack Brown and Colt McCoy are shooting for the moon, as they look to be playing in Pasadena come January. McCoy was outstanding last year, and is now protected by a bigger, more experienced line, which should open holes for a better running game. At times last year, McCoy had to run the ball too often, but that shouldn’t be the case this year. Defensively, there will be changeover as the Longhorns lose a number of defensive linemen from a unit that accumulated a nation-best 47 sacks. With all that said though it’s going to come down to the game in Dallas where their rivalry with Oklahoma will reconvene. The winner of that game will almost guaranteed a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

3.) Oklahoma Sooners

Despite coming up short in the BCS Championship Game, the Oklahoma Sooners are poised to make another run at that crown. Bob Stoops has reigning-Heisman winner Sam Bradford behind center once again, and deep backfield, the best tight end in the country, and a number of blazers at the receiver positions. The defense is back intact too, with better depth, and more experience from a unit that was the team’s weakness a season ago. They allowed too many big plays in 2008, and need to be better in 2009 if they wish to get to Pasadena this January. The most important thing for stoops to attend to is the offensive line, which returns just one starter from last years group, which was scary-good. Bradford was rarely touched last year, but he might have to get his jersey dirty this season.

4.) USC Trojans

It was business as usual for Pete Carroll and the Trojans in 2008, as they won their fourth consecutive Rose Bowl, and finished in the AP Top-4 for the seventh straight season. This was tempered a bit by their loss at Oregon State, which ultimately kept them from competing for a BCS Championship. The unexpected loss of quarterback Mark Sanchez would seem like an issue, but for a program that is as loaded like USC, there are a number of very capable passers just waiting to step up. They have a very experienced, deep offensive line, and the best skill position players in the nation, so whoever is behind center should fair very well. The defense, which was historically great last season, lost a number of playmakers, particularly the linebackers, but has more than enough talent in waiting to plug the holes. The Trojans will challenge for another National Championship, but they will probably end up in their fifth consecutive Rose Bowl, which really isn’t all that bad.

5.) Alabama Crimson Tide

In just his second season as the headman in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban kept the Crimson Tide atop the BCS standings for the majority of the season. However their last two games weren’t that savory. Alabama fell to eventual National Champion Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and was then embarrassed by Utah in the Sugar Bowl. What Saban doesn’t have this year is an experienced quarterback, but he’s got just about everything else covered. The defense will be a monster, and the skill positions, and special teams are dynamic. It shouldn’t be overlooked that the Tide lost three starters on the offensive line, which was arguably the best in the nation last year. Alabama doesn’t face Florida in the regular season, and another Top-10 finish is very likely for the highest-paid coach in college football.

6.) Ohio State Buckeyes

Last year was a bit of a transition for the Buckeyes, who handed the reigns over to super-frosh Terrelle Pryor early in the season. Pryor had his ups and downs, but the dual-threat quarterback is the firm starter in 2009, and its a matter of time before we start to see the consistency he lacked last season. When this happens, look out. What could hold him back is inexperience at the skill positions. Both leading receivers are gone, and punishing back Beanie Wells is too. The offensive line needs tinkering with as well, especially at left tackle. Think replacing all of that is bad, then take a look at the defense, which won’t be as polished or as deep as it was last season. Let’s not forget about the looming matchup with USC in the Horseshoe, for the Trojans annihilated the Buckeye’s a season ago. There are also road games at Penn State and Michigan and this could be a challenging season for Ohio State. But you know what? I got a feeling that Jim Tressel and Pryor are up to the task.

7.) Virginia Tech Hokies

Could it be that Virginia Tech once again looks to be the class of the ACC? Even after a supposed rebuilding season, the Hokies were able to muster another appearance in the Orange Bowl, where they thumped Big East Champion Cincinnati. Sophomore Tyrod Tyler is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, while Frank Beamer will benefit form having 17 starters return from last year’s unit. Taylor’s ability to break down a defense with his feet makes us reminisce to the day’s of another Hokies passer, while a deep staple of running backs should give Beamer the luxury of being able to run the ball on just about anyone. The offensive line is arguably the ACC’s best as well. The only real issue for Virginia Tech is the inexperience of the defense. With that said though, they are still oozing with talent. We’ll see just how good these Hokies are early because they’ll open their season against Alabama in Atlanta, which is no easy task.

8.) Penn State Nittany Lions

2008 nearly became Joe Paterno’s ride into the sunset, as the Nittany Lions’ flirted with the number one ranking in the country all the way into late November, before they fell on the road at Iowa. Despite that shortcoming they managed to win their second Big Ten Championship in the last four years. Leadership is something that Penn State has returning this year, which is a very good thing. Dynamic quarterback Daryll Clark is back for one more season, while linebacker Sean Lee leads an always-imposing defense. The problem for Paterno could lie with the departure of three big time receivers, as well as two of his top offensive lineman. That considered, it would be unrealistic for the Lions to put up the staggering amount of points that they did a season ago. They do however have a very easy non-conference schedule, and get Ohio State at home this season as well. Look for Penn State to challenge for another Big Ten crown, with another ten-win season in the cards.

9.) LSU Tigers

Despite a season that saw them get thumped by both Georgia and Florida in ridiculous fashion, the LSU Tigers closed out their title defense with a very impressive demolition of Georgia Tech in their bowl game. From that game came the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who will be expected to take the Tigers back to the top of the BCS ladder. His improvement could give LSU what they need to vault past Alabama in the SEC West. Les miles has the conference’s best group of running backs and receivers at his disposal so expect this unit to fly. The only things that could slow the Tigers down for an eventual meeting with the gators in Atlanta is the fact that they lack experience on the defensive front, and that their chief competition in the conference, Alabama and Mississippi, don’t have to play Florida.

10.) Mississippi Rebels

Before Houston Nutt took the Job in Mississippi, the Rebels were winless in the SEC. In his first season, the reverend drove his team to five SEC wins, one of which came against Florida in the Swamp. They then finished up a six-game winning streak with a beat down of Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. So what will Nutt do for an encore? During that winning streak, quarterback Jevan Snead threw 16 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. Big things are expected out of the young passer, for he is probably the best pro prospect in the nation. Snead is surrounded by a fine collection of receivers and backs, one of which is Dexter McCluster. There are also 16 returning starters for the Rebels, which might just be enough to put them in their first-ever SEC Championship Game. But then again, that just might be a year away.

11.) Oklahoma State Cowboys

Look anywhere throughout this Top-25 Poll, and you’ll be hard pressed to find another team that has the firepower on offense that the Oklahoma State Cowboys have. Between quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys have arguably the best player at their respective position in the country. The problem though for Oklahoma State is that they are perennially one of the biggest risk/reward teams in the country. Yes they put up a lot of points and a massive amount of yards, but they don’t play much defense, which is the primary reason they haven’t overtaken Texas or Oklahoma in the Big 12 South. For example they scored 41 points against the Sooners, and still lost by three touchdowns. In fact, the Cowboys haven’t finished better than 74th in the nation in total defense since 2001. With that said, don’t expect them to overtake the giants of the conference until they find a way to stop their opposition.

12.) California Golden Bears

California has proven to be one of the most consistent programs I the nation since Jeff Tedford took over the job in 2002. If not for USC, they very well might have ended their lengthy 51-year Rose Bowl draught by now. With USC reloading, this may be the year for the golden Bears or maybe not. California was hit hard by the draft losing six starters to the NFL, and needs to find a quarterback. There are 15 starters coming back from a nine-win season, so there is quality depth for the Bears. Tedford has been a wizard when it has come to developing quarterbacks in the past, but Kevin Riley has yet to take the proper steps towards making Cal one of the nation’s elite. He doesn’t have much help in the passing game both as the receiving corps hasn’t matured and lacks experience. What Tedford does have though, is arguably the most explosive running back in the country, in the form of Jahvid Best. Best averaged 8.8 yards per carry a season ago, despite dealing with injuries late in the season. He was so explosive, that he had seven rushes of at least 60 yards in 2008. If Cal does in fact overtake USC this season, best will be the catalyst. However if Riley can’t take the next step forward, neither will Cal.

13.) Georgia Bulldogs

This time last season the Georgia Bulldogs were a lot higher on this list. In fact, they were the Preseason Number One in 2008. Well, that was not to be as Mark Richt’s unit finished at a very respectable 10-3. Now Mathew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno are gone, leaving a number of talented players to fill the roles of the former stars. Richt has recruited well, and the offensive line is a much more experienced group than they were a year ago. The Bulldog’s fortunes could rest on the arm of quarterback Joe Cox, who has had experience in the past as the starting quarterback. The defense should be strong once more, with defensive tackle Jeff Owens returning from a knee injury which sidelined him all of 2008. The Dawgs will open up the season at Oklahoma State, and will eventually have to endure the rigors of the SEC, which is no walk in the park. Still, Georgia has yet to finish outside of the Top-25 under Richt’s watch; so nine wins shouldn’t be a stretch for the Bulldogs.

14.) Oregon Ducks

Changeover is the theme in Oregon, as Mike Bellotti is no longer roaming the sideline in Eugene. Former offensive coordinator Chip Kelly was elevated to the position, as the Ducks look to capitalize on USC going through a change in passers (for what that’s worth). Kelly’s “read-option” offense has the pote ntial to be explosive, and with Jeremiah Masoli running the show, a third consecutive Top-10 finish in total offense is very possible. Masoli, who won the job amidst multiple injuries, rushed for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008, and looks to take the Ducks back to the top of the polls. What could hinder them from doing so is the fact that there are only 10 returning starters on this year’s team, which is the lowest in the conference. Oregon also gets a tough test to open the season, as they travel to Boise, Idaho, to take on the 16th ranked Broncos on the blue turf. However when it comes to conference play, the Ducks will host both USC and Cal this season. Ten wins and a Rose Bowl bid could be very probable for the Ducks in 2009.

15.) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Paul Johnson’s first year at the helm at Georgia Tech was truly an impressive one. He brought his famed “triple option” offense to the ACC with fantastic results. The Yellow Jackets put up ten wins in 2008, and 17 starters back on both sides of the ball, including ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer and dual-threat quarterback Josh Nesbitt. Nesbitt suffered a balky shoulder towards the end of the previous season but has looked great thus far in camp. Besides he’s just as dangerous a threat on the ground as any of the other four running backs that Johnson has in his arsenal. One thing that Johnson must address however is the defensive line, which lost all four starters from a very stellar unit. If they can fill the holes left on that defensive front, we could be looking at a team that is primed to join the ranks of the nation’s elite.

16.) Boise State Broncos

If not for a 17-16 loss at the hands of TCU, the Boise State Broncos would have been joined Utah as the only undefeated team in the nation. With that performance aside, the broncos averaged 49 points per game, and did so with a freshman quarterback and 11 different starting combinations on the offensive line. The experience gained by Kellen Moore coupled with continuity up front should make Boise once again one of the most prominent offenses in the country. What could stifle them though is the fact that they only have one returning starter on defense to start the season. That shouldn’t be too big of a concern, for the Broncos usually just outscore all their opponents anyway. With that said, we’ll know where they stand after their season-opening matchup with the 14th ranked Oregon Ducks on the blue turf in Boise.

17.) TCU Horned Frogs

Does anyone find it odd that there are there are three Mountain West Conference teams ranked in the Preseason Top-25? The winner of this conference has finished 16th or higher in the polls in each of the last 5 years, two of which they finished 2nd and 4th. Well it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first of these teams, TCU is occupying this spot. The Horned Frogs have been no stranger to the polls over the last 5 years, and look poised to be there once more. There is experience and efficiency at quarterback with Andy Dalton, and perennially one of the nastiest defenses in the nation. The Horned frogs haven’t allowed more than 18.7 points and 330 yards per game in each of the last four seasons. What could hinder them though is that they only have 4 returning starters on that side of the ball, but one of them is defensive end Jerry Hughes who posted 15 sacks and 6 forced fumbles in 2008. They also get two solid no conference games to start the season, opening up at Virginia before facing Clemson in Week 3. Look for TCU to win their first MWC Championship since 2005.

18.) Utah Utes

After finishing the season as the only undefeated team in the nation, it was understandable as to why the Utah Utes had such a gripe with the BCS. They finished ranked 2nd in the nation, after overwhelming the powerful Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. However with great success apparently comes great departures, as Utah must replace both coordinators, their best offensive player (quarterback Brian Johnson), best defensive player (defensive end Paul Kruger), and the best combo kicker in the nation (Louie Sakoda). While they may not be BCS-caliber, they still have the potential of making headway, as they have three tough road games at Oregon, TCU, and BYU, which will go a long way in determining where they will be at the end of the season.

19.) Florida State Seminoles

With a cheating scandal hanging over their heads which could possibly cost Bobby Bowden to vacate a number of wins from a few seasons ago, their was one good thing to come out of 2008 for the Seminoles; they found a quarterback. Ponder proved to be an outstanding athlete that took to playing the position well last season, but Florida State will now need him to take the next step if they want to get back to the days of dominance in the 90’s. Bowden wants to run the ball, and it looks like this season he just may have the offensive line to do it. The defense looks to be up to the school’s lofty standards again, but the special teams unit leaves a lot to be desired. The Seminoles open the season up against Miami at home, and have tough road games against both North Carolina and Florida to close out the season. With all that said, 2009 is all about Ponder, and whether or not he can take this team to the next level, because if he can’t, we could be looking at the end of an era in Tallahassee.

20.) North Carolina Tar Heels

With the ACC throne figuratively vacant at the moment, the North Carolina Tar Heels could be the team that vacates that position. Butch Davis has quietly built a monster, which very well could explode this season. The defense returns 9 starters, four of which comprise a defensive line that has the potential to be dominant. The Tar Heels are solid at quarterback with T.J. Yates, but must find a way to replace arguably the most explosive receiving corps in the conference, which featured first round pick Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate. The backfield could be explosive though. The only other real possible obstacle for North Carolina is ironically the health of Yates, who missed time last season with a broken ankle, and even suffered a thumb injury catching a Frisbee in the spring. Look for the Tar Heels to improve on their previous 8-5 campaign, but don’t be surprised if Davis and company are still just one year away.

21.) Iowa Hawkeyes

After being a surprise contender in the Big Ten last season, Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeye’s must find a way to replace all the things that made them great last year. They must find a replacement for rugged running back Shonn Greene, who rushed for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead the conference. They must also find replacements for both the interiors of the offensive and defensive lines. The defense does return 8 starters, and if they can muster the type of performance they did a season before where they held the opposition to just 13.0 points per game, then Ferentz could really have something brewing. What he absolutely needs more than anything is for quarterback Ricky Stanzi to take the next step forward, after the first-time starter had an impressive first season at the helm. Stanzi was key in IowaâEUR(TM)s upset of undefeated Penn State as he engineered the game-winning drive. How he handles more of the load this season will go a long way in determining Iowa’s success in 2009.

22.) Nebraska Cornhuskers

The rebuilding process that second-year Head Coach Bo Pelini is amidst in Nebraska is proving to be a tedious one, but after an 8-4 regular season, the Huskers pulled a nice upset of Clemson in the Gator Bowl to build some momentum going into 2009. The talks of a revival should simmer down a bit, or at least until Nebraska makes it out of the first month of the season, which features games at 7th ranked Virginia Tech and Missouri. Winning the Big 12 North however is very possible for the Huskers; especially with Missouri likely taking a step back this season. Pelini will have to coax steady play out of junior quarterback Zac Lee, who is taking over for the productive Joe Ganz. Remember, Nebraska has played in only one Big 12 Championship Game in the last 10 years.

23.) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish were 7-6 a season ago, and won their first bowl game in what seems like ages. Things are definitely looking up for Notre Dame in 2009, and their ranking in this very poll is evidence of that. They may not be contenders for the BCS Title, but the Fighting Irish definitely look like they can win ten games this season. First and foremost Jimmy Clausen and the offense look like they finally have experience to put up huge numbers. Charlie Weis has the kind of depth at receiver and running back that he hasn’t had since his first season with the Irish. The defense has been making strides too, as they could field possibly one of the best secondaries in the nation. However, there are question marks across both the offensive and defensive lines, where experience is sorely lacking. The kicking games are suspect as well. The overriding factor though may be the schedule; for the Irish face all of their tough opponents at home, and with the exception of USC, they’re all very beatable.

24.) BYU Cougars

Last season, BYU reached as high as 10th in the polls before falling to the bottom of the Top-25 after losses to both TCU and Utah. For all the boasting that they were a Top-25 caliber team, they were a combined 49 points worse than their two superior conference counterparts. Fortunately, they have just about all of their explosive offense back intact; quarterback Max Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta, and running back Harvey Unga, who will be responsible for lighting up score boards this fall. This year they get both Utah and TCU at home, as well as Florida State, which could cement the Cougars into the Top-25 this season, and possibly give them a different destination come bowl season aside from the Las Vegas Bowl. They will however, get a test of epic proportions to start the season as they take on 3rd ranked Oklahoma on a neutral field in Arlington, Texas.

25.) Oregon State Beavers

After pulling the upset of season in knocking off number-one ranked USC, the Oregon State Beavers fell one game short of their first Pac Ten Title since 2000. In 2009 for the Beavers to contend, they will have to rely on their offense, and the game-breaking talents of twin brothers Jaquizz and James Rodgers. These two tailbacks are electrifying, and are the prime reason why they were able to upset the Trojans last year. There is however a bit of a quarterback controversy brewing in Corvallis as Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao battle it out. The offensive line will be revamped, but the real questions are on defense, where there are only three returning starters. Rebuilding a defense tends to lead to trouble, and the Beavers must replace their entire secondary. There will also be three new defensive lineman on the front as well, so the defense could be a major detriment for the beavers in 2009.

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