Friday, September 01, 2006

College Madness: The Preseason Top 10
By Ben Valentine

Strike up the marching band because it’s that time of year again. College football has returned.

The season opened up Thursday, though no one of real note was in action. The real fun begins this weekend culminating in a game which could go a long way to deciding a conference; Florida State v. Miami on Labor Day night. As usual we can expect plenty of twists, turns and plenty of BCS controversy by the last week in October. And while most college football top tens are useless at this point in the season since most are just going off scouting reports, last year’s team and school rep, I decided to honor the start of the 2006 campaign with a top 10 of my own.

However, I didn’t rank the teams on who I thought was the best. Instead I ranked them based on where I thought they’d finish. Some might quibble with for example, where I put the West Virginia Mountaineers. However their schedule is a joke and as a result, they shouldn’t lose any more than one game. If you go undefeated you’ve got a shot at the National Title game.

In any case here’s my top 10. Feel free to chastise me all you like.

#1- Ohio State: I hate the Buckeyes, but I love QB Troy Smith as a college player. He destroyed a Notre Dame defense even more than Vince Young lit up USC. If Tressel sticks with him, they’re going to be hard to beat. The defense has questions after losing players like LBs AJ Hawk and Bobby Carpenter to the draft but Ohio State is never short of replacements. They might struggle early, but figure the offense does enough to win them games. It almost did last year. Remember if Smith is on the field for that whole game against Texas, it’s Ohio State in Pasadena, not the Longhorns.

#2- Miami: This year people are starting them off low; some even think that Florida State is better. Don’t buy into the hype. The Canes were young last year and had some growing up to do. A tough schedule is an issue, circle Florida State and at Louisville as season making games, but last year this team had the talent to beat anyone on any given Saturday, including USC or Texas. This year they’ll bring it all together. Or Larry Coker will have to find himself a new job.

#3- West Virginia: HB Steve Slaton gets much of the talk but QB Pat White has all the makings of a scary college QB; if he can learn to throw the ball efficiently. With a joke schedule, all the Mountaineers have to do is beat Louisville. Not as easy as it sounds though; Louisville will be good and the game is in their place. Of course, they beat a heavily favored Georgia, in the Georgia Dome so they can win on the road.

#4- Texas: They have loads of talent as usual, but people need to realize how important Vince Young was last year. The guy put up 400 yards against the top ranked team in the national championship game. That’s 400 yards by himself! There’s no way Texas can replace that type of player in one season. They’ll be helped by a weak Big 12, but against a top team, they’re toast.

#5-LSU: I never liked the SEC, but over the last two years I’ve had to admit it’s the best conference without question in college football. While most of the others run one or two deep tops, there at least four teams in the SEC that can beat you on any given day. LSU had to overcome a great deal of difficulty last year after first losing their coach to the NFL and then Hurricane Katrina. Despite that, they went 11-2. This year they’ll have to make without players like HB Joseph Addai, who has left for the NFL but like many top programs, that just opens up spots for talented underclassmen (Justin Vincent?). QB JaMarcus Russell will likely be the key to their offense. They probably have the most talent in the SEC. But in with their grueling in conference schedule, they’ll need every bit of it.

#6-USC: Remember when the Trojans lost Carson Palmer to the NFL a few years back? People wondered how they’d manage. Well… they did… somehow. Not saying that John David Booty will be the next great USC QB, but everyone always talks about how deep they are at the position. It’s impossible to replace Reggie Bush and LenDale White but the Trojans still have their talented WR core, so they can always let it fly early on while finding their feature back. Plus they don’t figure to face much of a challenge until an October date with Arizona State and that’s at home. Their opener against Arkansas on the road might be dicey, but one figures the talent will win out there. Their losses on the O-Line will hurt them in a big spot down the road, possibly in a bowl game. But they should be in the top ten the whole year.

#7- Notre Dame: The beginning of their schedule is a nightmare; the end a joke. If they can get through only losing one of their first four, they’ll be fine. Watch out for that last game at USC… those young players will be veterans by the time that game rolls around. Brady Quinn has to show he can do it against a real team before I consider him Heisman quality. Where was he against the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl? Oh yeah and that defense still can’t stop anyone good.

#8- Louisville: It’s all about QB Brian Brohm. This is a solid team that can win the Big East and make a BCS bowl if Brohm is over his knee injury from last year. He’s supposedly ahead of schedule, which is a good sign for the Cardinals. Their season comes down to two games; both at home; Miami and West Virginia. Also they must be careful with the Pittsburgh Panthers late in the season, as they are on the road for that one. And with the Panthers’ easy schedule, they figure to be in the hunt for a Big East title.

#9- Auburn: The SEC strikes again. The Tigers lost three significant players off their offense in 2005. In a tough SEC that was going to doom them. This year they can make a run, though the conference is the reason why they probably aren’t a legit national title contender. Let’s face it, it’s better to play one tough opponent and lose none than play four and lose two.

#10- Oregon Ducks: They went 10-2 last year and were snubbed from the BCS game. This year the Pac-10 is very much up for grabs with the USC losses and the Ducks should be considered very much in the mix. After losing last year’s #1 QB Kellen Clemens to injury, they went undefeated until a late fourth quarter loss to Oklahoma in the Holliday Bowl, so one figures their signal calling position should be secure. It could well repeat as a two QB rotation like last year, but again, it did work out well. The defense is a concern, but it wasn’t exactly good last year either and the team was 10-2. They figure to climb the polls slowly, as this school never gets any respect.

So as you might guess, I’m a believer in an Ohio State/Miami Fiesta Bowl; aka the rematch of 2002. Of course that is too perfect, so it’ll probably end up being Ohio State and Florida, two teams I absolutely can’t stand.

Oh well, we’ll see. As college football fans well know, in this short 11-12 game season, anything can happen.

And it probably will.

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