LSU Helmet #10)LSU
Former Oklahoma State coach Les Miles has big shoes to fill in replacing Nick Saban. JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn will batlle for the starting quarterback job, with freshman phenom Ryan Perrilloux not far behind. Last year's freshman standouts, speedy receivers Early Doucet and Xavier Carter, will compete for the starting roles and a veteran pen of tailbacks will share the load. The defensive will have to replace star cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels, as well as defensive end Marcus Spears. But the defensive line will be the strength returning three starting seniors. Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini from Oklahoma has his work cut out for him. The away schedule is weak this year, but the Tigers get Florida, Tennessee, Arizona State and Auburn at home in a little over a month.
Virginia Tech Helmet #12)Virginia Tech
And so begins the second era of Vick....Marcus Vick that is. If Marcus is half as good as Michael was, a second ACC title is not that far fetched. However, lost in the hype may be the lack of leadership left after Bryan Randall graduated. Mike Imoh is the perfect Hokie running back, combining both power and speed rushing. Last year's defense was a veteran squad who finished the year by shutting down the Auburn offense in a close Sugar Bowl loss. This year, the defense has five new starters, but coordinator Bud Foster always manages to find new leaders to build around. Linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi are monsters in the middle and cornerback Jimmy Williams has shut down potential. Tough road games at Virgina and West Virginia will be tough, but the showdown with Miami will tell the tale.
FSU Helmet #14)FSU
This school, which was once a superior offensive machine, is in desperate need of talent at the quarterback position. Wyatt Sexton looks to be the favorite to start, but Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford have greater upside and brighter futures. Leon Washington returns from an injury plagued season and the wide receiver core has been totally rebuilt starting with blue chip recruit Fred Rouse. The offensive line has a hole, a big hole. Alex Barron created pocket protection that made Chris Rix look good at times. The defense will be one of the nation's best as usual, even with the loss of defensive tackle Travis Johnson. Opening day against Miami at Doak will tell the tale of the 2005 Seminoles. If they get past the Canes, the only thing standing in their way is a battle with the Gators at The Swamp.
Fresno St. Helmet #16)Fresno St.
This spot is reserved for the winner of the Boise State, Fresno State game, but lets call Fresno the favorite. The offense returns nine starters and the defense seven. The team finished last year strong with a bowl win over then ranked Virginia. Despite a less than impressive run defense which won't be helped by the loss of three linemen, the linebacking corps will be explosive. Quarterback Paul Pinegar needs to capitalize off the running game of the two-headed monster, Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis, both 1,000 yard rushers in 2004. There is no doubt this is coach Pat Hill's best team yet. Besides a tough road game with USC, this year comes down to November 11, when Boise State comes to Bulldog Stadium.
Ohio St. Helmet #11)Ohio St.
Many early polls have Ohio State ahead of Michigan and Iowa, but that depends on how quarterback Troy Smith handles one of the nation's toughest schedules. The defensive roster reads like an All-American candidate list, but the offense has holes. The strength will be wide receiver, where Heisman candidate Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes Jr. are the leaders. Ginn is an all purpose player who played both ways last year. If he doesn't score on defense or as a receiver, he does on special teams as the kick and punt returner. The biggest loss this offseason was kicker Mike Nugent, who is considered a possible first round draft pick. The schedule features Texas, Michigan, Iowa, Penn. State and Minnesota, all considered ranked teams by different polls. It could happen, but not likely.
Oklahoma Helmet #13)Oklahoma
Another quarterback controversy. Who replaces Heisman winner Jason White? And that's not even the biggest problem on offense. The line is all but gone, both receivers and a quarterback. The answer...Adrian Peterson. If there is one man who can carry an entire offense on his back it's him. The defense will rebound like they always do, even with the loss of co-coordinators Mike Stoops and Bo Pelini and seven starters. Junior linebacker Rufus Alexander is the next in agreat line and defensive linemen Dusty Dvoracek and Davin Joseph will be Lombardi Award candidates. The road schedule is weak, except their trip to UCLA (Upset Special?) This should be the year Texas beats the Sooners, but don't ever count out Bob Stoops. Three losses in a down year would be respectable.
Texas A&M Helmet #15)Texas A&M
Reggie McNeal finally lived up to his potential last year and seems primed for a Heisman caliber season. Dennis Franchione, who has been on everyone's hot seat recently is out from under that burden, at least until the Aggies implode. The defense should be solid, even after losing both cornerbacks. The front seven is the strength and the pass defense will be a huge weakness if someone doesn't fill Byron Jones' shoes. Tailback Courtney Lewis should get more touches this year to help take the pressure off McNeal and open up the passing attack. With Lewis and McNeal running the ball, the Aggies are likely to lead the conference in rushing. Ending the year with Texas and Oklahoma back to back is deadly, especially when their biggest game, at Texas Tech, is the lead in.
Purdue Helmet #17)Purdue
Brandon Kirsch takes over for Kyle Orton, who took over for Drew Brees. Huge shoes to fill. Kirsch played well last year when Orton was injured, but he will have to be better. The youthful secondary was 89th in pass defense last year, but experience and a long spring is likely to turn that around. Ray Williams will have to replace Taylor Stubblefield as Kirsch's go-to-guy. Playing with a new right side of the offensive line may be tricky against the stingey Big Ten defenses. On defense, this team returns the house. The conferences most experienced defense will gobble up opposing rushers and quarterbacks. The schedule begs this team to overachieve with the toughest road game at Minnesota. Besides that, a win over Iowa and yet another Big Ten team is vying for the conference title.