UCLA Helmet #18)UCLA
After some dissappointing years at the helm, Drew Olson gives way to former BYU stud recruit Ben Olson. His biggest and best target will be tight end Marcedes Lewis, who could be the nation's best at his position. Junior running back Maurice Drew will try to capitalize on a full season by surpassing his 1,000 yard partial season from 2004. Last year's herd of injured defensive players return including the entire linebacking corps. The young defensive line gets one year older and is not likely to finish dead last in the Pac-10 in run defense this year. The Bruins' schedule is a monster, including home games with Oklahoma, California and Arizona State. If they win one of those three, then their final game at USC might be a chance for a big upset. This team will only get better in years to come.
California Helmet #20)California
With the offensive talent in the Pac-10, pass defense is very important and Cal will need to improve theirs. The run defense was second in the nation last year and returning starters Brandon Mebane and Tosh Lupoi should be enough to keep it that way. Losing Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Arrington, and your top two receivers in the same year is tough, but Cal is deep enough to make up for a little of that offense. Jeff Tedford is on his third grooming mission with quarterback Joseph Ayoob, another junior college transfer. It may take some time, but I have learned not to doubt Tedford's ability with QBs. The Pac-10 is tough this year, but Cal misses Arizona St. However, games at UCLA and home for USC will be too much for a new offense to handle.
Bowling Green Helmet #22)Bowling Green
Playing in one of the weaker Division IA conferences, the MAC, Bowling Green has a chance to be this season's Cinderella. The team features an all-American caliber quarterback in Omar Jacobs who passed for 5 touchdowns in his last game, and two dynamic backs in P.J. Pope and B.J. Lane, who rushed for nearly 200 yards in the GMAC Bowl. The secondary will have to be almost totally rebuilt, but the defense should be solid. Head coach Gregg Brandon is going for his fourth nationally ranked season in four years as coach. That task will be easier this year now that UCF and Marshall have left for Conference-USA. September boasts away games at Wisconsin and Boise State. The Falcons should easily run over a Badger team which is rebuilding, but Boise State will be the make or break game.
Georgia Helmet #24)Georgia
The underachievers are gone and a new era begins for Mark Richt's Dawgs. D.J. Shockley will finally get a chance to shine in Athens with receivers Sean Bailey and Bryan McClendon replacing Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown and star tight end Leonard Pope returning. Starting cornerbacks Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter will be able to shutdwon the passing game, but the run defense will be suspect due to losses at linebacker and on the defensive line. This team can easily sneak into an SEC title game if any of the above teams underachieve. However, an opener against Boise State is nothing to laugh at. Add that to a full blown SEC schedule which includes 5 or 6 possibly ranked teams and this could be a really bad year for the Dawgs.
Pittsburgh Helmet #19)Pittsburgh
Quarterback Tyler Palko and wide receiver Greg Lee are a dangerous tandem. Pittsburgh will once again field a running back by committee backfield, but if one of them can step up and have a break out year this could be an explosive offense. Palko threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdown passes in his first year. Dave Wannstedt will have to rebuild a depleted defensive line and a suspect secondary missing its star player, Tyrone Gilliard. Wannstedt will have a bevy of linebackers to clog the middle and run down opposing quarterbacks. Road games at Nebraska, and West Virginia will be tough as well as the possible Big East title showdown at Louisville. The most interesting game however, is the opener with Notre Dame. Wannstedt versus Charlie Weis.
Boston College Helmet #21)Boston College
Last year ended on a dissapointing note, with the loss to Syracuse knocking Boston College out of BCS contention. The spring battle for the starting quarterback job between senior Quinton Porter and Sophmore Matthew Ryan is heating up. Ryan lacks the experience that Porter gained from ten starts in 2003, but his play in the spring game may have turned the tables. However, the offense isn't this teams strong side. The defense is missing three starters, including two from its defensive line. But Big East Defensive Player of the Year Mathias Kiwanuka is back and his prescence will fill the void. The Eagles first ACC schedule is missing games against Miami and Georgia Tech which should help. However, the in-conference shcedule will be harder than ever.
Texas Tech Helmet #23)Texas Tech
With the early cupcake schedule, the Red Raiders should be 6-0 heading into the Texas game. Every year another Texas Tech quarterback throws for 3,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns, but this team never seems to win. If Tech scores 106, the other team will score 107, and they don't even need a good offense to do it. There is one thing that has always plagued Tech and that is their inability to close out games and put teams away. The reason for this is their lack of a run defense. If Cody Hodges continues to play like all other Tech quarterbacks do, and the defense can stop the likes of Adrian Peterson and Vince Young, than there is a chance for a big year. However, Texas, A & M, Okie State, and Oklahoma in one month spells trouble.
Penn State Helmet #25)Penn St.
Joe Paterno might not have a National Championship caliber team, but he does have something. That's why JoePa is my sleeper of the year. For this to work, quarterback Michael Robinson needs to step up and become a leader or hand the reins to Anthony Morelli. The offense has been pathetic for too many years now, averaging only 17 points a game in 2004. The defense on the other hand was phenominal, holding opponents to 15 points per game and just 290 yards. It looked like for a while JoePa was going to run away with the all-time wins record, but Bobby Bowden proved me wrong. If they beat Ohio State (Upset Special?), watch out for this team to do some damage. Three losses would be great, but four is more likely.