1 - Florida
Pros: Heisman Trophy winner QB Tim Tebow is back. So is Percy Harvin, who can produce as a rusher or a wide receiver. They add in USC transfer RB Emmanuel Moody and the top rated incoming JUCO player WR Carl Moore, both of whom could start right away. MLB Brandon Spikes became a defensive force last season as a sophomore, as he was all over the field making plays. Look for another huge season from him. A lot of underclassmen played last season, especially on defense, so this team will have a lot of starting experience.
Cons: The Gators must replace DE Derrick Harvey, a first round draft choice, and WR Andre Caldwell, the team's third all-time leading receiver and third rounder. The running backs are still unproven, and Urban Meyer wants one of them to step up to take the rushing load off Tebow. No seniors are starting on defense; seven of the starters will be sophomores. The secondary in particular looks young.
Schedule: The non-conference games shouldn't pose any problems. The Gators can beat Hawaii and the Citadel with their eyes closed, Miami isn't an elite team anymore, and going to Florida State is the biggest test, although Florida beat them by 33 points last season. The only tough conference road game is at Tennessee, but they get a bye the prior week. LSU and South Carolina both have to come to Gainesville. The most likely landmine is playing Georgia at Jacksonville, in a game that will have huge national title implications. They will have to win the SEC Championship game to get to BCS title game.
Conclusion: The Gators have the schedule, the talent, and the head coach to go undefeated. If this team plays up to its potential, they could be unstoppable. The Florida Gators are my pick for the 2008 National Champions.
2 - Oklahoma
Pros: QB Sam Bradford returns and led the NCAA in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman last season. The offensive line has five returning senior starters of one of the best lines in the country last year. Running back DeMarco Murray should have a huge season. Reception leader Juaquin Iglesias returns for his senior season. The defensive line will be one of the best in the country.
Cons: WR Malcolm Kelly was the big-play guy, but he is off to the NFL. So are CB Reggie Smith and LB Curtis Lofton, the team's top tackler. The defensive back seven is young and inexperienced, which could be a problem when playing against Texas and Texas Tech.
Schedule: Outside of the opener against Chattanooga, the non-conference slate isn't bad, but none of the teams (Cincinnati, Washington, TCU) are on Oklahoma's level. They miss Missouri from the North, but are likely to see them in the Big XII Championship game. The three conference home games are rough against Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas Tech, but the Sooners always play well at home. The toughest game might be against Texas in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas.
Conclusion: Oklahoma's problem last season was not showing up to every game, especially ones on the road. They were 2-2 in conference road games (including against Texas in Dallas) and the two wins were only by 7 and 10 points. They won the Big XII Championship game with ease, but then mailed it in for the bowl game. If this team stays hungry throughout the entire season, they should win every game.
3 - USC
Pros: Top talent exists at every position in the roster. QB John David Booty is gone, but Mark Sanchez and/or Mitch Mustain should be able to step in and shine right away. The running backs should be one of the best groups in the country with Joe McKnight and Stanley Havili in their second seasons, and a full year of sophomore CJ Gable (redshirt last year.) The defense should again be top-notch, led by LB Rey Mauluga.
Cons: Ten players were drafted, including seven in the first two rounds. That type of production is always hard to replace even at USC. The offensive line only has one starter returning. The wide receivers didn't play up to their potential last season, and the top leader in receptions, yardage and TDs was TE Fred Davis who is off to the NFL. This team doesn't look as good as last year's version.
Schedule: USC doesn't look like the third best team in the country, but they do have a schedule to go undefeated. In the best non-conference game of the year, they play Ohio State in Week 3. They get that game at home and have a bye week prior to prepare. If they win, they won't be tested as hard again all season. All of the other tough teams have to come to the Coliseum: Oregon, Arizona State, California, and Notre Dame. At UCLA to end the season is the toughest road game, although they should be very careful when going to Stanford.
Conclusion: USC has a great opportunity with a good schedule and a conference in a down year to make it to the Rose Bowl or BCS Championship game. Last year, they screwed up against Stanford and lost at Oregon to one of the best teams in the country with a strong home-field advantage. Hosting Ohio State and Oregon this season gives the Trojans an excellent shot at going undefeated, even if they aren't as good as seasons past.
4 - Ohio State
Pros: All of the starters return on offense except for the RT. RB Beanie Wells should have another huge season and is a Heisman Trophy candidate. QB Tood Boeckman is in his second season as a starter, and he will be backed up by the #1 high school recruit in the country Terrelle Pryor. Look for Pryor to get some playing time to give the Buckeyes a different and more mobile look. The defense returns nine starters and will be led by MLB James Laurinaitis, who won the Butkas Award last season.
Cons: The three lost starters were all drafted, including #6 overall DE Vernon Gohlston. Pryor's effectiveness is hard to predict since he is a true freshman. They have had trouble with teams that spread the ball, and more teams are moving to that type of offense.
Schedule: As mentioned earlier in the USC write-up, the Buckeyes and Trojans play in the non-conference game of the year. If Ohio State wins, it will give them a huge confidence boost and national credibility that has been lacking the past two seasons. The rest on the non-conference schedule is a breeze. They host Penn State and Michigan, but have to travel to Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois.
Conclusion: If they win the USC game, they will have a clear shot at running the table. It wouldn't surprise me, since this is a great Buckeye team, and the Trojans look a little down. One of the biggest things going against them is their national perception after losing back-to-back National Championship games. If three teams finish undefeated and Ohio State is one of them, I can almost guarantee that the Buckeyes will be the one left out.
5 - Georgia
Pros: The hottest team in the country over the second half of the season will look to build on that momentum this year. RB Knowshon Moreno was a breakout star last year, and it wouldn't surprise me if he were the second straight sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. QB Matt Stafford continues to improve, and his junior season should be his best yet. The defense returns nine starters and was one of the best in the SEC last season. The secondary in particular should be top-notch.
Cons: This team is very complete and only has a couple of question marks. The offensive line is very young and will start four sophomores. RB Thomas Moore is gone, so although they have several highly rated backups, there's no proven one for Moreno. Brandon Coutu was one of only two placekickers drafted, and he will be replaced by a true freshman.
Schedule: Simply put, this slate is killer. Early in the season, there are back-to-back road trips to South Carolina and Arizona State. Later in the season, there are four straight games away from Athens: at LSU, versus Florida in Jacksonville, at Kentucky, and then at Auburn. Getting through unscathed will be extremely tough. Don't forget about home dates against Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech. At least the first two games of the season against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan at home should be layups.
Conclusion: There's not a team in the country I would predict to go undefeated against that schedule. If I swapped the Bulldogs' schedule with any of the previous four teams' schedules, they would instantly vault to the top. Georgia should still have a great season, but they might not even win the SEC East.
6 - Missouri
Notes: The Tigers could be even better than last season and have a slightly easier schedule. QB Chase Daniel returns for his senior season and will be a Heisman Trophy candidate. WR/RB and returnman Jeremy Maclin was explosive last season and set the NCAA freshman record for all-purpose yards. They must find someone to be the feature running back and must replace their #2 WR and #1 TE, who were both drafted in the fourth round. They miss Oklahoma, but will probably see them in the Big XII Championship Game. The have to travel to Nebraska and Texas, plus neutral site games against Illinois and Kansas. This is probably another double-digit win team, but not good enough to win out. They have a good shot at making a BCS Bowl as an at-large selection if they don't win the Big XII.
7 - South Florida
Notes: This could be the season that South Florida truly breaks through and makes it to a BCS Bowl. The offense returns all the starters except for the RT. QB Matt Grothe continues to improve each season and is one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. The defense should be really fast and great at forcing turnovers (tied for #1 last season.) Secondary might be a little down with the loss of two shutdown corners to the NFL. The non-conference schedule isn't easy, but the Bulls should be able to win at UCF, against Kansas at home, and at NC State. There are tough conference road games at Louisville and Cincinnati, but it all feels like a leadup to a huge showdown at West Virginia in the finale. South Florida is definitely a 'dark horse' for the National Championship.
8 - Auburn
Notes: Auburn looks like the best team in the SEC West and has the schedule to run the table. The toughest conference games against LSU, Tennessee, and Georgia are all at home. The only tough road games are against West Virginia and Alabama. Their hardest game will be the SEC Championship game if they make it. Both the OC and DC were replaced, but the new OC coached in bowl game, and the new DC is from Pittsburgh who should down West Virginia last year.
9 - Texas Tech
Notes: Simply put, this is the best Texas Tech team ever. The offense returns ten starters, all but a WR. QB Graham Harrell is in his senior season and put up huge numbers last season (71.8%, 5705 yards, 48 TDs). WR Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award last season as a redshirt freshman and caught 22 TDs. All five starters return on the nation's biggest offensive line. The defense needs to improve since they were susceptible to giving up a lot of points (Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas) last year. The non-conference slate is a joke. They have to go to Oklahoma, which may decide the Big XII South. They host Nebraska and Texas and have back-to-back road games versus Texas A&M and Kansas, but this team is capable of winning all of those games. The chance at a National Championship will probably come down to the game at Oklahoma and the following Big XII Championship Game.
10 - West Virginia
Notes: QB Pat White returns for his senior season and is a Heisman Trophy candidate. RB Noel Devine should continue on his explosive freshman season. The offensive line has five returning starters and is one of the best in the country. The running game might struggle some with the loss of Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt. I'm not convinced Devine can be a feature back, so someone new will have to step up and share the load. The secondary is inexperienced and could be a problem. The schedule isn't bad since they host Auburn and South Florida, but they do have to go to Louisville and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks. The biggest question mark in my mind is the new Head Coach Bill Stewart. While he did beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, I don't know how well he'll do over the span of an entire season.
11 - Clemson
Notes: Clemson has the talent and a good enough schedule to run the table and make it to the BCS Championship Game. Their biggest problem is a history of coming up short.
12 - LSU
Notes: Like other elite teams, LSU stockpiles talent on top of talent. Although they had seven players drafted and their starting QB was kicked off the team, they still can't be counted out of the race. The non-conference slate has four ridiculously easy home games.
13 - Penn State
Notes: Penn State probably won't be talked about much going into the season, but that won't be the case at the end of the year. The biggest roadblocks to a BCS Bowl are road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin. They should finish with at least ten wins.
14 - Oregon
Notes: Teams usually don't get better when they lose two tremendous talents like QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart. I have a lot of confidence in OC Chip Kelly's system to keep the Ducks scoring a lot of points. The schedule is tough with road games at USC, Arizona State, and California.
15 - BYU / Utah
Notes: While I don't believe either of these teams will play for the National Championship, I feel they are both good enough to be mentioned here. Both teams look far better than any of their Mountain West counterparts. BYU has to get past back-to-back games against Pac-10 teams, first at Washington and then home against UCLA. They also have a trap game at TCU on a short week. Utah has to play Michigan in the Big House, and they host Oregon State. If everything breaks right, both teams will be 11-0 going into a biggest non-BCS showdown in the final game. I think BYU is the slightly better team, but Utah has the home field advantage. If the winner does finish 12-0, they'll play in the Orange Bowl.
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