College Football Preview: Top 10 projections

Time to start putting the noggin’ and the WordPress to work focusing on college football. And the first focus this season will be taking a look at the “expert” predictions and pre-season rankings run through the Wisdom filter.

I came up with the following Top 10 ranking based on the average placement for each team on the six most prominent national pre-pre-season ranking lists: Athlon, Lindy’s, Phil Steele, Sporting News, Rivals and Sports Illustrated plus the pre-season rankings in the Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll. During the season, of course, the AP Poll is meaningless. But it’s a data point for pre-season expectations.

So, averaging things out, we get:

1. Ohio State
2. Georgia
3. USC
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida
6. Missouri
7. LSU
8. Clemson
9. West Virginia
10. Auburn

Ranking philosophies vary, with some services ranking based on talent and others based on predicted results. Georgia, for example, got No. 1 rankings in both polls, two No. 1 rankings from services that lean toward talent and a No. 5 and No. 9 ranking from services that lean toward expected results. And the No. 1 composite ranking of Ohio State shows how a talented team in a pitiful conference jumps to the top of the list. Nobody thinks they can screw up.

And it’s on that note that we can begin with my own view. I won’t be number-ranking teams, just looking at each team’s prospects and opining on whether I see them finishing higher, lower or about the same as their composite pre-pre-season ranking.

1. Ohio State – The Buckeyes’ 2008 conference schedule is identical to 2007, they’ve got three powder-puff teams (Youngstown State, Ohio and Troy) to play again this season, and they play a team from the Pac-10. Last year, that Pac-10 game was Washington at home. This year it’s at USC. If Ohio State gets past USC in week 3 and Wisconsin in week 6, it’s clear sailing until weeks 11 (at Illinois) and 12 (Michigan). The Buckeyes have lost one regular-season game in the past two years – I think they lose another one this year. Their ultimate ranking will depend on whether other teams finish undefeated, but I think the Buckeyes are the most likely team to end up No. 1 at the end of the year. SAME

2. Georgia – Can the talent match the hype and endure the schedule? It won’t be easy for Georgia. Early in the season it’s at South Carolina, then at Arizona State, then hosting Alabama, then an off week, then hosting Tennessee. The Bulldogs get a one-week breather with Vandy before playing at LSU, then against Florida, then at Kentucky, then at Auburn. Brutal. I don’t see them finishing this high. LOWER

3. USC – The Trojans’ schedule is heavily front-loaded, with only Cal representing any kind of threat after USC’s Oct. 11 game against Arizona State. The fairly young Trojans have to get past Ohio State, Oregon and Arizona State, plus survive trips to Virgina and Oregon State to get into coast mode, however. Another Pac-10 title and another BCS Championship Game miss seems about right for USC this season. SAME

4. Oklahoma – The Sooners remind me a lot of Georgia; they have a lot of talent coming back and are led by a young QB and dynamic young tailback. The difference is Oklahoma doesn’t have to play Florida, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Arizona State. They avoid Missouri during the regular season and get Texas, Kansas and Texas Tech at home. Lots of talent, a relatively weak Big 12 and avoiding the best team in the North should equal success. HIGHER

5. Florida – The talent on the field and the coaching power on the sideline should help the Gators avoid a three-loss SEC campaign again this season. And it doesn’t hurt that the Gators traded Auburn for Arkansas in the West rotation. HIGHER

6. Missouri – I’m not a believer in Missouri. They were overrated last year based on success with a weak schedule, and that’s what they will benefit from again this season. Their only significant challenges are opening against Illinois, going to Texas and ending the season against Kansas (if you believe in Kansas). Still, I think they fall apart. LOWER

7. LSU – You’re not going to see me talking up the Tigers before the season this year. There’s just too much unsettled with the QB position, and I’m not about to start making BCS predictions when it looks like the JV Harvard quarterback will be our season starter. He could well be Matt Mauck, which would be great. But I imagine Leslie is very happy to have three soft games to open the season to help figure things out. I’m in that camp as well. A better assessment will come before Auburn. But it’s a testament to LSU’s breadth of strength that the Tigers are still getting top-10 pre-season rankings without a quarterback that’s taken meaningful snaps in college. And I’d agree with that. SAME

8. Clemson – I suppose the Tigers are the best pick to swell up and fill the void left by Boston College and Virginia Tech losing all of their firepower (in the case of Boston College – it was just that one guy). I don’t know that they excite me that much. Clemson lost almost its entire offensive line, and someday Miami and Florida State are going to roar back to prominence. Clemson avoids Miami this year, but gets Florida State later in the season when the ‘Noles will have more of their players back from jail academic suspension. Plus the Tigers have to get past Alabama to open the season and South Carolina to close it. LOWER

9. West Virginia – I’ve also never been much of a Mountaineers fan, and I normally project them to finish high because of a weak schedule. And, thankfully, they tend to blow their chances anyway. The biggest test this season will be at Auburn, which is a much tougher task than W.V. is used to. I think they lose two games, maybe three. So I could see them being at the bottom of the top 10. SAME

10. Auburn – The lesser Tigers have brought in a “spread offense”, which should perform markedly better than the “no offense” approach they took last season. How that will come together and how effective it will be remain to be seen. Urban Meyer sure had a tough time when he first brought his offense to the SEC, so these things can take time. But like LSU, Auburn has three fairly easy warm-ups (except their third game is against Mississippi State, not a total patsy) before the Tiger/Tiger showdown Sept. 20. Whichever team has their offense more together on that day will go a long way in determining what happens in the SEC West. This is also a tough prediction to make right now, but ultimately 10 seems about right. SAME

So I like Oklahoma and Florida to do better than predicted; Georgia, Missouri and Clemson to do worse. The rest of the top 10 seems about where I would project those teams to finish. Outside of those in the aggregate top 10, I like these teams to potentially climb:

- Texas. Not a huge surprise, as the Longhorns are No. 10 in the Coaches Poll. Back-to-back games against Oklahoma and Missouri mark the middle of the season, and by November we’ll know of the ‘horns are more a No. 5 team or a No. 25.

- Arizona State. A team on the rise that will face a huge test with Georgia, Cal, Oregon, USC and Oregon State in the space of seven weeks. I don’t see them going 5-0 in that stretch, but 4-1 isn’t out of the question, and if the Sun Devils can win three of these and not lose outside of this stretch, they’ll finish up with a top-10 ranking.

- Virginia Tech. Lots of losses on the defensive side means very low expectations for a team that won 11 games and the ACC title in 2007. They certainly have the potential to be better than expected.

- Tennessee. I don’t feel real strongly about the Vols, but a few breaks here and there could put Tennessee back near the top of the SEC East. Among UGA, Florida and Tennessee, two are very likely to finish in the top 10. It’s mostly likely UGA and Florida, but don’t count defending East champion Tennessee out to surprise people again.

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2 Responses to “College Football Preview: Top 10 projections”

  1. Howard Fore says:

    As a Bulldog fan I am very nervous and excited about the consensus #1 ranking. Why? Because there’s no where to go but down. I’d rather start down around 5 or 6 and work up. Starting at #1 puts a tremendous amount of pressure on each and every game. Plus they’ve lost a number of people on suspensions and a few injuries. I’ll cheer along one game at a time and hope it turns out for the best.

  2. I’m impressed that the Huskers is joining the Big 10. This upcoming year promises to be interesting. Whew!

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