Philosophy: There has to be some sort of hybrid between how good you think teams are on an absolute scale and how well you think they will perform against their schedule over the course of the season. That happy medium is what I was aiming for here. Better (predictions of) records are more likely to be found near the top, but there may be some inconsistency in that, as a 10-2 ACC team may not be as good as an 8-4 SEC team. In the end, it's all a guess anyway, so here's what I've come up with.
Any major disagreements here? I'm interested to know what everyone else thinks.
- Ohio State. Say what you want about the Buckeyes’ inability to compete in back-to-back title games, I can’t knock a team that made it to the championship in consecutive years. Considering the fact that Ohio State was supposed to be down last year, still made it to the title game, and returns 19 starters, I have a hard time picking anyone else.
- Florida. The pass defense shouldn’t be any worse than it was last year, and the defense on the whole has to improve. On offense, the returning Heisman trophy winner calls the signals, with the electric Percy Harvin playing utilityman. USC transfer Emmanuel Moody (on the team but ineligible last year) should provide a traditional running threat outside of Tebow and Harvin for a more balanced Gator offense.
- Georgia. They would probably have been my #2 before the recent hits to their roster (LT has season-ending knee injury, several players out for the opener), but they have enough talent in Knowshonn Moreno and an improving Matt Stafford calling the signals, the offense should be good despite a fairly green offensive line (Georgia has overachieved with young lines before in the Mark Richt era). On defense, they have the talent to be very good, but not dominant. Against a really tough schedule, I expect a slipup or two by the Dogs.
- USC. The Trojans’ stars this year are on defense, with Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing leading in the uber-talented linebackers. USC is loaded with five-stars on both sides of the ball, though the offense has a little too much uncertainty for me. Mark Sanchez wasn’t particularly great in his non-Notre Dame action, and a knee injury suffered in non-contact drills may not bode well for his season. Taking into account that he is playing behind a nearly entirely-new offensive line, and I’m a bit of a skeptic.
- Oklahoma. The Sooners return their entire offensive line from last year, and Sam Bradford should expect to keep his jersey pretty clean again this year. The defense, however has a lot of starters to replace, and since Adrian Peterson left (all of 1 season ago), the running backs haven’t been able to produce consistently. A fairly easy schedule should help Oklahoma stay on the winning track for most of the year.
- Missouri. Chase Daniel, the 35-year old pizza delivery man posing as a quarterback, should excel again in 2008 throwing it to Jeremy Maclin, who is also going to show of his talents in the return game this year. The defense was good but not OMG Awesome last year, and if they improve, Missouri might start to make a move toward being a perennial contender in the Big 12. For this season, however, they’ll need to focus on getting the ground game going without Tony Temple.
- Clemson. They have the talent seemingly every year (since the ACC has started slipping, at least), but haven’t been able to put together a championship run quite yet. However, Tommy Bowden owns his dad, and Virginia Tech, the other big shot in the ACC, losing its entire run game going into the season, you have to expect Clemson to be the head-and-shoulders favorite to take home the conference crown. The schedule isn’t too easy, with several key games on the road, but Clemson should still walk away with their division.
- West Virginia. I’m not as high on West Virginia as many people may be, mostly because I think Bill Stewart was a knee-jerk hire as head coach, and will have limited success. When supporting him, a lot of folks point to the Fiesta Bowl, without noting that many of the coaches from that team (including the man who called the plays) are now plying their trade in Ann Arbor. Pat White is a hell of a talent, but he will have to do it on his own more than any time in recent memory. Noel Devine is an electric talent, but I don’t see him carrying as much of the load as a #1 back should.
- Texas. Though several players on the Longhorns are first-time starters, they have talent, as the great classes Mack Brown signed around the Vince Young/National Title era should start coming of age. Colt McCoy is a solid quarterback, and though I think he is overrated, he is a multi-year starter nonetheless. The bowl victory over Arizona State should serve as a stepping stone to a strong 2008 season.
- LSU. Speaking of teams that stockpile talent, LSU is loaded. Though they dismissed their likely starter at quarterback, Ryan Perrilloux, the ground game, receivers, and offensive line should help a relatively inexperienced signal-caller get his feet wet. The defense should crush opponents, led by an insanely talented line. Despite being national champions, the Tigers were far from dominant last year, with both their victories and defeats coming by relatively small margins. Expect bigger wins this year, though perhaps not as many of them.
- Wisconsin. The Badgers will benefit from a relatively weak Big Ten (for the second year in a row), and their biggest hole is not having an experienced caretaker under center. Allan Evridge doesn’t move as well as the outgoing Tyler Donovan, but he really shouldn’t have to behind a strong line. On defense, the secondary was suspect last year, and they lose their best player in Jack Ikegwuonu. The run D was pretty mediocre as well, and will have to improve. The more I type, the more I want to move the Badgers down, so I’ll just stop now.
- Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a high-flying offense with lots of forward passes, and their defense is expected to be better this year than it has been in recent years. If they can turn shootouts into blowouts, look for Texas Tech to make a big move. The schedule shakes out pretty easy in the beginning of the year, and if Tech can ride that momentum, a championship run might not be out of the question.
- Penn State. According to Penn State fans, losing Anthony Morelli is essentially an addition-by-subtraction move, and the much-discussed Spread HD offense, perhaps an attempt to recapture the mojo of 2005, should take advantage of the better mobility of Darryl Clark and Pat Devlin. Though the defensive line has lost some talent to dismissals, and linebacker Sean Lee is out for the year with an ACL tear, I’m hesitant to predict anything below “very good” for the PSU defense. If the offense can start performing to its talent, the Nittany Lions should be pretty good in ’08.
- Auburn. Designated Spread Stoppers are expected to have a strong defense (and they’d best live up to their reputation, as they have West Virginia away from home in a night game). The offense has something of an identity crisis on its hands, as the Tigers consider a more wide-open attack. The SEC schedule is tough, but Auburn should be able to get through near the top of the SEC West.
- Oregon. Though they lose Dennis Dixon (which they should be used to by now, considering it happened halfway through ’07) and Jonathan Stewart, Oregon should reload at running back, and fill in a capable but not Heisman-worthy player at QB. The rest of the team remains strong, and it may just be the Michigan beatdown speaking, but this team has a lot of potential to do good things.
- USF. I don’t want to rank South Florida this high, since I feel like they never really should have reached their lofty #2 ranking last fall. However, be-mohawked QB Matt Grothe returns, and the defense has a terror off the edge in George Selvie. This D has stopped West Virginia the past two years, and I honestly expect them to do it again this year. I guess that means I should have them ranked more closely to the Mountaineers, but again, the skepticism from my feelings about last year. Maybe it’s not quite justified, but I’ll go with feeling on this one.
- Tennessee. The Volunteer blogosphere is abuzz with discussion of the “clawfense,” the new-and-presumably-improved offense that Coordinator Dave Clawson is going to unveil this fall. The offensive line should be strong enough to let him try some things, and the running game should open up some passing lanes. Though the schedule is pretty tough (though I really do have a hard time with the “these guys are in the SEC, therefore they are good, the SEC has these guys, therefore it is good” argument – which didn’t manage to dissuade me from ranking 2 SEC teams in the top 3 and 3 in the top 10), they should make a big leap forward on defense if their recruiting rankings are to be believed.
- Arizona State. Don’t let the bowl blowout to Texas fool you, this team should be pretty good. They ran hot-and-cold last year, either blowing out the opponent or getting blown out in most of their games (Washington State, UCLA, and Arizona were their only games within 1 score – all Devils victories). Rudy Carpenter, if he doesn’t get crushed behind a porous offensive line, should be one of the better QBs in the nation. The defense won’t wow you, but they have the talent to stop some teams.
- Virginia Tech. The Hokies might be included only because it feels like they should be in a preseason poll (see: Wolverines, Michigan), but damnit, it doesn’t feel right without them. The run game will likely go into the crapper with Branden Ore Dismissed and his two backups nursing knee injuries. The defense should be lunch-pail-tastic as usual, though, and the ACC schedule doesn’t provide as many challenges as it used to.
- Pitt. Despite a fairly crappy year in 2007, I expect to see Pitt perform much better in 2008. They had a rash of injuries early last year that set the tone for the season. However, they were able to turn it around late in the year, capped off by their upset victory in the Backyard Brawl. LeSean McCoy is an exciting player, and if the Panthers can stay healthy, they should be able to build a solid team around him.
- Oklahoma State. It was the Cowboys, not the Red Raiders, who had the Big 12’s most prolific offense last year, though that may have been overshadowed by press conference hilarity from the head coach. Another thing that kept PSU from getting more attention last year for its on-field exploits was a really crappy defense. If they can mature with their experience and improve with the addition of more talent, there could be some excitement in Stillwater.
- Illinois. I think Illinois is overrated in most preseason polls this year, seeing as how the Illini lost their two best players. Their #3 and #4 are pretty good too, however, and Arrelius Benn should lead the offense with his exciting catches and yards thereafter, while Vontae Davis closes off one side of the opponents’ offensive field. If Juice Williams continues improving (he was serviceable as a passer last year after being god-awful in his first go-round in Champaign), the offense can cope with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall. To help the defense recover from graduating American Hero J Leman, highly-recruited Martez Wilson will shift from end to linebacker. Hey may not warrant top-25 consideration, but I’m running out of teams that do warrant it, and the Illini are right on the fringe.
- Utah. Maybe BYU should be getting the mid-major poll love, but I look at the Utes and see a very strong offensive team, and a rather solid defense as well. If they can stay healthy, Utah should win the Mountain West in my opinion (over the Cougars). With an upset victory in Ann Arbor a possibility, the Utes might be non-BCSdom’s best shot at making it to one of the big 5 this year.
- Nebraska. Well, they can’t be worse, and Bo Pelini brought Nebraska its best defense in a long time in his lone year as coordinator, and though he is the headman rather than coordinator, I think the blackshirts may be back. Considering the fact that the offense was really good when Joe Ganz was the starter, and he is back this year, there should be improvement on both sides of the ball, and a return to respectability for the Huskers.
- Michigan. The defense will be really good, and the offense is a really big question mark. I put my faith in the godfather of the zone-read offense, and foresee an improvement from last year’s (surprisingly bad) showing. It may just be my fervent following of the program, but I think change in Ann Arbor was just what the doctor ordered. They likely won’t challenge for the conference crown, but look for 2008 to be more solid than many prognosticators believe.
Any major disagreements here? I'm interested to know what everyone else thinks.