The 2008 college football season officially kicked off Friday with the release of the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll. To read Part II of this series, click here.
1. Georgia (22) 11-2 1,438
The Bulldogs from Athens win the photo finish in the voting to secure the No. 1 slot this preseason. Veteran QB Matthew Stafford will no doubt be the leader of this squad after an impressive 2007 season.
Look for Stafford to have increased protection now that his offensive line has been battle-hardened in the SEC.
The Dawgs only lose one receiver, Sean Bailey, but bring in several talented freshmen who are sure to make an impact in the passing game.
Though he will line up behind Stafford, Knowshon Moreno is not likely to be overshadowed this season. The sophomore exploded onto the scene last year and is at or near the top of almost everyone's Heisman watch list.
The Defense returns nine starters, which should help Georgia's star-powered offense stay on the field.
Prediction: Facing a tough schedule that includes trips to Sun Devil Stadium and Baton Rouge, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them. If they can stay focused and consistent, they should win the mighty SEC and earn a spot in the BCS title game.
2. Southern California (14) 11-2 1,430
2007 was not a typical campaign for the Men of Troy. The Pac-10 was uncharacteristically competitive, and their starting quarterback missed three games with a broken finger.
If there was anything serendipitous about these events, it was that quarterback Mark Sanchez was able to get some real-world experience before taking over as the starter in 2008.
Many talented players are returning this year, not the least of whom will be sophomore Joe McKnight. McKnight is the full package and will likely multi-task as a tailback, receiver, and return specialist. Coach Carroll is trying to turn McKnight into the next Reggie Bush, so look for him to make a huge impact.
The USC defense is always strong and fast. If they can find a solid replacement for nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, they should stay at the top of the national defensive rankings.
Prediction: The Trojans will be put to the test early at what will no doubt be the "big game" of the regular season when Jim Tressel and his title-minded Ohio State Buckeyes come to town. If USC can best the Bucks, it should be a smooth sail for them to a PAC 10 championship and a berth in the BCS title game.
3. Ohio State (14) 11-2 1,392
The Buckeyes return an unbelievable 18 starters in 2008. Reloaded is not a big enough word for that.
As if practically bringing back the whole team weren't enough, Jim Tressel landed what was considered the No. 1 recruit in the nation in QB Terrelle Pryor. Tressel has said he wants to return to a more spread-like offense, so we should expect to see Pryor used much like Tim Tebow and Ryan Perrilloux when they were backups.
Todd Boeckman will handle the starting duties at QB with a year of experience under his belt, and will no doubt use his superstar running back "Beanie" Wells to move the chains.
The OSU defense will be anchored by Butkus award winner James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, both of whom opted out of entering the NFL draft despite being strong prospects.
Prediction: Will the third time be the charm for the Buckeyes? If they can knock off No. 2 USC in their first road trip of the season, they will be in great shape to go undefeated. They just need to play convincing enough football to persuade the voters into giving them yet another shot at the crystal.
4. Oklahoma (3) 11-3 1,329
Bob Stoops looks to take his Sooners on a title run after several seasons of not being invited to the dance. Having QB Sam Bradford back as your team leader is a good start. Bradford had one of the most impressive performances for a freshman in recent memory.
The talented Oklahoma offense is implementing a no-huddle scheme that is designed to keep defenses on their heels. The veteran offensive line will need to lean on their experience to keep Bradford protected against some tough Big 12 defenses.
The Sooner defense will boast one of the nation’s best lines, but they are replacing two cornerbacks that opposing quarterbacks will try to exploit at every possible opportunity.
Prediction: With the only significant out-of-conference contests being Cincinnati and Washington, the Sooners will have to steamroll through their conference schedule to stay in the national title hunt. Their biggest test, believe it or not, will be when Mike Leach's high-flying Red Raiders of Texas Tech come to town.
5. Florida (5) 9-4 1,293
If Team Tebow played in any other conference but the SEC, we could probably print Florida's logo on the BCS title game tickets right now. With a brutal schedule that includes contests against four preseason Top 25 teams, two of which who are in the top six, the Gators may need to rely on a late-season loss from a rival to make another title run.
With Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at the helm, the Gators will be the circle on almost every one of their opponent’s calendars this year. Urban Myer has reportedly asked for an offensive scheme that will curtail the amount of rushes by Tebow so that they can rely on up-and-coming running backs like Chris Rainey. Also in the arsenal is Percy Harvin who is easily one of the top wide receivers in the nation.
Prediction: There is some concern about the plans to keep Tebow in the backfield after watching his "pocket passer" performance against Michigan in last year's Capital One Bowl. It basically all comes down to the "World's Largest Cocktail Party" against the Georgia Bulldogs. The winner of that contest will win the SEC East and could play for a national title.
6. LSU (3) 12-2 1,163
The defending national champs are reloaded on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, the off-season dismissal of QB Ryan Perrilloux from the team has left the Tiger ship somewhat rudderless.
The quarterback derby is between junior Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch, red shirt freshman Jarrett Lee, and true freshman Jordan Jefferson. No matter who wins the job, LSU will have a QB who has never started a single game in college football.
The rest of the offense, however, is packed with a stable of running backs and a virtual fleet of F-16's at wide receiver. The new quarterback will also have the luxury of being protected by the best offensive line in the nation.
LSU has become known as "Defensive U" and this season will be no exception. Despite losing decorated defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, as well as coordinator Bo Pelini, the Tigers once again boast the top defense in the SEC, and possibly, the nation.
Prediction: LSU's soft out-of-conference schedule turned out to be a gift this year considering their QB quandary. While they have many tough contests against perennial SEC foes, the rabid LSU fan base is no doubt most anticipating the return of Nick Saban to Tiger Stadium on Nov. 8. If the Tigers can use their home-field advantage to stop No. 1 Georgia, they may find themselves back in Atlanta for a rematch.
7. Missouri 12-2 1,143
There may not be a more complete quarterback in the nation than Chase Daniel. The senior gunslinger, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, looks to lead his Tigers to another Big 12 North championship.
This time he'll have to do it with more of a running back-by-committee situation, but Daniel still has many talented targets at wide receiver.
The success of the Mizzou Defense was somewhat overshadowed by the superstar offense last season, but returning 10 starters to the unit should prove to keep them at or near the top of the Big 12.
Prediction: Still probably miffed about being overlooked for a BCS bid last season, Mizzou will no doubt be striving to make sure the phenomenon is not repeated. Gary Pinkel is lucky to have Chase Daniel's talent under center, but he also has to play in the same conference as OU's Sam Bradford and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell. The Tigers have the inside track on the Big 12 North, but will have to get over that hump to make it to a BCS Bowl.
8. West Virginia 11-2 1,008
It seems like we've known Pat White forever. That's what happens when you're talented enough to be the Mountaineer starting QB as long as he has. Although he lost his other half, Steve Slaton, to the NFL, the men from Morgantown are looking for yet another trip to a BCS Bowl.
With head coach Rich Rodriguez bolting for Michigan, Bill Stewart has come in and identified some strengths and weaknesses that could enhance his team's success.
Stewart will smartly reduce the amount of times White carries the ball in a game, noting that the only two losses West Virginia had last year came when White left the field injured. The Mountaineer offense should otherwise be on autopilot and left in the hands of their able star quarterback.
Prediction: WVU has a pretty smooth ride until Oct. 23, when Auburn arrives in Morgantown. If their defense can handle the load, look for the Mountaineers to repeat as the Big East Champs and land themselves in another BCS Bowl.
9. Clemson 9-4 999
It's hard to believe that Tommy Bowden is on the hot seat after being surrounded by so much talent year in and year out, but the folks in Clemson are ready for a championship. The Clemson offense is loaded with talent but will have to rely on an inexperienced front line to be successful.
The Tiger defense may be just what Clemson needs to get over the hump and win a conference title. The depth won't help coordinator Vic Koenning sleep at night, but if his starters can stay healthy, the unit should make a big impact on some of those close losses the folks in Clemson have become all too familiar with.
Prediction: Other than the season opener against Alabama, Clemson doesn't really get to the meat of their schedule until October. Nevertheless, they should have all the tools they need to make the ACC title game. If they can come out of the winning end of a few of those close games, this could be the year they finally make it to the BCS.
10. Texas 10-3 979
Vince Young cast quite a big shadow on the QB position at Texas, but Colt McCoy has put up some impressive numbers in his own right. Mack Brown and his Longhorns have been steadily rebuilding after their 2005 national championship, and this could be the year when we see how it has paid off.
McCoy has reportedly put on some size in the gym this summer and has sharply focused on increasing his speed. With a lack of experience in the backfield, we may see more carries by the junior quarterback.
The Longhorns have brought on Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, a guy who has a wealth of experience from his time at SEC defensive powers LSU and Auburn. Muschamp seeks to improve the pass coverage in a conference that probably has the biggest collection of quarterback talent.
Prediction: A tough Big 12 schedule that also sees Texas hosting the fighting Schnellenberger's of FAU and Bobby Petrino's Arkansas Razorbacks will test the depth of this Longhorn squad early. If Texas can handle their traditional foes like A&M and Oklahoma, as well as beat the much hyped Texas Tech, they could find themselves in the Big 12 championship game against Mizzou or Kansas.
To read Part II of this series, click here.
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