With under three months before the college football season kicks off, it’s time to survey the national scene. Today brings the first installment of our five part series as we rank the top twenty-five teams in the country. These rankings are based on preseason hype, returning players, and strength of schedule.
During the course of the season, we will unveil our rankings each Monday. Keep in mind that rankings are fluid and will be subject to change, even drastically. As we have seen over the last few years, parity has arrived in college football, and you never know when a team will rise from obscurity.
The team with the toughest schedule in the country for the first two weeks is the lowly Spartans of San Jose State–the same Spartans that lost to USC 56-3 in 2009. They open up at defending champion Alabama and then head straight to Madison, Wisconsin, for a game with the highly-touted Badgers. With two improbable wins, they could rise into the rankings as a top ten team.
Back to reality and the preseason rankings….
25. California Golden Bears [Pac-10]
2009 Record: 8-5
Key Games: @Nevada, @USC, @Oregon St., v.Oregon
Star Players: RB Shane Vereen, QB Kevin Riley
Outlook: While the Bears probably won’t be ranked by the coaches or the associated press to start the season, they certainly have the talent to be a top-25 team. With eight starters back on offense and a senior at quarterback, the pieces are in place. However, Cal has failed to meet expectations time and time again by wilting under the spotlight in key situations. Mentally, these Bears have had trouble dealing with prominence. That being said, optimism isn’t as high in Berkeley as in past years, and that means Cal can play without the weight of pressure. Coach Jeff Tedford will finally get Riley on track and Cal will have a successful season.
24. Cincinnati Bearcats [Big East]
2009 Record: 12-1
Key Games: @Fresno St., v.Oklahoma, @West Virginia, v.Pittsburgh
Star Players: QB Zach Collaros, WR Armon Binns
Outlook: Butch Jones replaces Brian Kelly, who left to take over at Notre Dame. The Bearcats have been impressive in the Big East over the last few seasons, and will likely turn in another solid season. With Collaros at quarterback, the team will be fine offensively. He stepped in last season when Tony Pike was injured and the offense didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, the defense was terrible last year, and it probably won’t be much better this season. With two tough non-conference games, Cincinatti could struggle early but will likely find their stride by the time Big East play opens up. The defensive shortcomings will prevent them from winning the Big East and making another run to a BCS game.
23. Georgia Bulldogs [SEC East]
2009 Record: 8-5
Key Games: @South Carolina, v.Arkansas, v.Florida in Jacksonville, v. Georgia Tech
Star Players: WR A.J. Green, DE Demarcus Dobbs
Outlook: Georgia returns 10 starters on offense, but will have to break in a new quarterback in Aaron Murray. If coach Mark Richt can implement a system that makes Murray more of a manager than a playmaker, the offense could be one of the best in the SEC. Only five starters return on defense, but the new 3-4 scheme should make better use of the talent on the depth chart. In a tough SEC, it will be hard for Georgia to keep pace with the likes of Florida and Arkansas. However, the heat has been turned up on Richt, and there will be a renewed sense of urgency that will have these Bulldogs playing with intensity.
22. Penn State Nittany Lions [Big 10]
2009 Record: 11-2
Key Games: @Alabama, @Iowa, v.Michigan, @Ohio St.
Star Players: RB Evan Royster, DE Jack Crawford
Outlook: Although Penn State’s defense will be stout, the offense could be a disaster. Now that quarterback Daryll Clark is gone, Penn State’s offense will struggle mightily. In the spring game, the quarterbacks were responsible for two touchdown passes–both belonging to true freshman Kevin Newsome. Joe Paterno’s team will be tested early with a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Tide. Overall, Penn State should finish in the top four of their conference, but trips to Iowa and Ohio State will be their undoing.
21. Houston Cougars [C-USA]
2009 Record: 10-4
Key Games: @UCLA, v.Mississippi St., v.Tulsa, @Texas Tech
Star Players: QB Case Keenum, RB Charles Sims
Outlook: Nine starters return to an offense that led the nation in points per game with 42.2. Case Keenum is the country’s most prolific quarterback and should breeze through Conference USA. If Houston can survive their non-conference schedule, which includes two tough road games, then they could potentially be in the mix for a BCS bid. The defense will implement the 3-4 scheme this season in an effort to improve a unit that was 111 out of 120 last season. If the defense can improve, this team will be very dangerous. The offense is nearly impossible to slow down because of Keenum’s accuracy and arm strength.