Tuesday brings the five teams in our preseason rankings of the top twenty-five teams across the country. Could one of these teams rise from the middle of the pack and make a surprising run to the national title?
22. Penn State
20. West Virginia Mountaineers [Big East]
2009 Record: 9-4
Key Games: @LSU, v.Cincinnati, @Pittsburgh, v.Rutgers
Star Players: RB Noel Devine, FS Robert Sands
Outlook: West Virginia could be a dark horse to take the Big East and dance on the BCS stage. They return 19 starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense, and the kicker. With Noel Devine in the backfield, the Mountaineers have a player that can score every time he touches the ball. However, the big question mark is at quarterback. Can sophomore Geno Smith take hold of this spread offense? Defensively, West Virginia should boast a stout unit. Of the eleven projected starters, only one is an underclassmen. The early game against LSU will be a tough test for Smith. If the Mountaineers can survive an early visit to Baton Rouge, Smith will build confidence and Morgantown will be in for a successful season. In conference, they have the pleasure of hosting defending champion Cincinnati, but they must visit a tough Pittsburgh team.
19. Miami (FL) Hurricanes [ACC]
2009 Record: 9-4
Key Games: @Ohio St., @Pittsburgh, v.North Carolina, v.Virginia Tech
Star Players: QB Jacory Harris, WR LaRon Byrd
Outlook: 2009 showed just how bright the future is at Miami as the ‘Canes defeated Oklahoma and ACC champion Georgia Tech. On defense, Miami should be ready to go as eight starters return on that side of the ball. With an eight-man rotation on the defensive line and a plethora of speed in the secondary, it will be hard to move the ball on this team. Offensively, junior Jacory Harris returns after throwing for over 3,000 yards last season. Howeverm replacing three starters on the line could hinder Harris, who threw 17 interceptions last season. If the passing game gets on track, Miami will be a tough opponent. Credit coach Randy Shannon for scheduling tough. WIth trips to Ohio State and Pittsburgh, Miami will be battle-tested by the time ACC play opens.
18. Pittsburgh Panthers [Big East]
2009 Record: 10-3
Key Games: @Utah, v.Miami (FL), @Notre Dame, v.West Virgina
Star Players: RB Dion Lewis, DE Jabaal Sheard
Outlook: With sophomore running back Dion Lewis in the backfield, Pittsburgh will likely pound the ball on offense. Lewis ran for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns in his freshman season. If defenses crowd the line of scrimmage, they will get burned deep by a receiving corp with excellent speed and depth. Coming out of the starting gate, the game trip to Utah will set the tempo for the campaign. Can Pittsburgh finally beat Cincinnati? The past two years, the Panthers needed a win in the final week of the season to claim the league title. Despite having to travel to Cincy, the Panthers finally will win a Big East title behind a stingy defense full of upperclassmen, and the offense that will continue to be prolific as it was in 2009.
17. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets [ACC]
2009 Record: 11-3
Key Games: @North Carolina, @Virginia Tech, v. Miami, @Georgia,
Star Players: QB Joshua Nesbitt, RB Roddy Jones
Outlook: Once again, the option attack offense will be in full effect when the Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech takes the field in 2010. Nesbitt is a pro at running the offense. Expect them to put up prolific numbers like last season last season: 295 yards per game on the ground.. By controlling ball possession, Georgia Tech will manage the clock and try to keep its defense off of the field as much as possible. While the defense wasn’t awful last year, it certainly could use improvement. Al Groh, former head coach at Virginia, will lead the defense and has installed the 3-4 scheme. While this team may be better than last year’s team that won the ACC, it is hard to envision a repeat with almost all of their tough games on the road.
16. Louisiana State Tigers [SEC West]
2009 Record: 9-4
Key Games: v.North Carolina in Atlanta, v. West Virginia, @Florida, v.Alabama
Star Players: QB Jordan Jefferson, WR Terrence Toliver
Outlook: Since JaMarcus Russell left LSU, the Tigers have been searching high and low for a quarterback. Their defense has kept them in every game, but they need an offensive attack to support them. Although LSU returns only 4 starters on defense, they will be stingy again. Expect Jordan Jefferson to improve at quarterback and a successful season for the Tigers. Last year, Alabama used a non-conference win in Atlanta to gain confidence and make a title run. An opening-weekend win against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome would certainly be a huge confidence booster. With Alabama in their division, it is hard to see LSU making the SEC title game, but a second place finish in the SEC West is very possible.