The finish line is near as we unveil part four of our five-part series. Every season, one top ten team falls way below expectations. Who will it be this year?
22. Penn State
20. West Virginia
19. Miami (FL)
17. Georgia Tech
16. Louisiana State
14. Southern California
13. North Carolina
10. Oklahoma Sooners [Big XII South]
2009 Record: 8-5
Key Games: v.Florida State, @Cincinnati, v.Texas in Dallas, @Oklahoma State
Star Players: QB Landry Jones, RB DeMarco Murray
Outlook: Four of the Sooners losses came by a combined 12 points. On offense, Oklahoma will benefit greatly from the snaps sophomore Landry Jones took while Sam Bradford was hurt. He should make great strides this season and lead a promising attack. In total, eight starters return from a unit that put up 31.1 points per game in 2009. Defensively, a lot of last year’s talent went to the NFL, but there are a lot of good athletes. The defense may take a few games to mold, but only one of the first three games–Florida State–should even test the Sooners. The Big XII South is likely to be decided by the Red River Shootout against Texas in Dallas.
9. Virginia Tech Hokies [ACC]
2009 Record: 10-3
Key Games: v. Boise State in Washington, D.C., v. Georgia Tech, @North Carolina, @Miami
Star Players: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Ryan Williams
Outlook: The Hokies offense is ready to roll. They have a plethora of options that pose problems for defenses. Led by senior playmaker Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech should light up the scoreboard. Ryan Williams and Darren Evans are the number two rushing tandem in the country and should help the Hokies dominate time of possesion. Unfortunately, they will need it as the defense is a question mark. Although there is a lot of athletic ability on the team, there isn’t much experience. Virginia Tech would be in better shape if they had a few cupcake games early, but they open up against a formidable Boise State squad. If the defense shows up, the Hokies will have a great win on their resume and could be staring down the barrel of a national title. The road will be tough, as they play against Georgia Tech, at North Carolina, and at Miami in consecutive weeks.
8. Florida Gators [SEC East]
2009 Record: 13-1
Key Games: @Alabama, v.LSU, v.Georgia in Jacksonville, @Florida State
Star Players: QB John Brantley, WR Deonte Thompson
Outlook: Question marks abound at Florida. But it’s hard to expect a huge drop off with the talent Urban Meyer has been stockpiling. John Brantley must emerge from the shadows of Tim Tebow’s legacy. The offensive scheme will change a bit with a pro-style quarterback, and that may cause turbulence. However, it would be surprising if Meyer doesn’t have this offense clicking by the time conference play rolls around. Also, the offense may not have to put up huge numbers. Defensively, seven starters return from the number four ranked scoring defense a year ago. While the linebacking corp isn’t as stout as it has been in years past, the defense should be strong again. As usual, the non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes. However, Florida will be pushed to the limit in SEC play.
7. Arkansas Razorbacks [SEC West]
2009 Record: 8-5
Key Games: @Georgia, v. Alabama, v.Texas A&M, v.LSU
Star Players: QB Ryan Mallet, WR Jarius Wright
Outlook: Arkansas sputtered in SEC play last year. But their offense knocks my socks off. Ryan Mallet is the best, most accurate quarterback in the country. With his two top receivers back, Mallet, who threw 30 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions last year, will be leading the Hogs to the end zone quite often.As if that wasn’t enough, the defense, which took the ball away from the opponent often last season, should be even better. If they can hold teams down, the offense can carry them far. The Razorbacks were sixth in the country in turnover margin last season. This team is very talented and should have one of the most successful seasons in Fayetteville in a long time. The sad part: they are stuck in the same division as defending champion Alabama. They will be the best team not playing in a BCS bowl when all is said and done in 2010.
6. Wisconsin Badgers
2009 Record: 10-3
Key Games: v. Arizona State, v.Ohio State, @Iowa, @Michigan
Star Players: QB Scott Tolzien, RB John Clay
Outlook: Most people don’t realize the quality season that took place in Wisconsin. Because Ohio State, Iowa, and Penn State grabbed most of the attention, Wisconsin flew under the radar. This year? Well, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!” The Badgers will garner the spotlight and deservedly so. Wisconsin focuses on ball-possession, and they will be effective at it. 10 starters return on offense and they will run the ball down your throat as the entire offensive line is back. The receivers should be open for senior Scott Tolzien and they will put up points. The defense loses its leading tackler, but the heart of the defense, the linebacking corp, returns in tact. Wisconsin plans to hold the ball and keep the defense off the field, but they should be fine when they are on. Ultimately, the game at Iowa will decide if they win the Big 10 or not.