College Football Top Five

BRAD GOLDBACH: College football is just around the corner. A lot of big name quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are gone, and although there will be some new faces taking the field this season, one name stands above the rest: Alabama. Here’s how I see the top five shaking out right now:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Boise State

4. Florida

5. Oklahoma

Alabama has lost some key players on defense, but this is Alabama and Nick Saban always reloads. Dont’a Hightower will seamlessly transition into Rolando McClain’s MLB spot. Reports say Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott are playing great at cornerback, so the team shouldn’t miss Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas that much.

Plus, the offense returns intact. You have steady Greg McElroy behind center. Freak Julio Jones at wideout. Heisman winner Mark Ingram in the backfield. And, Trent Richardson, a guy who may be even more talented than Ingram ready to take on more carries this season. Alabama might not repeat after battling through the tough SEC West, but right now, nobody can take the top spot from the Tide.

Ohio State has finally won a few BCS Bowl games after being embarrassed in the title game for two straight years. This might be Terrelle Pryor’s season to help Ohio State finally make that breakthrough. I’m still not sold on Pryor yet, but the cast around him seems strong enough to take home the title in a fairly tough Big Ten.

Boise State is everyone’s chic pick. Their entire season rides on the opener against Virginia Tech. Oregon State may provide a tough test, but other than that, Boise should run the table. They return almost their entire starting unit from an undefeated 2009 campaign. The biggest question is whether the Broncos can run the table again with the pressure of a top-five ranking riding them all season, and whether doing so is enough to finally get into the BCS Championship Game.

Florida lost a lot of players from a group that put together three 13-win seasons in the last four years, but Urban Meyer has managed to reload with some epic recruiting classes. John Brantley takes over as a prototypical passer in Florida’s spread offense, which should look completely different with Tebow in Denver. The offensive line returns four starters, including Mike Pouncey, which should ease the transition. The defensive line and linebackers are largely unproven, but the talent is there, and the defensive backfield could become one of the nation’s best. The Gators should have more talent than every team they play, except Alabama (who isn’t excited for that one?), but the question is obviously the experience factor.

Oklahoma comes in at No. 5 over a few other worthy choices, such as Texas and Virginia Tech. Last year was a nightmare for Bob Stoops with Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham going down, but all of the experience the new starters gained will only make Oklahoma a contender this season. Landry Jones and DeMarco Murray will lead a talented offense against a Big 12 conference that is strong at the top. Florida State in Week Two will definitely be a test, but not having Nebraska on the schedule only helps the Sooners.

Biggest Disappointments: Staying in the Big 12, Texas might be a disappointment, considering their lofty top-five status in many polls. Sure, the ‘Horns lost McCoy, but more importantly, they lose Jordan Shipley, leaving Texas with an unproven backfield and wide receiving corps. Texas will have a tough time being better than third in the conference, much less fourth in the country.

I also see Georgia Tech as a disappointment relative to their strong campaigns recently. The Jackets only come in ranked in the teens, but there are several more talented teams in the conference.

Relative to Oregon’s top-ten rankings, the Ducks could struggle without leader Jeremiah Masoli in Eugene this season. Some experts say they will be fine without him, but it is difficult to replace your most important player so soon before the season. The Ducks could drop a few because of it.

Biggest Surprises: All the talk centers on Alabama in the SEC, but watch out for Arkansas and Ryan Mallet. The defense will be the biggest factor in whether the Hogs can win the SEC West, but they will give Alabama a fight to the end. Mallet also has a shot to unseat Ingram for the Heisman this season.

Oregon doesn’t have Masoli and USC is undergoing some turmoil, but nobody is talking about Stanford in the Pac-10 race. With stud QB Andrew Luck leading the offense and Jim Harbaugh holding the reigns, I see the Cardinal as a legitimate threat to take home the conference crown.

ALEX PREWITT: Trot out the goofy mascots and let’s charge through the tunnel, because it’s time for college football season. There’s a jumbled mess atop the preseason rankings, a convoluted pile that doesn’t figure to sort itself anytime soon. Here’s my take on the top five entering 2010-11:

1. Alabama

2. Boise State

3. Ohio State

4. Florida

5. Texas

Alabama, without a doubt, has to be atop everyone’s rankings entering this year. The Crimson Tide are the defending national champions, and its their title to lose. So what’s going to stop Nick Saban’s squad from continuing its SEC dominance? Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are back, forming perhaps the most talented collegiate running back duo since Auburn’s Ronnie Brown and Cadillac  Williams. Arkansas and the Tigers are two trendy picks to upset Alabama in the SEC West, but for now, with an athletic defense supporting a consistent offense, the Crimson Tide have to belong at No. 1.

Until Boise State proves its doubters wrong, there’s no reason why the Broncos shouldn’t be this high. Ever since the Statue of Liberty play and Ian Johnson’s proposal, Boise State has slowly developed into America’s team, that quirky small school with the high-flying offense and the blue turf. If any BCS school, fresh off a Fiesta Bowl win, was returning 20-plus starters, that squad would instantly be ranked No. 1. Now, the only thing standing in the Broncos’ way is Virginia Tech, a team with a realistic shot of running the table,  but Boise has proved adept in the past at preparing for make-or-break contests.

In any other year, Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State would be atop the rankings. But an undefeated Cinderella and the defending champs stand in the Buckeyes’ way. This is a tested squad in a perennially underrated conference, plus they get Miami (Fl.) and Penn State at home. Watch out for Nov. 20 date at Iowa, though; that could easily decide the Big Ten’s BCS bid.  

Fans of Urban Meyer and Florida will forever have Tim Tebow in the back of their minds. If the Gators surge, it’ll prove Meyer’s value as a coach and his ability to recruit and develop new talent. But if they falter — especially on the road against Alabama on Oct. 2 — the blame could come down hard. Fortunately for the Gator faithful, they should be fine. John Brantley should be the next great QB in the line of collegiate studs to play for Meyer, who brought in the top-ranked Class of 2010.

I slotted Texas to round out my top five, even though the Longhorns will have to replace Colt McCoy under center. Garrett Gilbert was thrown into the fire against Alabama in the BCS National Championship, and struggled against the stout Crimson Tide defense. After a summer practicing with the first-teamers, though, he should be fine. On defense, the Longhorns have Curtis Brown, one of the top five senior corners in the country. Some say that Mack Brown’s team is ranked too high (No. 5 in AP/No. 4 in USA Today), especially with young players at skill positions, but they get Oklahoma at home; a victory in that would give Texas the edge in the Big 12 South.

Biggest Disappointments: Like Brad, I have a hard time buying into the Georgia Tech hype. They have to go on the road to North Carolina and have a late-season date with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Yellow Jackets could easily end up with four losses (if you count their rivalry game with Georgia on the road) and have their hopes of a repeat BCS bid.

Biggest Surprises: Despite its recent transgressions and acquisition of a widely despised, USC lost very few players and still could surprise in the Pac-10. Lane Kiffin even somehow managed to lure Thearon Collier, a former special teams standout at Miami, to Southern Cal. Sure, the Trojans won’t be able to play in a bowl game, but what’s stopping them from going into revenge mode and becoming a one- or two-loss team? USC gets Oregon, Cal and Washington at home and has a very squishy non-conference schedule that features Hawaii, Virginia and Minnesota.

Virginia Tech is currently at No. 10 in the preseason AP poll, but the Hokies could very well finish the season undefeated. They have an extremely soft schedule, with the biggest test coming in a near-home game against Boise State in Maryland.

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