The Post-Spring Top 25, Part One
All those teams were coming off national championships. All were locked and loaded with a number of key players returning the following season in their bid to win a second consecutive title. Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to winning back-to-back titles.
They couldn't do it.
And neither will Alabama this fall.
Since 1998, when Tennessee won the first BCS national title, no school has repeated as BCS champion -- although USC did win back-to-back Associated Press titles in 2003-04. Since 1998, when the BCS began pairing the No. 1 and 2 teams in bowl games, three defending BCS champions -- FSU in 2000, Miami in 2002 and USC in the 2005 regular season -- have managed to make it back to the BCS title game the following season. Miami lost to Ohio State in overtime. And the Trojans lost to Texas in the BCS title game. Florida State appeared in three straight games, winning in 1999 and losing in 1998 and 2000.
I'm fairly certain Alabama will open the season as the nation's No. 1 ranked team in the first AP poll. And deservedly so as the defending champions. I just don't think it will end up there on Jan. 10 after the BCS title game goes final in Glendale, Ariz.
So instead of a post-spring Top 25 ranking, I decided to be more daring (foolish?) by flash forwarding to Jan. 11 and unveiling what the final 2010 Top 25 rankings will look like.
We'll roll it out over five days, and we'll do a more traditional preseason Top 25 in August. But go ahead and write this down now and check back on Jan. 11.
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 7
* 2009 record (conference finish): 10-4 (6-2 C-USA West, tie for first)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Air Force, 47-20, in Armed Forces Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Texas Tech, Nov. 27.
* Fall forecast: Case is the easiest way to make a case for Houston finishing in the Top 25 -- QB Case Keenum. The Cougars' senior led the nation in total offense (416 yards per game) last season, but for everything Keenum could do -- 44 TD passes including four games with four TDs each -- there was one thing Keenum couldn't do. And that was play defense. Actually, not many of the Cougars could play defense and that's why a team that led the nation in total offense (563.3 yards) and scoring offense (42.2 points) still managed to lose four games. Seven defensive starters return from a unit that was the nation's 10th worst in total defense and sixth worst in rushing defense last season. The Cougars are hoping all those returning starters along with new defensive coordinator Bill Stewart, a former NFL assistant who replaces John Skladany, can put up more resistance than last year's group. Last season, the Cougars went 3-0 against BCS opponents and this year their non-conference schedule features three more: UCLA, Mississippi State and Texas Tech.
* Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 5
* 2009 record (conference finish): 12-1 (7-0 Big East, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Florida, 51-24, in Sugar Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 25.
* Fall forecast: The heart and soul (WR Mardy Gilyard), the arm (QB Tony Pike) and the brains (Coach Brian Kelly) behind Cincinnati's back-to-back Big East championship teams are long gone. The loss of Gilyard can't be understated. He was the emotional leader and his big-play ability translated into Cincinnati having the league's top punt return and kick return units. It also had the Big East's top offense and scoring offense. Gilyard and Pike are gone to the NFL, while Kelly went to Notre Dame. Enter Butch Jones from Central Michigan, who will have the challenge of keeping Cincinnati as Beast of the Big East. A lot depends on if QB Zach Collaros can duplicate his success from last season. Collaros started four games when Pike was out with an arm injury. Against UConn, he set the Big East total offense record (555 yards; 480 passing, 75 rushing). Collaros' top target will be senior WR Armon Binns (team-best 14.6 yards per catch, 11 TDs last season). If Cincinnati doesn't stumble at Fresno State and N.C. State, the Bearcats could easily be 8-1 (with the only loss to Oklahoma) entering their final four games with West Virginia (away), Rutgers (home), UConn (away) and Pittsburgh (home) and in position for a third consecutive Big East title.
* Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 5
* 2009 record (conference finish): 10-4 (independent)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated Missouri, 35-13, in Texas Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Notre Dame at East Rutherford, N.J., Oct. 23.
* Fall forecast: Ricky Dobbs (right), who set the NCAA's single-season touchdown record for quarterbacks despite missing two games with a broken kneecap, is back for his senior year, looking to lead the Midshipmen to unprecedented heights. Only the third quarterback in school history to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season, Dobbs directs Navy's triple option offense to perfection. But the Middies are more than a one-man band. A big reason for their success is fairly simple: they don't commit many turnovers or penalties. Last year, Navy's 33:55 time of possession average tied Wisconsin for best in the nation. The Middies also led the nation in fewest penalties (3.4) and yards penalized (29.6) per game, while finishing tied for seventh in fewest turnovers (14). The Middies' vaunted rushing attack ranked fourth nationally -- 280.5 yards per game -- and that actually marked the first time since 2002 they didn't finish among the nation's top three rushing teams. On defense, all three linebackers must be replaced, but S Wyatt Middleton leads a unit returning five starters. Having captured the Commander in Chief trophy the past seven seasons, the Middies are looking for even bigger things this year -- such as finishing ranked in the Top 25. They came close last year and, without Ohio State and Pittsburgh on the schedule this season, don't be surprised if Navy tops last year's school-record tying 10 victories.
22. PENN STATE
* Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 5
* 2009 record (conference finish): 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated LSU, 19-17, in Capital One Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Alabama, Sept. 11.
* Fall forecast: Coach Joe Paterno has new glasses this year (right), but it looks like the same old, same old for the Nittany Lions: another winning season, another bowl trip. How many wins and how good of a bowl will depend on how well the Nittany Lions replace QB Daryll Clark, DT Jared Odrick and LBs Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman. All were taken in in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft from the Big Ten's top scoring defense. Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and true freshman Paul Jones are battling at the quarterback spot. The eventual starter better have a quick learning curve as Penn State visits defending national champion Alabama in week two. In league play, the Nittany Lions visit Iowa and Ohio State, the only teams that Penn State lost to last season -- both in State College. Hopefully, Paterno's change in eye wear will change his luck against the Hawkeyes: the Nittany Lions haven't won in Iowa City since 1999 and are 1-7 in their past eight against Iowa. During spring practice, Paterno was asked about his new glasses. "I can read my notes without my glasses," he said. "And it says here, 'Keep your patience with these guys.' " That will be a good thing for Paterno to remember if the Nittany Lions struggle on the road.
21. GEORGIA TECH
* Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 8
* 2009 record (conference finish): 11-3 (7-1 ACC Coastal, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Iowa, 24-14, in Orange Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Virginia Tech, Nov. 4.
* Fall forecast: Although nearly the entire defense returns, Georgia Tech will have a new look under coordinator Al Groh. The former Virginia coach, who replaces Dave Wommack, has installed a 3-4 alignment after Tech allowed more than 30 points six times last season. DL coach Andy McCollum, who came from N.C. State, and ILB coach Joe Speed, who came from Navy, are also new to Tech's staff, meaning Tech is replacing as many defensive coaches as starters. Two of those departed players -- S Morgan Burnett and DE Derrick Morgan, the ACC's 2009 Defensive Player of the Year -- left early for the NFL Draft along with RB Jonathan Dwyer and WR Demaryius Thomas. QB Josh Nesbitt, first-team All-ACC last season, is back to direct Tech's time-consuming spread option offense that led the ACC in total offense (422.1 yards) and scoring (33.8 points). With a new defensive philosophy, Tech's run-oriented, ball-control offense and coach Paul Johnson's success in close games (10-1 in games decided by five points or less), the Yellow Jackets should have no trouble making their 14th consecutive bowl game. Will it be a return trip to a BCS bowl? Not likely, with a schedule featuring road trips to North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia plus a home date with Miami.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY