The Post-Spring Top 25, Second Verse
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.
This is Part Two, looking at teams 20-16. The tension is building with each passing day. Make sure you write this down so you can see how accurate it is come Jan. 11.
Part one is here if you missed it.
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 7
* 2009 record (conference finish): 8-5 (3-5 SEC West, tie for fourth)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated East Carolina, 20-17, in Liberty Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Alabama, Sept. 25.
* Fall forecast: Bad news for opposing defensive coordinators: nine starters, including record-setting QB Ryan Mallett, return from Arkansas' offense that led the SEC in passing offense (295.5 yards) and scoring offense (36 points). Besides Mallett, also back are his five leading receivers -- Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, D.J. Williams, Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton. The quintet caught 25 of Mallett's 30 TD passes last season. The question this year is can the Razorbacks' defense catch anybody? Last season, Arkansas had the SEC's worst passing defense (248 yards) and total defense (401 yards). Under Coach Bobby Petrino, Arkansas has started 3-5 and 3-4 the past two seasons. This year, the Hogs have five potential losses in the opening six weeks -- at Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, and at Auburn. If the Razorbacks can manage a 4-2 (or better) start, they should roll in during the schedule's second half, much like last season when they closed 5-1. If so, they could produce their first 10-win season since 2006.
19. WEST VIRGINIA
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 9
* 2009 record (conference finish): 9-5 (5-2 Big East, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Florida State, 33-21, in Gator Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Pittsburgh, Nov. 26.
* Fall forecast: In each of the past five seasons, West Virginia has won at least nine games, one of only seven programs to do so. Still, something's been missing the past four years -- namely a Big East title. The Mountaineers return nine starters on each side of the ball and should be in the mix for a Big East crown, especially with the talent on offense. RB Noel Devine, the nation's fourth-leading rusher last season, opted not to leave early for the NFL and returns along with WR Jock Sanders and four of five offensive line starters. Expectations also are high for Geno Smith, who takes over for Jarrett Brown at quarterback. DL Scooter Berry heads a deep, experienced defensive front. The Mountaineers' non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to LSU on Sept. 25. For WVU to be a serious Big East contender, it will have to improve its play away from Morgantown, where the Mountaineers are 4-6 the past two seasons. This fall, the Mountaineers have that trip to LSU (non-conference) plus games at UConn and Pittsburgh.
* Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 6
* 2009 record (conference finish): 8-5 (6-3 Pac-10, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Oklahoma, 31-27, in Sun Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Oregon, Oct. 2.
* Fall forecast: Luck had a lot to do with Stanford posting its first winning season since 2002 last year. And Luck will play an even bigger role in the Cardinal's success this season: Andrew Luck (right), Stanford's sophomore quarterback, is back after setting the school's freshman passing record last year. Luck also led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and ranked second in total offense. Luck won't have the luxury of handing off to workhorse RB Toby Gerhart this season, but he will be working behind an offensive line that returns four starters from last year's unit that allowed the second fewest sacks (seven) in the nation. WRs Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen, who ranked second and third, respectively, in yards per catch (18.4, 16.2) last year, give Stanford two quality deep threats. Owusu, who had three TDs on kickoff returns last year, also is one of the nation's top kickoff returners. Defensively, the Cardinal should be improved -- and better be after allowing at least 31 points in six of their final eight games last season. SS Delano Howell, LB Shayne Skov and CB Richard Sherman are among six returning starters. Stanford will find out in a three-week stretch at Notre Dame, at Oregon and home against USC beginning Sept. 25 how much Luck the Cardinal will need this season.
17. FLORIDA STATE
* Starters returning: Offense 10, defense 6
* 2009 record (conference finish): 7-6 (4-4 ACC Atlantic, third)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated West Virginia, 33-21, in Gator Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Oklahoma, Sept. 11
* Fall forecast: Dadgum it. After 34 years as Florida State's coach, Bobby Bowden retired after last season. Jimbo Fisher, who was FSU's offensive coordinator the past three seasons, takes over. Fisher's offense will be loaded. Returning are 10 starters, including QB Christian Ponder (right) and the entire offensive line, which has combined for 142 career starts and features four-year starters Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon. Ponder led the ACC in total offense with a 321.8 yard per-game average despite suffering a season-ending right shoulder injury in the ninth game. Putting up points shouldn't be a problem for the Seminoles, but the question is will they be able to stop anyone? That's the challenge for new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. Last year, FSU's defense ranked as the nation's 11th-worst in pass efficiency and 13th worst in rushing and total defense. The few times the Seminoles were able to force a punt, Greg Reid took advantage, averaging a national best 18.4-yard per punt return. Reid, also a cornerback, is not among six returning defensive starters, but is expected to play a bigger role on defense. It won't take long to see if the Seminoles are improved on defense as Florida State visits Oklahoma in week two in Fisher's first road game as head coach. The only other difficult road test will be at Miami. Fisher will have the luxury of playing seven home games, with BYU, North Carolina and Florida all coming to Tallahassee.
16. NORTH CAROLINA
* Starters returning: Offense 10, defense 9
* 2009 record (conference finish): 8-5 (4-4 ACC Coastal, fourth)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Pittsburgh, 19-17, in Meineke Car Care Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Miami, Oct. 23.
* Fall forecast: North Carolina will look a lot like it did last season as the Tar Heels return 19 of 22 starters, plus their placekicker and punter. While the players will be nearly identical from a year ago, the Tar Heels hope the results are somewhat different -- namely better. Especially since six UNC juniors, who were considering leaving early for the NFL Draft, decided to return for their senior seasons. Among those players were five defensive starters: DT Marvin Austin, CB Kendric Burney, LBs Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant and S Deunta Williams. The defense, which ranked sixth nationally last season, hasn't been the problem in Chapel Hill, it's been an inconsistent offense. Last season, UNC was held to 20 or fewer points in six games. It's imperative senior QB T.J. Yates improves on last year's performance (14 TDs, 15 interceptions). If so, the Tar Heels could register the program's best season since the 1997 team went 11-1. Last season, they nearly had 10 or 11 wins, but their final three losses to Florida State, N.C. State and Pittsburgh were by a total of six points. This year, the schedule will be challenging from the outset, opening against LSU in Atlanta. In all, the Tar Heels will face eight teams that won at least nine games apiece last season.