Post-Spring Top 25 Projection - Chapter Three, 15-11
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 Three, looking at teams 15-11. The start of the Top 10 is just one day away. 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.
And part two is here if you missed it.
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 5
* 2009 record (conference finish): 8-5 (5-3 Big 12 South, tie for third)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated Stanford, 31-27, in Sun Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Texas in Dallas, Oct. 2.
* Fall forecast: The good news for Oklahoma last season was the Sooners didn't lose another BCS bowl game. Then again, they weren't close to making one after losing six starters to season-ending injuries, including QB Sam Bradford and TE Jermaine Gresham -- both first-round NFL Draft picks. With the rash of injuries, Oklahoma was anything but OK. It lost as many regular season games (five) in 2009 as it did the previous three seasons combined. This year, expect the Sooners to rebound with QB Landry Jones, who was thrust into the lineup after Bradford's injury and threw for 3,198 yards and 26 TDs as a freshman; WR Ryan Broyles, RB DeMarco Murray, LB Travis Lewis and S Quinton Carter. OU opens against Utah State and will roll to the 800th victory in program history. The next week, Florida State comes to Norman, giving the Sooners' their toughest challenge at keeping alive the nation's longest home winning streak (30 entering the year). However, the biggest test -- as usual -- is the Red River Rivalry in Dallas against Texas. If the Sooners can reverse their recent 1-4 slide against the Longhorns, they should return to a customary BCS bowl in January. Then they can worry about ending their five-game BCS bowl game losing streak under coach Bob Stoops.
14. OREGON STATE
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 8
* 2009 record (conference finish): 8-5 (6-3 Pac-10, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to BYU, 44-20, in Las Vegas Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Boise State, Sept. 25.
* Fall forecast: The past few seasons have been nearly identical for Oregon State. The Beavers are picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10 preseason poll, but each year end up higher than expected, finishing third twice and tied for second twice in the past four seasons. This year, the pollsters shouldn't be guilty of overlooking the Beavers, who return 17 starters, including the dynamic Rodgers brothers -- Jacquizz, a junior tailback, and James, a senior flanker and the Pac-10's leading receiver. Unproven sophomore QB Ryan Katz takes over for Sean Canfield, last year's leading passer in the Pac-10. Defensively, the Beavers return their entire defensive line, led by All-Pac-10 DT Stephen Paea (right). However, the Beavers lost two starters at linebacker when OLB Keith Pankey suffered an Achilles injury in February (he hopes to return), and MLB David Pa'aluhi left school. The Beavers will be tested immediately, opening against TCU in Arlington, Texas, and then visiting Boise State three weeks later. In league play, Oregon State will have to finish strong, closing the season against USC, Stanford and Oregon.
* Starters returning: Offense 5, defense 6
* 2009 record (conference finish): 10-3 (5-2 Big East, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated North Carolina, 19-17, in Meineke Car Care Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Miami, Sept. 23.
* Fall forecast: Pittsburgh may not have much quantity as far as returning starters are concerned, but there's no disputing the quality. The Panthers feature arguably the Big East's three best players at their respective positions -- TB Dion Lewis, last year's Big East Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman; WR Jon Baldwin, who averaged 19.5 yards per catch; and DE Greg Romeus, who had eight of Pittsburgh's national-best 47 sacks. Even with all of the talent coach Dave Wannstedt has amassed in six seasons, the Panthers still are looking for the first unbeaten non-conference record in school history. And with a non-conference schedule featuring road games at Utah and Notre Dame and a home game with Miami, it's unlikely the Panthers will get through unscathed this year either. However, once they enter league play, the Panthers should emerge as the Big East's team to beat. The Panthers' conference schedule is back-loaded with a tough finishing stretch of UConn, South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Only the West Virginia game is at home.
* Starters returning: Offense 7, defense 8
* 2009 record (conference finish): 9-4 (5-3 ACC Coastal, third)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Wisconsin, 20-14, in Champs Sports Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: at Ohio State, Sept. 11
* Fall forecast: Jacory Harris (right) had his shares of ups -- becoming UM's first quarterback since Ken Dorsey in 2002 to throw for more than 3,000 yards -- and downs -- literally down, as in sacked 34 times -- last season. In UM's wins, Harris averaged 2.2 TD passes, one interception and 2.3 sacks per game, while averaging 1 TD pass, two interceptions and 3.3 sacks in the losses. This season, Harris should improve on those numbers with three of UM's top four running backs and four of its top five wide receivers back from last season. Massive seniors Orlando Franklin (6-7, 318) and Joel Figueroa (6-5, 330) will anchor the offensive line. All-ACC CB Brandon Harris, second nationally in pass break-ups a year ago, returns along with LB Colin McCarthy.
After opening against FCS-member Florida A&M, the Hurricanes have consecutive road games against the likely favorites of the Big Ten (Ohio State) and Big East (Pittsburgh). The conference schedule is much more favorable with the toughest road game at Georgia Tech, while Miami gets Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech at home. If Miami can hold on at home and steal some road wins, the Hurricanes could win the Coastal Division.
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 7
* 2009 record (conference finish): 12-1 (8-0 Mountain West, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Boise State, 17-10, in Fiesta Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Oregon State at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 4.
* Fall forecast: The Horned Frogs appear primed for another solid season under coach Gary Patterson. Andy Dalton returns for his fourth season as TCU's starting quarterback. Dalton, the 2009 Mountain West Player of the Year, is among 27 seniors on the Horned Frogs' roster. Jeremy Kerley, Dalton's favorite target last season with 44 catches, and Jimmy Young lead a deep group of wide receivers. TCU also will be strong on the offensive line. TCU has led the nation in total defense the past two seasons, but may be hard pressed to three-peat without DE Jerry Hughes, last year's Ted Hendricks and Lott Trophy award winner. The Horned Frogs do return their other three linemen -- DE Wayne Daniels, DT Cory Grant and NT Kelly Griffin -- along with the aptly named LB Tank Carder. If the Frogs can get past Oregon State and Baylor in the opening three weeks, they should end the regular season in contention for another BCS bowl bid.