Post-Spring Top 25 Projection - The Finale, 5 to 1
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 the last part, counting down from 5 to 1. We've got your champion right here. Make sure you write this down so you can see how accurate it is come Jan. 11.
5. Ohio State
* Starters returning: Offense 10, defense 6
* 2009 record (conference finish): 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated Oregon, 26-17, in Rose Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Miami, Sept. 11.
* Fall forecast: Ohio State got "one for the thumb" last season, winning a fifth consecutive Big Ten championship ring. And with 16 returning starters, the Buckeyes are favored to capture an unprecedented sixth Big Ten title. If junior QB Terrelle Pryor's Rose Bowl MVP performance against Oregon (72 yards rushing, career-high 266 yards passing and school bowl record 338 yards total offense) was a preview of what to expect this fall, then the Buckeyes might also be playing for the BCS title. The defense returns leading tacklers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle at linebacker and DE Cameron Heyward, but the Buckeyes have to replace three starting linemen off the nation's seventh-best rushing defense as well with both safeties. An intriguing early season matchup/2003 Fiesta Bowl rematch with Miami -- paging field judge Terry Porter – will be one of the year's top non-conference clashes. In league play, the Buckeyes get Penn State and rival Michigan at home, but must travel to Big Ten contenders Wisconsin and Iowa. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, since Ohio State is 18-1 in its past 19 Big Ten road games.
* Starters returning: Offense 6, defense 7
* 2009 record (conference finish): 13-1 (8-0 Big 12 South, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Lost to Alabama, 37-21, in BCS title game
* Toughest test in 2010: at Nebraska, Oct. 16.
* Fall forecast: How do you replace the winningest quarterback in FBS history? Texas found out early in last season's BCS title game when Colt McCoy left with a shoulder injury. True freshman Garrett Gilbert (right) came off the bench and, predictably, had his ups and downs -- 15-of -40 for 186 yards, four interceptions and two TDs -- but a strong showing this spring has given the Horns hope for a second consecutive Big 12 title. RB Tre' Newton (team-best 552 yards rushing in '09) and WR Malcolm Williams (team-best 14.1 yards per catch) will help Gilbert shoulder the load. LB Keenan Robinson heads a defense that returns seven starters off last year's unit that led the nation and Big 12 in rush defense and was first in the Big 12 in total defense and second in passing defense. The Longhorns haven't lost to a Big 12 North team since 2006, but that streak could be in jeopardy Oct. 16 when Texas visits Nebraska in a rematch of last year's Big 12 title game. If Texas hooks the Huskers -- and takes care of Oklahoma two weeks earlier-- the Longhorns (and Gilbert) could get back to the BCS title game. This time, Gilbert will be much more prepared.
* Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 2
* 2009 record (conference finish): 14-0 (8-0 SEC West, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated Texas, 37-21, in BCS title game
* Toughest test: vs. Florida, Oct. 2.
* Fall forecast: Last year, Alabama went undefeated despite facing a daunting schedule that featured 10 teams that finished with winning records. This year, Alabama's non-conference schedule features a home date with Penn State, while the SEC slate is slightly tougher with a home visit by Florida and road games at LSU and Arkansas. Heisman Trophy RB Mark Ingram and QB Greg McElroy return -- and there's also heralded RB Trent Richardson to contend with -- but nine starters must be replaced on a defense that held 10 regular-season opponents to 15 points or less last season. So the Crimson Tide can't be as good on defense, can they? The defending national champions are still the team to beat in the SEC, but somewhere, somehow, they'll stumble at least once in league play to kill any hopes for another 14-0 season. That doesn't mean the Tide can't win it all, they just won't run the table this year.
* Starters returning: Offense 6, defense 8
* 2009 record (conference finish): 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten, tie for second)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated Georgia Tech, 24-14, in Orange Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Ohio State, Nov. 20.
* Fall forecast: Depending on your viewpoint/allegiance, last year Iowa was either the most opportunistic/luckiest team in recent memory. The Hawkeyes started 9-0, but that included close calls against the likes of Northern Iowa (17-16), Arkansas State (24-21), Michigan (30-28) and Michigan State (15-13). The Hawkeyes' perfect season finally ended against Northwestern when QB Ricky Stanzi went down with an ankle injury. Iowa lost two of its final three regular season games, but with Stanzi back for the Orange Bowl, the Hawkeyes dominated Georgia Tech in a not-as-close-as-it seems 24-14 victory by outgaining Tech, 403-155. Stanzi, 18-4 as a starter, is back to direct the offense, which welcomes RB Jewel Hampton, who rushed for 463 yards and scored seven TDs as a freshman in 2008 but missed all of last year with a knee injury. The defense, however, will the team's strength after ranking in the top 10 nationally in pass, total and scoring defense last season. Eight starters are back, including the entire line -- DEs Adrian Clayborn (right) and Broderick Binns and DTs Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Clayborn was the Orange Bowl MVP after his nine-tackle, two-sack performance. Expect Iowa's winning ways to continue, but without as many close calls. The Hawkeyes hope to take advantage of a favorable league schedule with Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all coming to Iowa City.
1. Boise State
* Starters returning: Offense 9, defense 10
* 2009 record (conference finish): 14-0 (8-0 WAC, first)
* 2009 bowl result: Defeated TCU, 17-10, in Fiesta Bowl
* Toughest test in 2010: vs. Virginia Tech at Washington D.C., Sept. 6.
* Fall forecast: Boise State will win the national championship. There, I said it. The Broncos return nearly their entire starting offense and defense from last season's 14-0 club led by QB Kellen Moore (right). Last year, Moore was nearly flawless, throwing for 3,325 yards, 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions. WRs Titus Young and Austin Pettis, who combined for 142 catches, 1,896 yards and 24 TDs last year, are among at least five seniors starting on offense. On defense, the Broncos lost only one starter, although it was their best player -- CB Kyle Wilson, a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets. Still, the Broncos have a ton of experience with at least five seniors in their starting lineup, including DL Ryan Winterswyk and S Jeron Johnson. Boise State has won 26 consecutive regular season games since losing the 2007 regular season finale at Hawaii. Why am I picking Boise State to win the national title? I don't necessarily think the Broncos are the best team and don't think they could go undefeated in the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12. But all they have to do is survive two regular season games against Virginia Tech and Oregon State and they should cruise through the WAC to a third consecutive undefeated regular season. All that would remain would be one more win on Jan. 10 in the Arizona desert, a very familiar – and successful – destination in the past for Boise State.