Teams 10-6 could be in the Top 5 after the first two weeks of the season because all five teams that will be ranked ahead of them either have tough games against other opponents or they will directly play a team ranked 6 -10. On paper, some would say those in the Top 5 have a distinct advantage over the teams ranked in the five slots behind them, but if you look closer I think the gap is much closer when you look at the teams, and size them up on the field. With that being said, here is a look at my team’s ranked #10-#6.
10. Wisconsin Badgers – The Badgers are not a flashy team and in fact they are somewhat of a “throw-back” compared to other teams ranked in the Top 25. No spread formations or hurry-up offenses in Madison; just big physical lines on both sides of the ball, and the theory being we are going to play “smash-mouth” football on both sides. However, the Badgers offense may get a little jolt of juice in it because the dual-threat QB, Russell Wilson, former starting QB at N.C. State is on campus and eligible to play this season. All indications are that Wilson will be the starting QB on 9/3 and that is welcome news for Badger fans who thought they may open the season with an inexperienced QB at the helm. Wilson will have the 1-2 punch of James White and Montee Ball in the backfield behind him as well as three returning O-linemen in front of them. The Badgers will be solid on defense and it will be hard to put up points against them. The Badger’s schedule is very manageable, especially early on. They will get a visit from the Cornhuskers on 10/1 and that could be an absolute brawl more than a football game. Back-to-back road games against Michigan St., 10/22 and Ohio St., 10/29will be a challenge for Wisconsin. Aside from that, a late season visit to Champagne to play Illinois is all that the Badgers have left. They finished 11- 2 last season (11-1 regular season) and it is not out of the realm for them to go 11-1 again.
9. Stanford Cardinal – The Cardinal became one of the stories last season football as they came close to making an appearance for the National Title (only loss to Oregon). Of course some things have changed since last season including the departure of Coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL. But back is my pre-season favorite for the Heisman, QB Andrew Luck and he gives the Cardinal faithful something to smile about. Luck turned down the NFL to comeback and take one more shot at a National Title but he will have to hope for some younger players to step up quickly. The Cardinal will have to break in three new offensive linemen and no one more than Luck and RB Stefan Taylor hopes the line comes together rather quickly. Gone are both starting receivers from last season’s team but there are a bunch of young talented receivers waiting to step in to fill that void. The defense will be led by LBs Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas and they will get big time help from SS Delano Howell. The success of the Cardinal will ride squarely on how clean Luck’s uniform can stay…..the line must keep him vertical and keep the passing lanes clear for him to work his magic. The schedule is not bad but an early season trip to Tucson on 9/17 to play Arizona will be a test; on 10/29, they will travel to Southern California to play USC in a game that could be a shoot-out. The Cardinal will finish the year with three straight home games but the opponents are not cupcakes: Oregon on 11/12, California on 11/19 and Notre Dame on 11/26. If Luck remains healthy, a 10-2 mark would be fair guess on how this season will be for the Cardinal fans.
8. Texas A&M Aggies – The Aggies are probably the most underrated and unheralded of the Top 10 teams but they return 16 starters off of team that was very impressive at the end of last season. QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray and WR Jeff Fuller are all back and that should be the basis for the Aggies having one of the more potent offenses in the Big 12 this season (last season the offense avg. 441 yds per and 31.2 pts. per). The issue for the Aggies will be on the defensive side where they will have to replace All-American Von Miller who has moved on to the NFL; also gone from last season’s team is last season’s top tackler, Michael Hodges. CB Coryell Judie is a star in the making and so that should limit at least one side of the field opposing QBs can attack. The main thing for the Texas A&M is it must get off to a better start than it has over the last couple of seasons where they have started relatively slow and endured some tough losses. Their schedule is not bad at all as they get Oklahoma St. (9/24), Arkansas (10/1), Missouri (10/29) and Texas (11/24) all at home in College Station. The bad……one tough road challenge in Norman against Oklahoma. Mike Sherman has the Aggies headed in the right direction and they have a great shot at going 10-2.
7. Florida St. Seminoles – Coach Jimbo Fisher has brought some much needed energy and enthusiasm into Tallahassee and the fans and alumni could not be happier. With state rivals Miami (NCAA troubles) and Florida (new coach) looking at some uncertainty for this season, the Noles look to be the class of the state. Even more than that, the ACC is severely weakened this season and the one team that may be able to really challenge the Noles is a team (Va. Tech) they wouldn’t meet until possibly the ACC Championship Game. With Christian Ponder moving on to the NFL, QB E.J. Manual is ready to show the nation what he can do on a full-time basis. We know he can run but his passing is actually pretty good as well so the Noles will be able to air out when they need to. The Noles will be fast on both sides of the ball and their skilled position players have improved immensely. DE Brandon Jenkins is a monster coming off of the corner and at times is nearly un-blockable (13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last season). The one early problem for Fisher is they have had several players already nicked up in spring and summer practices / drills but most if not all are expected to be healthy for the season opener. The schedule is not loaded but all of Tallahassee has one date circled for sure, 10/17 when they will host Oklahoma (the Sooners absolutely took the Noles out behind the wood-shed last season in Norman); this will certainly be a pay-back game in the minds of the returning player for FSU. A week later, they will travel to Death Valley to play Clemson and that is never a “gimme” game. The Noles will get N.C. State and Miami at home and they will close the season with a trip to Gainesville to play Florida. Fisher’s club is solid and that game against OU will tell a lot; I think the Noles are looking like a 1 loss team if they beat OU but that is if……….I say 10-2 is their record.
6. Oklahoma St. Cowboys – Mike Gundy possibly has his best team since he took over in Stillwater and the fans believe this season could be real special. The Cowboys have a high powered spread offense propelled by the throwing of QB Brandon Weeden and the playmaking ability of WR Justin Blackmon, both turned down the NFL for a shot at a possible National Championship. The Cowboys have dept at all of the offensive skilled positions and the offensive line is experienced; RBs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will handle most of the duties in the backfield but look for freshman Herschel Sims to see action as well. The defense is solid and led the Big 12 in takeaways last season while ranking 11th nationally with 19 INTs. They will be just as dangerous this season but must find away to avoid those plays in which the tackling is poor or there is a blown coverage in the secondary. They also have quite a dual weapon in P/PK Quinn Sharp who allows the Cowboys an advantage that some teams will not have, punts deep and accurate and has a strong leg if a FG of distance is needed. The schedule will have some tests for Gundy’s squad though, starting with a trip to College Station to play Texas A&M on 9/24. Then there are back-to-back games on the road against Texas (10/15) and Missouri (10/22) that will be intriguing to say the least. But they will end the year at home against their hated rival, the Oklahoma Sooners in what promises to be a game for the ages. This year could be special but the schedule is not easy, so another 10-2 season may not be bad.