Teams 5-1 are considered to be the “crème de la crème” of the crop this season but I would say each is not without its worries. While it is possible one or more of these teams could finish the season undefeated, it is not likely going to happen. The team that has the best shot is also the team that has to try and win over the voters if they want to appear in the National Championship game. However it goes, all of these teams are likely to remain in the Top 10 throughout the season borrowing a catastrophe; thereby giving themselves a shot at always being in the conversation of being worthy of a title chance. With that being said, here is a look at my team’s ranked #5-#1.
5. LSU Tigers – Up until about a week ago, I would have placed Les Miles’s Tigers as high as #2 but oh how quickly things can take a turn….for the worse. It now appears the Tigers will have to at least start the season with Jarrett Lee at QB as the University has suspended QB Jordan Jefferson for the time being following his arrest based on his participation in a fight out side of a club in Baton Rouge. While Jefferson was not the only LSU player involved, he was definitely the most notable and the most important. Even though Jefferson and Lee shared the QB duties last season (largely because neither has been able to break-out and be consistent) many people around the program felt Jefferson gave the Tigers their best chance to win this season. You add to this that LSU will be without leading receiver Russell Shepard for the first part of the season and now you wonder what the passing game will be like. On the defensive side the Tigers lost All-American Patrick Peterson to the NFL but the Tiger’s have plenty impact players on that side of the ball. DB Tyrann Mathieu will be counted on to be the impact player in the secondary that Peterson was last season. The schedule for LSU is brutal to say the least, especially considering they will open the season on 9/3 playing Oregon on neutral field. The Tigers will also play in Starkville against Miss. St. on 9/15 and then travel to Morgantown on 9/24 to face West Virginia. The Tigers get Florida (10/8) and Auburn (10/22) at home in Baton Rouge before heading to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama (11/5). To end the season, the Tigers will host Arkansas on 11/25 in what promises to be entertaining game. I say the turmoil and uncertainty have the Tigers looking at 9-3.
4. Boise St. Broncos – Those pesky Broncos are back again and this time they are set to give themselves their best chance yet to “crash the party” and make it to that all elusive National Championship game. The Broncos have jumped into the Mountain West Conference to try and improve their chances at improving their standing in the eyes of the voters and pollsters. Coach Chris Peterson has to like his team and its chances in making this season a very special one; the Broncos expect to start 18 seniors this season, 10 of those on defense. Back is QB Kellen Moore (38-2) as a starter and his primary target will be Tyler Shoemaker; RB Doug Martin (6.3 yds per carry last season) will get most of the carries out of the back field. They have three returning starters on the “O” line and they have a pair of terrific TEs in Kyle Efaw and Gabe Linehan. This should be one of the best offensive teams in the nation. On defense, the “D” line is absolutely solid and they have great depth there as well. It will not be easy for opponents to wear down the Broncos front line at all. MLB Bryan Hout is often over-looked outside of Boise but he is great against run and has improved his pass coverage; CB Jamar Taylor is one of the best in the nation. The Broncos will open against Georgia (at the Georgia Dome) on 9/3 (the last time they met, 2005 when the Bulldogs pounded the Broncos 48-13). The Broncos will also play 6 other road games, but two bear watching….10/7 at Fresno St. and 11/19 at San Diego St., both of those games will be closer than you think. But the one game the Bronco fans have circled outside of the 9/3 contest with Georgia is the 11/12 showdown with TCU up in Boise; that one should be a good one. If the Broncos can get by Georgia then I don’t see any reason why they can’t run all the way to shot at a National Title at 12-0.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – Much like other SEC Top 5 team, the strength of the Nick Saban’s team will be a stingy defense, which is a good thing. That is because just like that other Top 5 team, the offense has some question marks, especially when you look at the passing game. Gone is your steady and proven winner at QB in Greg McElroy; also off to the NFL is your former Heisman Trophy toting RB in Mark Ingram and your biggest and most explosive WR, Julio Jones. Those are three huge holes to try and fill and only in one of those positions do you have someone ready to do that; that is at RB where Trent Richardson is ready to emerge from Ingram’s shadow and show the nation how good of a back he is. The QB battle has not been settled yet as it was thought that A.J. McCarron would be a shoe-in considering he was the back-up to McElroy. However, Phillip Sims has done enough to warrant a closer-look into whether or not he deserves to start. McCarron is the classic pro-style QB while Sims is a dual-threat QB who can use his legs when he needs to. The primary WR for either of them to throw to will be Marquis Maze but outside of him, there is not a whole lot of experience at that position. The offensive line is experienced, big, and physical so the blocking and pass protection should be great. On defense is where the Tide will excel with safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester patrolling the secondary and LBs Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw playing sideline-to-sideline, it will be hard to attack this unit. The schedule is manageable but does have a few rough spots. A trip to Happy Valley on 9/10 could be an interesting game if Penn St. can avoid turnovers; on 10/1 the Tide will travel to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators in what could be a game of field goals. On 11/5 the Tide will host LSU and then a week later hit the road to play Miss. St. in Starkville. They will finish the season on 11/25 on the road against in-state rival Auburn. I think the Tide can go 11-1 and earn a spot in the SEC Championship game.
2. Oregon Ducks – The runner-up in last season’s National title game is back and looking to be back in title hunt again. The Ducks didn’t lose a whole lot for an offense that was not slowed down until they played Auburn in the Championship game. The up-tempo pace makes it hard for opponents to switch personnel or get your starters a breather. Back are QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James but they will be working behind an inexperienced offensive line. Add to that a group of new wide-outs for Thomas to throw to and you would think Oregon may be ranked a little too high. But given the nature of the “spread” offense and how it works, having a solid QB and RB are really the key ingredients to making this offense really work. The other side of the ball will also have changes as the Ducks lost 5 of their front 7 from last season. The good news here is because they played a lot of players last year, the guys that are expected to start are not new to playing. However, the Ducks must get more physical on defense because they were pushed around by Auburn’s offensive line in last season’s title game. As for the schedule, nothing like “baptism by fire” as the Ducks will kick-off the season in Dallas against LSU. That one has all-the makings of a classic although the Tigers are having some player personnel issues at the moment. A 9/24 trip to Tucson to play Arizona could prove to be an interesting affair as well. Back-to-back road games in Nov. against Washington (11/5) and Stanford (11/12) could prove to be a daunting task as well. They will close out the season by hosting USC and Oregon St., both games that will be intense. The Ducks were untouched until the Championship game last season but I am not sure if they can stay unscathed this year, I say they are looking like a 10-2 team.
1. Oklahoma Sooners – This may be the best club Coach Stoops has had over the past 5 years but he is taking nothing for granted. He has his players practicing as if they are #100 in the country instead of #1. The season will be long and the grind will be hard but he has one of the best pitch & catch combinations in the country in QB Landry Jones and wide-out Ryan Broyles; also you can’t forget about WR Kenny Sills who had over 700 receiving yards last season as well. The offensive line is very physical and has a ton of experience so Jones should have plenty of time to find his targets. Oklahoma is still trying to sort out some issues on defense due to a death (LB Austin Box), and injury (Travis Lewis) and pending suspension (Ronnell Lewis) so who lines up in certain positions for the Sooners has not been decided yet. But there is no shortage of talent and skill on the defense, the question is how they will perform once the “lights come on”. LB Tom Wort is much improved and he was pretty good last year. The schedule makers definitely did not do Stoops and his team any favors as it will be tough. They open the season against a Tulsa team that finished 10-3 last season and at one point won 7 in a row. On 9/17, the Sooners will head down to Tallahassee to play Florida State. Now last season the Noles were taken “behind the woodshed” in Norman so they would love to exact some revenge. They get Missouri at home on 9/24 but play at Texas on 10/9. They will host Texas A&M on 11/5 but will travel to Waco to face the Baylor Bears on 11/19. They will finish the regular season by visiting Stillwater to face Oklahoma St. on 12/3. They may start the year ranked #1 but it will be hard to maintain it, I say 10-2.