2008 NCAA College Football Top 25: Preseason Edition
An important factor to note before digesting this poll: Where I’m picking these teams in the poll is NOT where I’m predicting they end up. If you want to see how I think each team’s season will end, please read my conference previews. This poll reflects each team’s current status in my mind going into the season before a game is played.
Once the season gets going, I’ll evaluate each team based upon their play on the field. I have no qualms moving a team down if they play poorly in victory, just like I’m not necessarily going to drop a team for losing a tough close game. Everything from schedule strength to margin of victory will be considered. The only factor that really doesn’t come into play is injuries. Everyone gets banged up and championship teams respond well to adversity.
I have split the poll into three groups, the names of which are quite self-explanatory. Teams can easily move between groupings once the games begin. Without any further ado, here is my 2008 Preseason Top 25!
THE 2008 NATIONAL TITLE SHORT LIST
#1) Ohio State Buckeyes - Why Ohio State? Well, the Buckeyes return 19 starters, feature one of the deepest teams in recent memory and Heisman Trophy Candidate Chris “Beanie” Wells. Overall, no one in the country can match the Buckeyes depth on paper and if they had won either of the last two National Championships, this vote would be unanimous. Luckily for college football fans, we’ll quickly find out if this ranking is justified after a Week 3 matchup with USC. Expect OSU to be a fixture near the top of the polls all season long.
Week 1: Home versus Youngstown State (D-1AA)
#2) Oklahoma Sooners - Oklahoma is a very deep team that has won five of the last seven Big XII Championships! Furthermore, the Sooners feature one of the country’s top quarterbacks in sophomore Sam Bradford, exceptional lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and are talented everywhere. This could be Bob Stoops’ most talented Sooner squad and they are a very deserving preseason number two selection.
Week 1: Home versus Chattanooga (D-1AA)
#3) Missouri Tigers - Missouri is coming off of the school’s best season in history and returns a large number of starters, none of which are more important than senior quarterback Chase Daniels. Expect he and sophomore do-it-all Jeremy Maclin to power one of the country’s best offenses. Remember the only team that beat the Tigers last fall was Oklahoma and Missouri will hope for revenge this fall in a possible Big XII Title Game matchup.
Week 1: ‘Arch Rivalry Game’ in St. Louis versus Illinois
#4) Florida Gators - Florida has a lot going their way coming into the fall. Let’s see: Defending Heisman winning quarterback? Check. Talented Offensive Line at Full Health? Check. Super talented linebackers? Check. The most talent in the SEC? Check. Now, the Gators have a lot to prove to me, especially at DT and in the secondary, but if they can get that running game going, Florida’s offense will be tough to outscore and the Gators are very, very dangerous. The only major knock on them is their overall youth.
Week 1: Home versus Hawai’i
#5) Southern Cal Trojans - Wow. What a surprise to see Southern Cal in the Top 5. Detect any sarcasm? As usual, the Trojans are one of the country’s most talented teams. The defense features one of the country’s best back seven units and USC has a ton of great tailbacks. The Trojans have to break in a lot of new starters on the offensive line, but their superb talent is unquestioned. The moment of truth this fall comes against Ohio State in week 3.
Week 1: At Virginia
IN THE 2008 NATIONAL TITLE DISCUSSION
#6) Penn State Nittany Lions - Unlike USC, seeing Penn State in the top ten will be a surprise to many. However, Penn State returns one of the country’s best defenses despite losing star LB Sean Lee and the Nittany Lions have a very veteran group back on offense. New starting quarterback Darryl Clark should quickly spawn comparisons to former star Michael Robinson. Expect a great year in Happy Valley.
Week 1: Home versus Coastal Carolina (D-1AA)
#7) Texas Tech Red Raiders - I’ve already extolled the virtues of Oklahoma and Missouri, but the team that could easily ruin both of their seasons is Texas Tech. This team features an exceptional offense that will score points in bunches and also boasts their best defense in years. Texas Tech should have a huge year and this is one of the country’s best teams.
Week 1: Home versus Eastern Washington (D-1AA)
#8) Clemson Tigers - Clemson is always a team that fails to meet high expectations, but this fall seems different. The Tigers have a veteran team and their only possible weakness aside from their historical propensity to choke away titles is on the O-line. Clemson will quickly show us all whether this year is different on the season’s opening night against Alabama.
Week 1: Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta versus Alabama
#9) Georgia Bulldogs - This is probably a confusing pick to most people who read my SEC preview. While I do believe that the Bulldogs are going to disappoint this fall, it simply hasn’t happened yet and is still a prediction. From what we’ve seen of the Bulldogs last year on the field, this is a very talented team and is probably one of the country’s ten best teams entering the year. I still have serious reservations surrounding the Bulldogs, especially with a lot of suspensions and injuries, but I give them their due as the ninth best team in the country coming in.
Week 1: Home versus Georgia Southern (D-1AA)
#10) Wisconsin Badgers - Wisconsin enters this fall returning eighteen starters from last year’s nine win edition. The Badgers are a tough team that features a powerful running attack and an improved defense. Tight End Travis Beckum is the country’s best and he will be a gamebreaker this fall. Expect a big year this fall in Madison in Brett Bielema’s third year after winning 21 games during his first two.
Week 1: Home versus Akron
#11) Tennessee Volunteers - Tennessee is being discounted by many people around the country, who simply believe that the SEC East is Florida, Georgia, and everyone else. Watch for quarterback Jonathan Crompton and a talented offense to ring up a lot of points. Tennessee also has a very strong defense and is the conference’s most complete team. This team is my pick to win the SEC this fall, but they’ll have to prove it on the field before they are ranked in the top ten.
Week 1: Sunday at UCLA
#12) Virginia Tech Hokies - Virginia Tech is a very talented team which can throw two different looks at you on offense, featuring speedy QB Tyrod Taylor and steady senior QB Sean Glennon. The Hokies also have a very good defense led by star cornerback Macho Harris. Expect Virginia Tech, who has finished in the top ten in three of the last four years, to have a very solid squad and enjoy a successful season.
Week 1: At East Carolina
#13) Texas Longhorns - Texas is a team that rarely begins the year ranked outside of the top ten, but this fall’s edition of Longhorns has to answer some questions on defense and at running back. While the Longhorns could easily fix their defense and become a National Title Contender, they’re going to have to prove that their defensive woes and Colt McCoy’s high interception totals are a thing of the past before I rank them any higher.
Week 1: Home versus Florida Atlantic
#14) Auburn Tigers - The final entrant to the National Title discussion is an interesting team. Their offense is still a relative unknown due to the change to the spread offense and the lack of a clear-cut starter, but the Tigers feature a very good defense and are the class of the SEC West. While the Tigers are very much a dark horse in the National Title picture, they have the personnel and experience to make a run.
OUTSIDE THE NATIONAL TITLE DISCUSSION BUT DANGEROUS
#15) Louisiana State Tigers - The defending National Champions find themselves just outside the National Title discussion as there are a few major questions in Baton Rouge, most notably in the secondary and at the quarterback position. However, LSU is a very talented team that features a lot of players who won a National Title last fall, so LSU is the definition of a dangerous team and the Tigers should have a very solid season despite quarterback play that should hold them back from returning to the top ten.
Week 1: Home versus Appalachian State (D-1AA - FCS)
#16) Illinois Fighting Illini - Illinois enters this fall with a lot to prove. Were the Fighting Illini simply a team that got a lot of notoriety for upsetting #1 Ohio State late last fall or is this team for real? Well, the Illini also bested Penn State and Wisconsin last fall and featured a very young team that is now a year older and experienced. While the Illini will dearly miss tailback Rashard Mendenhall, they remain one of the most dangerous teams in the nation and are good enough to knock off almost anyone. The big question is whether they can play at a championship level all fall when this team is still growing.
Week 1: ‘Arch Rivalry Game’ in St. Louis versus Missouri
#17) South Carolina Gamecocks - Is this finally the year that the Head Ball Coach takes the Gamecocks to another level? After opening last year like gangbusters, the Gamecocks will be looking to erase the sour memories of a second half gone wrong. With seventeen starters back, the Gamecocks are a consistent quarterback away from competing for the SEC East and they are a very dangerous and talented team that no one should overlook.
Week 1:Thursday at Home versus North Carolina State
#18) South Florida Bulls - South Florida had an abbreviated coming out party last fall, knocking off Auburn and West Virginia early in the season, but the Bulls fell short against lesser opponents and it cost them the Big East crown. The highest ranked Big East team in this poll, the Bulls should be a dangerous opponent for any team this fall and they will have learned from last year’s experience. This team has all the talent and moxie required to win the Big East.
Week 1:Home versus Tennessee-Martin (D-1AA)
#19) West Virginia Mountaineers - After an offseason of tumult, there is perhaps no team in the NCAA that is looking forward to real games more than WVU. I’m worried that WVU trustees made the decision to hire new coach Bill Stewart with their hearts instead of their brains. That worry has also been reinforced by the talk of making star quarterback Pat White into more of a passer when he is a Heisman candidate every year for his running ability. WVU is a good team but they have a lot of questions so I’m going to exclude them from the National Title discussion until we know more about the Mountaineers.
Week 1: Home versus Villanova (D-1AA)
#20) Oregon Ducks - The Ducks have taken a sharp fall in my rankings because of the very recent injury to projected starting quarterback Nathan Costa, who hurt the same knee that caused him to miss last fall. The uncertainty surrounding the Ducks at the QB position caused them to drop precipitously last fall as well after losing Dennis Dixon. However, Oregon still has a very talented team and a lot of players are back from last year’s great team. Expect the Ducks to be a strong team this fall and win a lot of games.
Week 1: Home versus Washington
#21) California Golden Bears - Cal had a tough drop off last fall but should rebound nicely this year. Sophomore Kevin Riley is now the unquestioned starter at quarterback and the Bears should be much better than last year’s 7-6 edition. The season opener is a big game, as they face off against a dangerous up and coming team in Michigan State.
Week 1: Home versus Michigan State
#22) Kansas Jayhawks - Kansas had a fantastic season last fall, but it is a new year. The Jayhawks’ lofty ranking last year was probably in large part due to missing Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech on their schedule, a situation that has been remedied this fall. While the Jayhawks are still a very good team in spite of some big losses, they’re probably in for a much more realistic season playing the conference’s big boys and that puts them on the edge of the top 25.
Week 1: Home versus Florida International
#23) Pittsburgh Panthers - Pitt has to be the trendiest preseason pick in all of college football considering their 5-7 mark a year ago, but I’m honestly a believer. Pitt has a ton of talent and will benefit greatly from having starter Bill Stull healthy this year after having an anemic passing attack. Pitt had a very good defense last fall and the Panthers are a very balanced team on offense with star tailback Shady McCoy. Pitt could easily claim the Big East this fall.
Week 1: Home versus Bowling Green
#24) Arizona State Sun Devils - Arizona State made Dennis Erickson’s first year very successful, winning 10 games. Now the Sun Devils have a target on their collective back and will have some challenges this fall. The Sun Devils bring back a very good starting quarterback in senior Rudy Carpenter and they have a huge chance to rise in the national rankings if they can beat Georgia in Week 4. Until then, the Sun Devils remain the team that didn’t beat a single team that finished ranked last fall.
Week 1: Home versus Northern Arizona (D-1AA)
#25) Michigan State Spartans - My final entrant into the preseason top 25 is here for three reasons. One, head coach Mark Dantonio is a proven winner and he kept this team very competitive last fall while avoiding the usual MSU late season swoon. Two, tailback Javon Ringer is one of the best in the country and will be a difference maker in a lot of games this fall. Three, Michigan State didn’t lose a single game by more than a touchdown last fall, so this team is very dangerous. A tough season opener on the other side of the country will tell us a lot more about the Spartans.
Week 1: At California
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON IN 2008
Fresno State Bulldogs
Brigham Young Cougars
Ole Miss Rebels
Alabama Crimson Tide
Texas Christian Horned Frogs
Florida State Seminoles
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Unsurprisingly, the conference with the most teams in this top 25 poll is the SEC, which boasts a total of six. The Big XII and Big Ten check in next, both with five and the Pac Ten is right behind with four. The Big East has three and the ACC trails the rest with a paltry two. A number of intriguing games take place this weekend to kick of the season. Check back in on Thursday as I break down the week’s biggest games in what will be the first of a weekly column.
By Matt Baxendell
CollegeSports-fans.com Staff Writer
Matt Baxendell is collegesports-fans.com’s newest staff writer. If you’d like to join his college football therapy group, email him at matt.baxendell @ gmail.com with all your questions, comments, and anything else you would like to share. Also be sure to check out Matt's 2008 conference previews here at CollegeSports-fans.com!
CollegeSports-fans.com is the home of the Dash Fans Network of independent college sports fan sites. If you are interested in having a link to your site from College Sports Fans or in joining the Dash Fans Network, or if you are interested in advertising on the Dash Fans Network, please visit our Contact Info page.