Preseason Top 8 picks - Crystal Ball time - Week -34 2006
It's never too early, right? Joining in on the highly speculative (after all, neither early entries to the draft or recruiting has been finalized yet) practice of guessing who will be the best next year, here are my votes on the Ocho's preseason college football poll. (Why a top 8? Think about it.)
1. Ohio State - Why Ohio State? Why not Texas, or USC, or Penn State, or LSU? One big reason is a returning QB in Troy Smith, and the return of most of the offense. While three starting linebackers are gone, along with wideout Santonio Holmes, Ohio State's domination of Notre Dame combined with the close losses to the eventual #1 and #3 teams is enough to make me think that they'll be able to fill those holes and keep moving on up.
2. LSU - I have problems with ranking LSU this high, stemming entirely from Les Miles. Maybe he got a handle on things by the Peach Bowl, maybe the Tigers just wanted it more, maybe the players were just worn out due to the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina. Still, the Tigers lost to the worst Tennessee team in recent memory, surrendering a huge halftime lead in the process. The talent is there, and with the right coaching, LSU could be making a return trip to the SEC championship game. Les, however, is a big "but" right now.
3. West Virginia - Why so high? Despite the sophomore slumps by the dynamic duo of Michigan, WV's offense was run by freshmen and this team had a huge lead on Georgia early in this game. Surely these freshmen will get better, not worse? Right? More importantly, the Mountaineers are sure to be the team to beat in a depleted Big East, which gives them a good shot at finishing undefeated. Why No. 3, you ask? Because an undefeated LSU and Ohio State will get the nod before WVU does.
4. Texas - With Vince Young leaving (good luck, Vince - hope the Saints don't want you), Texas has no depth at QB. This is in addition to key losses on defense, and the departure of most of the most dominant offensive line in recent memory will keep the Longhorns from repeating next year. While there's still plenty of depth at RB, and talent coming in, expect Mack Brown to lose at least once next year, probably to my number 1 pick, Ohio State.
5. USC - USC loses even more than Texas. QB, both RB's, and while much of the defense will be back, that's not saying much, is it? I think this is a bigger reload than the one between 02 and 03, with a steadily more competitive Pac 10 providing more and more opportunities for an early season loss or two.
6. Oklahoma - With some more experience at QB, and the steady stream of recruits coming into Norman, Bob Stoops will be back up again next year, contending with Texas for the Big 12 South championship and therefore the de facto championship of the Big 12. Whoever wins that game in Dallas is in the driver's seat - I think Mack has broken the curse, and there's enough talent still at Texas to overcome the Sooners next year. Don't expect many other losses on OU's schedule next year, though.
7. Notre Dame - Seventeen returning starters. Charlie Weis coaching. That should be enough, right? Why am I so reticent to put ND here? Because their most significant win all season long turned out to be over Michigan, a 7-5 team this year. Looking at ND's schedule, the only wins against teams with winning records were Navy, Michigan, and BYU. Not that impressive. A lot of talent will be back next year, plus ND overachieved this year as it is. More importantly, no one else looked good enough to be up this high.
8. Florida - The win over Iowa helps Florida to a pre-pre-season top 10 spot. With wins over all its big rivals this year, and Urban having another year with Chris Leak to tweak his system, Florida should be the team to beat in the SEC East next year. Still, the SEC is neither the MAC nor the MWC, so it shouldn't be a cakewalk for the Gators.
On the outside, looking in, or the best of the rest (in no particular order): FSU, PSU, Georgia, Auburn, TCU, Alabama, Va Tech, Michigan.