Ranking college football teams, from 1 to 25

Aug 31 2010 - 5:00pm

1. Ohio State

2009 record: 11-2

Outlook: The Buckeyes have the makings of a national championship contender. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor's uneven season ended with an outstanding Rose Bowl performance and he's making most short lists as a Heisman favorite. Most of his teammates from the starting offense return and seven starters return from a defense that ranked fifth nationally in total defense. The schedule takes Ohio State to its top contenders, Wisconsin and Iowa, and we'll know much more about the Buckeyes on Sept. 11 when Miami, Fla., visits the Horseshoe.

2. Alabama

2009 record: 14-0

Outlook: No team has repeated as BCS national champion, but the Crimson Tide, who haven't lost a regular-season game in two years, have the look. With its Heisman Trophy running back, Mark Ingram, and veteran quarterback Greg McElroy returning, Alabama is loaded on offense. Nine new defensive starters but the base 3-4 coordinated by Kirby Smart should again be dominant. Six SEC opponents have open dates before tangling with the Tide this season.

3. Boise State

2009 record: 14-0

Outlook: Are the Broncos national-championship worthy? If they beat Virginia Tech on Monday in Landover, Md., they'll drive the conversation until a loss, but don't hold your breath there. Boise is a nation's best 26-1 over the past two seasons. Nearly every starter returns from a 14-0 squad. Quarterback Kellen Moore is a Heisman contender, and the defense and special teams figure to be among the nation's best. Hunted rather than hunter, the expectations are soaring in Boise in 2010. Will history repeat? Alabama began its national title path last season by beating the Hokies on a neutral field.

4. Florida

2009 record: 13-1

Outlook: Opponents knew what was coming during the Tim Tebow years and still couldn't stop him. John Brantley follows one of college football's greatest quarterbacks, and the Gators won't subject him to the hits Tebow took. The skill positions are reloading, but the offensive line is experienced and should ease the transition. Coordinator Charlie Strong and a slew of NFL draft selections are gone from a dominant defense, but it should be one of the best units in the SEC and nation.

5. Oklahoma

2009 record: 8-5

Outlook: Landry Jones' transition season came a year early as he became the primary starter after Sam Bradford's two injuries. He'll have offensive stars such as running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Ryan Broyles to work with. The defense should be ferocious with stars like end Jeremy Beal and linebacker Travis Lewis. Kicking is the concern. The Sooners had walk-on tryouts last week. Oh for the days of Garrett Hartley.

6. Texas

2009 record: 13-1

Outlook: The Longhorns' secondary proves anything is possible if you put your mind to it. In 2008, Texas intercepted six passes. Last year it led the nation with 25, and the Longhorns enter this season with three in the secondary -- cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown and safety Blake Gideon -- on the Thorpe Award watchlist. All eyes will be on quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who takes over for Colt McCoy. Texas looks to smooth the transition by giving the offense more balance.

7. Texas Christian

2009 record: 12-1

Outlook: Returning quarterback Andy Dalton was much improved last season, reducing his interceptions from 23 the previous year to eight in 2009, and was chosen the Mountain West's offensive player of the year. In all, nine offensive and eight defensive starters plus excellent special teams are back from a team that fell only to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, though one loss is huge: All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes. The Frogs open with Oregon State at Arlington, Texas, and their BCS bowl hopes may hinge on a Nov. 6 visit to Utah.

8. Nebraska

2009 record: 10-4

Outloook: Has it really been since 2002 that the Cornhuskers, ranked eighth and ninth in the major preseason polls, were this highly regarded entering a season? Sure enough. But defensive tackle Jared Crick (9 1/2 sacks) and cornerback Prince Amukamara should keep that side of the ball strong as Ndamukong Suh moves on. Alex Henery is a major weapon as a kicker/punter, and the running game is expected to be solid behind an experienced offensive line. As for quarterback competition among Zac Lee, Cody Green and Taylor Martinez, coach Bo Pelini says wait until the opener to see who gets the job.

9. Miami, Fla.

2009 record: 9-4

Outlook: If the Hurricanes win the ACC's Coastal division they'll deserve a high ranking. Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina should all be in the race, and on top of that, the Hurricanes have games against Florida State, Pittsburgh and Ohio State. Eight defensive starters are back, led by end Allen Bailey. Quarterback Jacory Harris should generate some Heisman buzz. For the first time in coach Randy Shannon's five seasons both coordinators, Mark Whipple on offense and John Lovett on defense, return.

10. Virginia Tech

2009 record: 10-3

Outlook: Virginia Tech runs a reverse this season. Known for defense and special teams, the Hokies are rebuilding those units this season. But they're stocked at the skill positions, especially the backfield. Returning after sitting out 2009 because of a knee injury is Darren Evans, who set an ACC freshman rushing record (1,265 yards) in 2008. Getting Evans' carries last year was Ryan Williams, who rushed for 1,655, breaking Evans' record. Getting them the ball is quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who led the ACC in passing efficiency last year.

11. Oregon

2009 record: 10-3

Outlook: Too many legal run-ins got Jeremiah Masoli run from the program (and to Mississippi), but the defending Pac-10 champ Ducks still have the league's best talent. With 17 returning starters, Oregon is also among the most veteran Pac-10 teams. A knee injury to running back LaMichael James threw a scare into coach Chip Kelly, but James has returned strong. Kelly named Darron Thomas over Nate Costa at quarterback for the opener.

12. Southern California

2009 record: 9-4

Outlook: The Trojans are getting on with it. A fifth-place Pac-10 finish last season, an Emerald Bowl appearance for goodness sakes, near-death-penalty sanctions, a new coach, recruits who bailed -- and Southern California is still talking about an undefeated season this year. "They didn't say we couldn't play hard," said linebacker Michael Morgan. Matt Barkley returns at quarterback, but the offense has to pick up. The Trojans are 14th in the preseason AP poll, but are banned from this year's USA Today coaches and Harris polls.

13. Iowa

2009 record: 11-2

Outlook: Was there a more fun and charmed team than Iowa last season? Undefeated until quarterback Ricky Stanzi's ankle injury, the Hawkeyes still managed an Orange Bowl triumph. They figure to be in the Big Ten championship mix with Stanzi back for his third year as a starter (18-4 record) and one of nation's most heralded defensive units, led by end Adrian Clayborn.

14. North Carolina

2009 record: 8-5

Outlook: Nobody's having fun when a media day news conference opens with the athletic director reading a statement and the football coach demanding no questions about an NCAA investigation. But that was the scene in Chapel Hill last week. If the Tar Heels plow through the distractions, they should be formidable with 19 returning starters. Defense should roar, although tackle Marvin Austin has been implicated in the probe into players' association with an agent.

15. Auburn

2009 record: 8-5

Outlook: Let's just say universal acceptance didn't greet Gene Chizik last year upon taking the Auburn job after a 5-19 stint at Iowa State. But Chizik guided a young team to an 8-5 finish, and an SEC West title run is possible if quarterback Cameron Newton develops. Newton started his career at Florida before transferring to Blinn (Texas) Junior College, where he passed for nearly 3,000 yards. Linebacker Josh Bynes leads eight returning starters on a defense that slipped last season while the offense soared.

16. Georgia

2009 record: 8-5

Outlook: From an 11-victory season in 2007 that ended with a Sugar Bowl win, the Bulldogs' victory total has decreased each season. The seat's a little warm for coach Mark Richt, but the Dawgs look to improve this year with most offensive starters back and enthusiasm on defense with new coordinator Todd Grantham. Wide receiver A.J. Green is among the nation's best, but look for Georgia to establish a running identity.

17. Georgia Tech

2009 record: 11-3

Outlook: Quarterback Josh Nesbitt is back for his senior season and says his legs are at full strength to run Tech's "flexbone." Nesbitt underwent ankle surgery after leading the Yellow Jackets to last year's Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a BCS appearance. Anthony Allen becomes the team's new feature running back, and linebacker Brad Jefferson is the best of eight returning starters on defense.

18. Florida State

2009 record: 7-6

Outlook: Jimbo Fisher has more to work with than Bobby Bowden did in 1976. Fisher takes over for the legendary Bowden, winner of two national championships, and quarterback Christian Ponder should make the transition a smooth one. Ponder is one of 10 returning starters on offense. Mark Stoops, younger brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, takes over the defense. They'll meet in the season's second week at Norman.

19. Arkansas

2009 record: 8-5

Coach Bobby Petrino stands 5-11 after two years of SEC play, but the fans believe this team is prepared to burst onto the national scene. It starts with strong-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett, who guided the league's top scoring offense last season. The concerns are on defense. The Hogs surrendered 30 or more points to four league foes last season. On Sept. 25, the nation's focus will be on Fayetteville, when Alabama visits.

20. Wisconsin

2009 record: 10-3

Circle Oct. 16 and 23. The Badgers play host to Ohio State, then visit Iowa so the Big Ten could be decided in that stretch. Wisconsin returns 10 offensive starters from the unit that led the conference in scoring and plenty of optimism after beating Miami in the postseason. Quarterback Scott Tolzien is a fifth-year senior and led the conference in passing efficiency in 2009. The defensive line gets a makeover, but the back seven should be among the Big Ten's best.

21. Utah

2009 record: 10-3

Surest thing in college football is Utah in the bowl game. The Utes have won a college-football record nine straight, including two BCS appearances. Utah will reach the postseason once again because of a top-notch backfield with tailbacks Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata. Three new linebackers is the defensive concern, but there's enough talent here to make the Utes a contender in their final year of the Mountain West before moving to the Pac-10.

22. West Virginia

2009 record: 9-4

Outlook: Consecutive nine-victory seasons work for most programs, but the Mountaineers won 11 in each of the previous three, so there's a touch of fan restlessness as coach Bill Stewart opens his third season. But with the Big East's best defense and fleet running back Noel Devine operating behind a stout offensive line, West Virginia could steadily move up the rankings this season.

23. Oregon State

2009 record: 8-5

Best team in the nation not to win a conference/division title the previous four seasons? The Beavers could make a case. They've averaged nine victories in that span. Another contender is expected in Corvallis on the strength of running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Oregon State breaks in a new quarterback, Ryan Katz. Senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea is one of the nation's best.

24. Missouri

2009 record: 8-5

Let's see quarterback Blaine Gabbert play without a limp for a season. Before the ankle injury against Nebraska: 11 touchdowns, no interceptions. After: 13 touchdowns, nine picks. Improvement must come on defense, especially the secondary. The last two opponents of 2009 combined for 1,062 total yards.

25. Notre Dame

2009 record: 6-6

The overachieving coach takes over the underachieving program. Brian Kelly, a winner at every stop, brings an up-tempo offense but doesn't have much experience at quarterback. The defense switches from a 4-3 to 3-4 to plug the run. New energy plus a softer schedule push the Irish to the 7-8 victory range.


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