Below we count down our 2008 predictions for the Top 25! Be sure to get our college football picks and our our free college football picksÂ via our newsletter.
The Wunderdog 2008 College Foobtall Top 25 countdown…
The Wolverines had National Title aspirations last year and they vanished in dramatic fashion in game one at home as Appalachian State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history. The rest of the season didn’t get a whole lot better. Two streaks that won’t be in jeopardy this season are the Wolverines 40 consecutive years with a winning record and 33 straight Bowl appearances (both leading the NCAA). This will not be a team that can be starting out thinking National Championship, however. The Wolverines will return the fewest starters in the Big 10 with just 10 returning. Among the key departures are QB Henne, RB Hart, WR Manningham and OL Long. Don’t feel sorry for them though, as they have had 40 consecutive winning seasons for a reason. They recruit a Top 10 class every year, and this year is no different. This isn’t a rebuilding season as Michigan simply doesn’t do that. Instead of an expected visit to the Top 10, this year’s version will be hovering around the Top 25.
24. SOUTH CAROLINA
This team really had it going last year, opening 6-1 and climbing all the way to #6 in the polls. Then the unthinkable happened. Injuries destroyed them and they lost their last five and did not even making a Bowl. Now this year they return 17 starters. Having added a great deal of depth from all the injuries last year, they could surprise and even be better than where we are placing them in the top 25. Their problem is their conference as the SEC has four Top 10 caliber teams, and the schedule is going to be brutal. This team is going to have one of the top defenses in the country this season. They have eight D-line players with starting experience including their top two returning from injuries. They also return six DB’s with starting experience, and they added four more quality freshmen to the mix. The LB core returns all but one player, and have also added two quality freshmen to the mix. The offense may depend on the status of Stephen Garcia who was suspended for a third arrest and his reinstatement is questionable. If the offense can score even modestly, the defense is going to win games for this team.
This is a team that vastly underachieved last season. They had several top players and NFL draft selections, a 1,500+ yard running back and a core of four veteran wide recievers, yet finished a disappointing 7-6. The schedule will be a bit easier this season, and perhaps the departures will leave this team much hungrier, as their still is talent left behind. This is a team that is annually in the top 25 in recruiting, so putting them in the top 25 should be no surprise. Nate Longshore is a solid QB, but an ankle injury last season really showed as his numbers upon returning dropped significantly. It helped Cal develop a second QB in Kevin Riley who replaced Longshore in their Bowl game, producing 269 yards and three TD’s. They will be solid at QB with whoever wins the job. They must replace Forsett, who went in the first round to Seattle, but this team has produced 1,000 yard backs for six straight seasons, and we won’t be surprised to see Javhid Best top the 1,000 yard mark for the Bears in ’08. Cal’s defensive strength has always been on the DL, and with six of eight returning, they will be in good shape once again up front. They will return one of the top LB cores in the Pac-10 as well. The DB’s are somewhat inexperienced, but with a good front seven, their defense should be adequate. Cal should be a better team in overall wins in ’08.
22. PENN STATE
What can you say about Joe Paterno? At 80+ he has the longest coaching tenure ever in NCAA football and the game has not passed him by, as he still puts out a competitive team. This year should be no different. They did suffer a major blow when Sean Lee was lost in the Spring with a torn ACL. He was almost a cinch first round draft pick – yet another great Penn St. LB. With four winnable non-conference games, a load of talent and a good recruiting class, this could be an 8 to 10 win season for the Lions. They must travel to Ohio State and Michigan this season, but should be a favorite in all other games. This team’s defensive line may be the best in the country. Coach Paterno will be returning to the spread offense, which he used in ’05 to produce over 34 points per game, and this team could be in that range. The Lions will at least be Bowling, and if everything goes right, it could be in a post-New Year’s Bowl.
21. ARIZONA STATE
Arizona State won three games last year by three points or less, thanks in large part to a tough defense that kept them in just about every game. The end result was a 10 win season. This team may not achieve the that mark again, but they will be knocking on the door as most of that defense returns. The D held nine opponents to 20 points or less last year. The Sun Devils tied USC at 7-2 a top the Pac-10 last season, despite only outgaining opponents by 10 yards per game. It shows the value of the defense. Rudy Carpenter is the most experienced QB in the NCAA. He has started 31 straight games, and the Sun Devils are in good shape on offense. If freshman Ryan Bass is as good as advertised, then the running game should be imroved as well. The offensive line is huge, but lacks experience as they are 12th from the bottom in experience of all teams. They have two games that will be very difficult to win vs Georgia and USC, and to again get to double-digit wins will be a monumental task. But this still remains a very solid team.
Kansas shocked everyone last season riding to a 12-1 record and capping off a highly successful season with a Bowl win. So why would a 12-win team with 15 starters returning and possibly even more talent than last year yearÂ be rated in the lower part of our top 25? Last year Kansas was better than most thought, especially defensively. They used that to take advantage of a very weak schedule. This year they have a very difficult schedule, and a good season is likely but a great one seems very unlikely. Last year Kansas did not play Texas, Oklahoma or Texas Tech, but this year they will have to face all three. Additionally, they will play a very good South Florida team, and Missouri on a neutral field. The Jayhawks don’t lack talent, but this schedule (as opposed to the cupcake schedule they had last year) will keep them from having the same kind of year.
Every year Wisconsin has to take a back seat to the preseason hype of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big 10. Every year Wisconsin quietly goes out and has a big season, with little fanfare. They have won an average of 10 games over the last four years, and seem to be in a Bowl every season. This may be the most talented Wisconsin team that Coach Bielema has put on the field yet. They have a very strong offensive line and a host of talented running backs. We are gonna find out a lot about this team in three consecutive weeks from September 27th to October 11th as they will face Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State consecutively. That will be a very tall order. It will leave this team reeling or heading for a BCS Bowl bid, all in three weeks time. It’s likely they will win their 9 or 10 games and be in another decent Bowl, but if those three weeks turn to gold, then this team will be in the hunt for bigger things.
18. BOSTON COLLEGE
Life begins for the Eagles in the post Matt Ryan era. Ryan was the third overall selection in last year’s draft and obviously it’s a big loss for BC. They return only 10 starters and lost over 20 letterman. So how can we find a place for them in the Top 25? The reason is their schedule, which is very soft this season. They should be able to get out of the gate 5-0 and the ACC is a bit down this year. The Eagles play the top two teams, Clemson and Virginia Tech, at home. They will likely not reach the 11 win mark they compiled last year, but this team could easily see eight or nine wins, and if they do, they will make their way into the top 25 and be Bowl bound once again.
17. TEXAS TECH
This could be the best team Texas Tech has ever put on the field. This was a solid club last year, playing in an impossible conference that finsihed with four teams ranked in the top 10. This year, Tech could be one of those teams that does make their way into the top 10. This system has put QB’s into a position to put up some very lofty numbers, and with 18 starters back, Graham Harrell could actually put up better numbers than all of them. This conference is not for the faint of heart once again, as Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas all have top 10 caliber teams. As a result, is hard to put Tech up higher because they will face Kansas and Oklahoma on the road, and will get Texas at home. This team topped the 40-point mark seven times last season, and should at least equal that this year. If they get the right breaks and avoid injuries, they could very well wind up in the Top 10 before all is said and done.
16.Â SOUTH FLORIDA
The Bulls came from nowhere last season to rise all the way to #2 in the polls before fading in three consecutive weeks to Rutgers, UConn, and Cincinnati. They then got humiliated in their Bowl game vs. Oregon. The talent level on this team is as high as it ever has been, and that loss to Oregon may inspire this team to lofty heights in 2008. They have not played well in cold weather, but this year get UConn, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all at home. They don’t have a cold weather game potentially until visiting Morgantown in December, when everything could be on the line. If Matt Groethe matures and stays healthy, this Bull team will rise to the level they did a year ago. Groethe makes bad decisions as indicated by his 1-to-1 TD to interception ratio last season. The defense is going to win them some games however. They have three legit All-Americans in DE George Selvie, CB Joe Burnett, and LB Tyrone McKenzie. The Bulls had trouble scoring against the better teams last season but if Groethe can put it all together, this team could leap-frog into one of the elite teams in the country.
Eric Ainge will be missed by the Vols but that doesn’t mean this team will be down in 2008. They may actually have a better overall team, but inexperience at QB keeps us from getting too bullish on them. In either case, they will still be a force to be reconed with in the SEC before all is said and done. Last year their recieving corp was vastly inexperienced, but the top three return and should be much better there this season. Arian Foster chose not to enter the NFL draft and will lead an experienced backfield as he rushed for nearly 5 yards per carry a year ago, good for nearly 1,200 yards. The defenisve line brings back a lot of experience and the fact they have 11 defensive linemen in the NFL (more than any other school), proves that this is never a problem area for the Vols. The weakness may be at linebacker where they are a bit thin and inexperienced,. Overall this is a solid team and if they get decent QB play, they could contend in the SEC. We see them just a notch below that.
When Dennis Dixon went down last year, Oregon went from a BCS title-game contender to a much lesser Bowl. They did shine against South Florida and they have a lot of talented candidates at QB, but not much experience. This team has perhaps the best secondary in the country, which will help them steal some games. The offense is going to be missing some key star players, but the OL is one of the tops in the country and should be able to provide lots of opportunities for someone to emerge. There is a load of talent here, but the biggest issue for the Ducks is a brutal schedule. This year they play on the road versus all the top Pac-10 teams. They must go to USC, Cal, Oregon State, and Arizona State. This unfortunate schedule will keep the Ducks from a Top 10 ranking, but a good season is still in store.
BYU has rolled over the teams in the Mountain West conference the past two seasons to the tune of a 16-0 record. In the process, they have outgained teams by nearly 150 yards per game! The offense is again led by Max Hall, another in a line of outstanding BYU quarterbacks, and he is poised to add to his already lofty career totals. Harvey Unga brings back his 5 yards per carry and over 1,200 yards and should be able to duplicate those numbers this season. The reciever corp is deep. Hall can get the ball to them, so expect this team to be prolific in the air as well. The line will be the strength of the defense, and what is behind them is very inexperienced. This team beat two Pac-10 teams in consecutive Bowls, and they could be the Hawaii of ’08, challenging for a BSC Bowl bid.
Missouri will likely be playing with a chip on its shoulder this year after getting snubbed by the BCS last season. They beat both Illinois and Kansas who did get BCS Bowl berths, and their only two losses came to Oklahoma. This team is explosive on offense as any team in the country and with Chase Daniel returning and Jeremy Maclin to throw to, they are always one play away from a TD. The offense is retruning with all key players and may be better than the ’07 version. It doesn’t end there as the Tigers will field perhaps their best defensive line ever, with eight players ready to fit in a rotation with an abundance of experience. This team has a lot of weapons and could reach the Big-12 title game.
Texas returns just 11 starters but the team has an experienced quarterback and power up-front on both sides of the ball which is an essential for a team to reach elite status in college football. The Longhorns will have what we believe to be top 10 lines on both offense and defense. The biggest problem the Longhorns face is a difficult schedule. They have to go to Lubbock to square off with a potent Texas Tech team and the traditional battle with Oklahoma is in Dallas. They also have to play at Kansas. At home they must face a very tough Missouri team. If they can win three of the four they certainly have a shot at the Big-12 Title game and a National Championship, but those are big “ifs” and we see this team being just a notch below.
10.Â VIRGINIA TECH
Frank Beamer has gotten the Hokie program to the point where they don’t rebuild, they reload. This team sufferd a lot of losses last year, as they will return just 10 starters from a year ago. If you think the cupboard is bare, then you just don’t understand how good a coach Beamer really is. He has not had a Top 25 recruiting class in the last five years, and doesn’t have one this year either, but his team remaikns a yearly fixture in the Top 25. The Hokies are 41-8 over the past four years. For teams without a Top 25 recruiting class, that’s the best record of any team in college football. He does it by emphasizing defense and intangibles, and the Hokies have made it a habit to win the special teams battle week in and week out, blocking field goals, punts, and returning kicks. They also are always among the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. When you win two out three areas of the game week in and week out, you win 10 games a year. The Hokies will be right there again this season.
The Tigers have a lot of good things going for them this season. The first is they return a boatload of talent, lead by QB Cullen Harper who threw for 27 TD’s last year, while getting picked off just six times. They have the dynamic duo in the backfield ofÂ CJ Spiller and James Davis. They return 16 starters overall and the schedule is by far the weakest of any projected Top 10 team. Last, the ACC may be a bit down this season, and when you put these elements all together, the Tigers have a shot here to earn a BCS bid. If everything comes together right they could be looking at a National Championship game. If they get by Alabama in Atlanta in their first game, they have five of the next six at home, and could be 7-0 heading to Wake Forest on October 9th. The Tigers have the weapons and if they don’t self destruct, they could top this rating at the close of the season.
Auburn started poorly last season but began coming of age as the season progressed. This team after a 1-2 start finished 8-2, which included a Bowl win vs Clemson. They are returning 16 starters from a team that reall played well for most of the season after a slow start, and could be right in the mix in the very difficult SEC. The one added benefit they have is they will play the top two SEC teams (LSU and Georgia) at home. They need to grab a win in at least one of those games, and they also must travel to Morgantown to face West Virginia. This team has the talent to win the SEC and go to the national title game. Ttough games vs LSU, Georgia and West Virginia will gain them a lot of points if they come out of those at least 2-1, and run the table in the other games. A tall task for sure and we think they fall short, but a very tough team nonetheless.
7.Â WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia will have a new coach this season in Bill Stewart. We don’t expect the results to be any different as this team is loaded once again. Let’s not forget that last year with Stewart on the sidelines, the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma in convincing fashion 48-28. Stewart has been at West Virginia for nine years, so certainly knows the system, as well as the current personnel. So don’t worry about the coach. West Virginia will once again be led by a Heisman candidate in Pat White, have a lethal breakaway runner in Noel Devine, and at the very least a Top 5 offensive line. The offense is going to put up some huge numbers this season for the Mountaineers. A National Title opportunity will likely depend on two games, and fortunately for West Virginia they get them both at home. The first big test will come versus Auburn on October 23rd, and the other verus S. Florida in the season finale. The Mountaineers should be favored in every game they play this season, so you have to give them a legitimate shot at a BCS Title game.
Last season the expectations for this team were much too high. A lot was predicated on the fact they were National Champs in ’06, and had a boatload of talent. But with only seven returning starters, they lacked a crucial ingredient – experience. The Gators ultimately lost four games which included a disappointing loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl. This season should be much closer to ’06 than ’07. The Gators now return 16 starters, have lots of talent and one of the best offenses in the country led by Heisman winner Tebow. Their special teams unit ranks among the best as well. The defense should be vastly improved with experience and added depth. They do get Georgia on a neutral field in Jacksonville and LSU at home, so the door is open to return to the National Title game once again. The talent on this team may be good enough to go through that door.
It was a disappointing finish to the season for the Sooners in ’07 as they got blown out in their Bowl game versus West Virginia. It may have been an emotional hangover. After they beat Missouri for the Big-12 title, the Sooners thought they belonged in the national title game. They certainly have the motivation this season and the talent to change that fortune , and a favorable schedule to go along with it. The Sooners return an offensive line that is arguably the best in the counrty, and a defensive line that is no worse than top 5. If you have lines on both sides of the ball amongst the elite, then you are in the hunt for the national title. Sam Bradford had a brilliant year, starting for the first time last season, and should only get better. The Sooners have a soft non-Big-12 schedule as they don’t play anyone on the road that collected more than seven wins a year ago. The winner of the game in Dallas vs. Texas will go a long way towards deciding which team keeps the national championship game hopes alive.
The Tigers have lost a lot of talent from a year ago, but at the same time they have a lot of talent returning and a lot of new talent coming in. This is a solid program that has suffered just 10 losses in the last five years. And they have won four of five Bowl games. They have established themselves as a national power and bring in top talent year after year, and subsequently find themselves in the top 10 when the final polls come out in January. If there is a weak spot on this team it may lie in the secondary. They must replace a safety and two corners, and will lack a lot of experience. The Tigers must play at Auburn and Florida, two very difficult games, and they also have to play Georgia at home. They should be around come January, the question is, in which game?
Many people are picking Georgia as the #1 team in the country this season, and talentwise, it is hard to disagree. The Bulldogs return 17 starters including RB Moreno, and QB Stafford, and all the key components are there for a run at the national title. The biggest obstacle the Bulldogs will face this season is perhaps the toughest schedule in the country. Every top game featured on their schedule this season is going to be played on the road. They travel to South Carolina early on and then go to Arizona State – both top 25 teams. It only gets tougher from there. They have to go to LSU and Auburn, and play away from home vs. the Gators in Jacksonville as well. Those are five huge games, and if the Bulldogs come out unblemished, they will truly be the best team in the country. But a slip or two, and they will drop a few notches. This team is as talented as any in the country, but the schedule may keep them below #1.
Year after year this team finds themselves at or near the top of the polls. There is a good reason for that. The Trojans have had the top ranked recruitting class in the country for the last five years. Last year most thought this team would be #1 when the last game was played, but they fell short. This year they certainly have a lot to say about who is going to be there again. They lost 10 players in the NFL draft, but at the same time this team has NFL talent coming in big doses every single year so that talent is immediately replaced. The Pac-10 has some god teams this season, but the level at the very top has dropped off somewhat and USC could very well play themselves through it undefeated. The ultimate test for this team comes early, when they square off with Ohio State at home. If the Trojans win this one, they could be on their way to a possible rematch with the Buckeyes in the title game.
1.Â OHIO STATE
Not many expected Ohio State to be back in the title game last season, but a young team found itself back, only to lose to a very talented and experienced LSU team playing in what almost amounted to a home game. The Buckeyes have just about everyone back this year, as they will return 19 starters which tops the top 25 in terms of starters returning from a year ago. So, the talented, inexperienced team of a year ago, is now talented, experienced and hungry. They aren’t just returning players, they are returning at least four to as many as five potential first round draft picks. The defense is going to be one of the best ever assembled in college football, as they are solid on the line, have the best linebacking core in the country, and arguably the best DB’s as a unit as well. They have experience at QB, and a security blanket in super freshman Terrelle Pryor. All the weapons are in place, and a trip to the Championship game appears likely for the Buckeyes, only this time with a different outcome.
Check out our preview of non-BCS teams under the radar.