Trojans, Wolverines top revised look at 2007
I've had nearly two weeks to sift through which college football players are staying and going -- and to sort through more than 1,500 e-mails suggesting I should stick to college basketball (and another 800 that suggested I stick to football). So it's time to revise the very early 2007 preseason top 25.
Defending national champion Florida and national runner-up Ohio State were hurt most by early defections to the NFL draft, while Louisville moves up considerably because quarterback Brian Brohm decided to return for his senior season. Southern California is still No. 1, but a lot can change between now and August.
1. USC Trojans
Why not: Booty's two primary targets -- Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith -- will be gone next season. Are young receivers Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner ready to step up? Rebuilding the offense will be easier with left tackle Sam Baker coming back, and quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian staying after he turned down a chance to coach the Oakland Raiders. The 2006 schedule flips in 2007 with road games at Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Why not: Seven defensive starters are leaving, including junior tackle Alan Branch, who decided to enter the NFL draft. Defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs and All-America cornerback Leon Hall also are gone. Two starters are leaving on the offensive line.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
Why not: The Mountaineers lose center Dan Mozes, the heart and soul of their offensive line, and starting receivers Rayshawn Bolden and Brandon Myles, who were valued as much for their blocking as pass catching. Losing offensive line coach Rick Trickett to Florida State was another key loss. Seven starters should be back on defense, but linebackers Kevin "Boo" McLee and Jay Henry are leaving. Three of West Virginia's toughest games in 2007 -- against Rutgers, South Florida and Maryland -- are on the road.
4. Wisconsin Badgers
Why not: The Badgers should lose only two starters on offense, but they're important ones -- quarterback John Stocco and All-America left tackle Joe Thomas. Tyler Donovan played well in two emergency starts for Stocco, but he'll have to hold off Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge for the starting job. The schedule gets tougher, as the Badgers trade out Northwestern and Purdue for Michigan State and Ohio State in the Big Ten rotation.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
Why not: Oklahoma will have an inexperienced quarterback with Paul Thompson leaving. Either junior college transfer Joey Halzle, redshirt freshman Sam Bradford or incoming freshman Keith Nichol will get the nod. Leading tacklers Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer and pass-rushing linemen Larry Birdine and C.J. Ah You are leaving.
6. Virginia Tech Hokies
Why not: Quarterback Sean Glennon struggled throwing the football in his first season as a starter, and the Hokies don't have a viable option behind him. Kicker Brandon Pace and punter Nic Schmitt, two of the country's best specialists, are leaving. Virginia Tech plays at LSU on Sept. 8 and picks up Florida State in the ACC rotation.
7. Texas Longhorns
Why not: Three starters are leaving on the offensive line, including All-America guard Justin Blalock. There will be even more losses on a defense that got torched by Texas Tech and Kansas State: defensive ends Tim Crowder and Brian Robison, safety Michael Griffin and cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Aaron Ross, the Thorpe Award winner. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik was named coach at Iowa State, and was replaced by former San Francisco 49ers assistant Larry Mac Duff, who will serve as co-defensive coordinator with Duane Akina.
8. Florida Gators
Why not: The defense -- the Gators' strength during their run to the BCS national title -- was hit hard by early defections to the NFL draft. End Jarvis Moss, safety Reggie Nelson, cornerback Ryan Smith and linebacker Brandon Siler each left early. The Gators still don't run the ball very well and leading rusher DeShawn Wynn is leaving.
9. Cal Bears
Why not: For starters, the Bears open the 2007 season against Tennessee and must fare better than in the '06 opener against the Vols. Cal must replace all its key parts on defense -- tackle Brandon Mebane, linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Daymeion Hughes. The transition will be easier if the NCAA grants another year of eligibility to cornerback Tim Mixon, who missed all of 2006 with a knee injury.
10. LSU Tigers
Why not: The Tigers will be hit hard by defections: junior quarterback JaMarcus Russell left and might be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. Either Matt Flynn, MVP of the 2005 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, or Ryan Perrilloux will replace him. Senior wideouts Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe, defensive end Chase Pittman and safeties Jessie Daniels and LaRon Landry also are leaving. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher left for the same position at Florida State.
11. Louisville Cardinals
Why not: The Cardinals moved quickly in replacing Petrino, hiring Tulsa's Steve Kragthorpe, one of the country's hottest coaches. Still, there always tends to be some sort of transition following coaching changes. Several key parts must be replaced on defense, including tackle Amobi Okoye, cornerbacks William Gay and Gavin Smart and linebacker Nate Harris. Two of the Cardinals' toughest Big East games are on the road -- at West Virginia and South Florida -- but they play Rutgers in Louisville.
12. Arkansas Razorbacks
Why not: The Hogs played in the SEC championship game despite failing to throw the football consistently all season. Neither Casey Dick nor Mitch Mustain were very good, allowing opponents to focus on stopping McFadden and Jones. Mustain decided to transfer after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left to become co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa, leaving the Hogs thin at quarterback. Promising receiver Damian Williams also transferred to USC. The Razorbacks struggled defending the pass, and cornerback Chris Houston and defensive end Jamaal Anderson both entered the NFL draft as juniors. Road games at Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are hazardous.
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Why not: The loss of senior running back Brian Leonard can't be understated. He was a bruising blocker, a fabulous receiver out of the backfield and formed a great running tandem with Rice. The Scarlet Knights also must replace five starters on defense.
Why not: For starters, Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith is leaving. Receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez also bolted for the NFL draft, leaving fewer proven targets for the new quarterback, either Todd Boeckman or Rob Schoenhoft. Leading rusher Antonio Pittman also left early for the NFL. The schedule gets tougher with road games at Washington, Penn State and Michigan and a home game against Wisconsin. Was the meltdown in the title game an aberration, or did Florida expose the Buckeyes' lack of speed?
15. Texas A&M Aggies
Why not: Coach Dennis Franchione, who finally seemed to be off the hot seat by finishing 5-3 in the Big 12 and beating Texas, lost a lot of momentum when the Aggies were thumped 45-10 by California in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. The Bears found plenty of cracks in defensive coordinator Gary Darnell's 4-2-5 scheme, and leading tackler Justin Warren and safety Melvin Bullitt are leaving.
16. Georgia Bulldogs
Why not: Georgia will rely heavily on junior college transfers in rebuilding its offensive and defensive lines. The biggest losses will be defensive ends Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses and linebacker Tony Taylor. Road games at Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, along with playing Florida in Jacksonville, are daunting.
17. Penn State Nittany Lions
Why not: Penn State must replace tailback Tony Hunt, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. Left tackle Levi Brown also leaves. Three starting defensive linemen must be replaced, along with All-America linebacker Paul Posluszny, the school's all-time leading tackler.
18. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Why not: The Cornhuskers struggled to stop opponents, and all four defensive linemen and leading tackler Stewart Bradley must be replaced. The Cornhuskers can't go through another season without a capable kicker. The nonconference schedule will be more than demanding with home games against Nevada and USC and a road game at Wake Forest.
19. TCU Horned Frogs
Why not: TCU loses quarterback Jeff Ballard, who threw 13 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 2006. He should be replaced by redshirt freshman Marcus Jackson, who has thrown 44 passes in his college career.
20. Auburn Tigers
Why not: The Tigers lose four offensive linemen, including second-team All-America guard Ben Grubbs, as well as leading receiver Courtney Taylor and leading rusher Kenny Irons. Quarterback Brandon Cox was inconsistent throughout the season and didn't receive much help from his receivers. The schedule will be among the most difficult in the country, with road games at Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and LSU.
21. Tennessee Volunteers
Why not: All three of Ainge's main weapons -- Robert Meachem, Bret Smith and Jayson Swain -- are leaving. Center David Ligon and Arron Sears also are departing. The Volunteers open the season at California and play at Florida and Alabama. Tennessee plays Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas at home.
22. Boise State Broncos
Why not: A big reason Boise State finished unbeaten was its defense, which improved to 14th in Division I-A in total defense and 21st in scoring defense (compared to 51st in each category in 2005). Star linebacker Korey Hall, the heart and soul of that defense, is leaving, along with three starting defensive linemen.
23. UCLA Bruins
Why not: This will be a very important season for coach Karl Dorrell, who seemed to be on his way out until UCLA upset rival USC. The Bruins lose only three regulars, but two of them were All-Americans: first-team kicker Justin Medlock (28-for-32 field goals) and second-team defensive end Justin Hickman (12½ sacks).
24. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Why not: Wake Forest won't sneak up on opponents this season. The Demon Deacons will have eight starters back on offense and six on defense. But cornerback Riley Swanson and safeties Patrick Ghee and Josh Gattis will be missed from a secondary that helped the Demon Deacons intercept 22 passes in 2006. The passing game must get better, and Ben Mauk will challenge Riley Skinner for the starting job.
25. Alabama Crimson Tide
Why not: The Crimson Tide lose six starters on defense, including linebacker Juwan Simpson and tackle Jeremy Clark. The schedule is difficult with home games against Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU and road games against Florida State (in Jacksonville) and Auburn.
Close to the top 25: Boston College, BYU, Florida State, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, Oklahoma State, Oregon, South Carolina, South Florida and Texas Tech.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Adjust Font Size: