Next year's top 25: Bama 1, USC in the mix

San Jose Mercury NewsJanuary 12, 2010 

The 2009 college football season is less than a week old, which means it's time to look ahead to next fall.

Does Alabama have what it takes to repeat? (Yes.) Will Boise State return to the Bowl Championship Series? (Probably.) Will a conference other than the SEC win the national title. (Don't bet on it.)

Ready for some priceless insight ... or a good laugh?

Here's an early look at the top-25 teams for next season, with the caveat that NFL Draft decisions in the coming week could alter the prospects of several top teams:

1. Alabama (14-0 this season): Combine a powerhouse offense (quarterback Greg McElroy, Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram and uber-talented receiver Julio Jones) with several dynamite recruiting classes, and the Tide should start the season on top.

2. Ohio State (11-2): If quarterback Terrelle Pryor plays like he did in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes will play for the national championship.

3. Boise State (14-0): Should be even better next season with almost everyone back, including QB Kellen Moore. If the Broncos survive the opener against Virginia Tech (neutral field at FedEx Field) and a home date with Oregon State, they will be in the championship discussion.

4. Oregon (10-3): Should be the Pac-10 favorite with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and tailback LaMichael James returning, along with the spread option and most of the defense.

5. Miami (9-4): Jacory Harris should be one of the top quarterbacks in the country (a potential Heisman Trophy candidate). All the 'Canes' top running backs and receivers are expected to return.

6. Virginia Tech (10-3): Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and tailback Ryan Williams lead a loaded offense. The defense might need a few games to get ramped up, and Boise State on tap Oct. 2.

7. TCU (12-1): Don't expect much backsliding from the Horned Frogs, who are expected to return 16 starters, including quarterback Andy Dalton.

8. Iowa (11-2): The Hawkeyes might not need much good fortune in '10 with quarterback Ricky Stanzi and nine defensive starters set to return.

9. Nebraska (10-4): Ndamukong Suh departs, to the relief of quarterbacks throughout the Big 12. But the 'Huskers should be very good defensively and much improved on offense.

10. Southern Cal (9-4): If Matt Barkley develops, the play-calling improves and the Trojans are disciplined defensively, they will challenge Oregon for the Pac-10 title. The defensive line should be awesome.

11. Georgia Tech (11-3): Reigning ACC champion will have a tough time with Virginia Tech but should post another 10-win season behind quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

12. Arkansas (8-5): Bobby Petrino plus 10 returning starters on offense (including quarterback Ryan Mallett) equal plenty of points and double-digits wins.

13. Wisconsin (10-3): The offense returns largely intact, which means loads of veteran support for 1,500-yard rusher John Clay.

14. Texas (13-1): If you have to replace Colt McCoy and the left side of the offensive line, it's nice to have eight starters back on defense.

15. Florida (13-1): The post-Tebow world will be bumpy for the Gators, especially with coach Urban Meyer's medical condition.

16. Houston (10-4): The team that beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma State returns quarterback Case Keenum (44 touchdowns, 5,671 yards) and the bulk of its starting 22.

17. Oklahoma (8-5): Significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball should offset the maturation of Landry Jones and prevent the Sooners from contending for the BCS title.

18. Tennessee (7-6): Quarterback Jonathan Crompton departs, and that's a good thing for the Vols. Defensive mastermind Monty Kiffin should have a first-class unit with seven starters back.

19. Oregon State (8-5): The Beavers lose all-conference quarterback Sean Canfield but return James and Jacquizz Rodgers and most of their defense.

20. Missouri (8-5): Quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He should be better next season - as a junior.

21. South Carolina (7-6): Steve Spurrier always has a good defense. Next season, he should have the offense to match.

22. North Carolina (8-5): The roster will be dominated by Butch Davis recruits, and that's a good thing for the Tar Heels.

23. Arizona (8-5): As long as the rebuilt defense holds teams under 40, the Wildcats should win eight more.

24. Michigan (5-7): Three RichRod recruiting classes, a veteran defense and quarterback Tate Forcier make the Wolverines my sleeper team for '10.

25. West Virginia (9-4): Tailback Noel Devine (1,465 yards) returns, but the Mountaineers must find a new quarterback and reload at receiver.

Also considered: Penn State, LSU, Cincinnati, Georgia, Utah, Pittsburgh and Auburn.

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