This football season has great potential to be one of the best, most competitive seasons in recent memory. We go into the season with no clear cut, consensus #1 football team in the country. There are several candidates for the preseason top spot, and all can make a strong argument. Unlike most seasons, though, you can actually make a pretty compelling case against each of those teams, too.
Will they make a banner like this again for 2010?
We’ll release our preseason Select 17 on Monday. I’ve gone through several versions of my ballot over the past week or so, and it just never felt right. Not until this morning, that is. I put Boise State up top as my preseason #1 team. I feel good about it. I feel like Boise State has the most complete team with the fewest questions heading into play next week. More on that in a minute.
Let’s take a quick look at the other teams.
Alabama is the chic pick, and I must say that they present a compelling case. They return 8 starters on offense including the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback that has not lost a start since junior high. The Tide should power run with the best of ‘em this year, and Greg McElroy has shown that he can throw the deep ball. In short, the Alabama offense should be very good in 2010.
Questions abound, though, on the defensive side of the ball. Only three starters return from last year’s national championship team. Marcel Dareus is a big question mark heading into the season as an NCAAinvestigation looms surrounding his eligibility. Underreported by the national media, Nick Saban moved Kirby Smart from coaching the secondary to linebackers coach after James Willis left to lead the Texas Tech defense. Jeremy Pruitt takes over the DB coaching duties now, and he does so after losing 3 of the 4 starters from last season – and four of five from its nickel package.
Bama has tons of talent, and I believe these guys will come together this season and end up in a BCS bowl. But they’ll take two losses before storming through October and November. The schedule – featuring six opponents coming off open weeks prior to facing Alabama – will simply not allow an Alabama repeat.
Ohio State generally appears as the team to beat in the Big Ten – a league that I believe is far better than it was over the past four years. There are 3 legit BCS Championship Game contenders in the league (Ohio St, Iowa, Wisconsin), and the middle 4 teams are all very solid. Anyone who saw the Rose Bowl knows that the light appears to have come on for Terrelle Pryor. And Mayor Tressel always puts up a stout defense.
September 11th will set the tone for the Buckeye season. Miami comes to The Horseshoe in what is a huge game for both programs. I credit Ohio State for reaching out and playing at least one big intra-sectional game every year. This is a big one, and if OSU can pull it off they will have a legitimate claim on the #1 spot. The problem for OSU is that they league may actually be too tough this year. They have to travel to Madison and Iowa City this year, in addition to home games against Penn St. and Michigan. A one-loss Buckeye squad may sneak into the title picture, but can you count on OSU to have only 1 loss? I cannot.
Florida and Texas appear to be getting a lot of love this preseason, too. I buy the Florida hype a little more than Texas, but I’m still not sold on either. In fact I think both should be happy to play in a New Year’s Day bowl this year in advance of what will certainly be National Championship runs in 2011. Both programs are replacing quarterbacks that identified their respective programs for the past half decade. Aside from the team identity, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy also played key roles in the running game. As such, both schools are looking for bell cow running backs to take the burden off first-year starters. Texas has even more questions when you look at their defensive line. Unlike almost every other voter in our poll, I have no hate in my heart for Texas. I also have no space for them on my ballot anywhere in the Top 17 preseason.
Oklahoma also presents an interesting case. Phil Steele tabbed the Sooners as his team to beat this summer. At first I scoffed at the notion, but the college football oracle may be on to something. TheOklahoma schedule is more than manageable. They have 3 solid non-conference games (Florida St, Air Force, @ Cincinnati) that will certainly bolster their computer ratings in the BCS formula. On the field, OU has a suddenly-experienced quarterback and a slew of wide receivers. Oklahoma needs to find a running back, and Bob Stoops has a handful of studs waiting to prove they can handle the rock. If OU can fill holes on the defensive line, these guys could be great. We’ll call Oklahoma my dark horse candidate for now.
That takes us to Boise State. In the past four years, Boise has gone 49-4 and won two Fiesta Bowls. The Broncos return 21 of 22 starters off last year’s team. They beat the Pac-10 champs and steamrolled the rest of their schedule. Boise then took out fellow BCS-Buster TCU to complete its second perfect season without a national title. Known as a team with an innovative offensive team, Chris Peterson’s 2009 Broncos were stout defensively. And did I mention they return almost every starter from last year?
Kellen Moore put up Play Station numbers last season and returns for his third year as a starter. He was second nationally in pass efficiency and posted a ridiculous 39-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Yeah…read that again. 39 – 3
Their top 2 rushers return from last season, a duo that combined for more than 1,900 yards. Moore’s number one receiving target, Titus Young, is also back after posting 1,000 yards receiving last year. Oh, and all five offensive linemen also come back to the blue turf.
Defensively the Broncos gave up only 17 points/game in 2009 and had a +21 turnover margin. Ten of 11 starters return, but the biggest replacement will be at the defensive coordinator spot. Pete Kwiatkowski takes over for Justin Wilcox who is off to Tennessee. Kwiatkowski served as the Broncos defensive line coach before his promotion, so don’t expect a ton of changes. Whatever they’ve been doing has worked in Idaho.
The schedule is tougher this year, highlighted by the biggest regular season game in Boise State history on Labor Day. The Broncos open against Virginia Tech in Landover, MD at FedEx Field – home to the Washington Redskins. Boise then travels to Wyoming before they host Oregon State, a team that expects to challenge for the Pac-10 title this year.
The schedule eases quite a bit after that. This is the biggest problem for Boise State in its claim on the top spot. While most experts think of Fresno St. and Nevada as decent non-BCS opponents, the WAC is a far cry from every BCS conference with the Big East being the only comparable league – and to be sure the Big East is better.
I think the arguments are reasonable. Boise St. does have an easy conference schedule. The biggest defense of penalizing Boise for that is the, “I think Boise would win no more than 8 games in the SEC.” Sorry, guys, but I just don’t buy that. I don’t think Oklahoma, Texas, or Ohio St. could win 10 games every year with an SEC schedule. I do think this Boise State team could hang with any league this season. I certainly think they would have a legit shot to win the Pac-10, the ACC, or the Big XII. And I’d not want to bet against them winning the Big 10 or the SEC – THIS season.
On a year-to-year basis, I may agree that Boise just doesn’t quite have the stuff to really contend for the national title. But this year is different.
There is not a team that stands out from the crowd, at least not in late August. In my mind, Boise has as good a claim as anyone. Bringing back the talent they bring, the discipline Peterson has instilled in his team over the past half-decade, and the utter domination they show – even in a weaker league – is enough for me. If Boise St. can pull off wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State then run the table through the rest of the schedule, I’ll leave them up top all year.
This is the type of season where a Cinderella story can happen. If Butler can make it to the hoops final, why not Boise for football? It’s their year. Boise St. will not have a shot like this again in the foreseeable future. Florida and Texas will make legitimate runs at the title in 2011, and I expect OU will be getting some love for the next couple years. While the Big Boys of the sport look for answers to big questions this season, Boise St. is ready.
Oh…and make no mistake. If Boise St. loses to Virginia Tech in the opener, I’ll deny having ever written this.