27 August 2005

Another Top 25

Patrick Armstrong’s Top 25 College Football Teams

I like to put mine in the order I think is going to exist on January 7, 2006. So there’s a few where I’m going to be really right, or really, really wrong. There are best teams on paper, and there are best teams in practice. But this is why we play the games. I’ll see y’all at the Boise State vs Georgia game.

Here we go:

1. Iowa Hawkeyes: That’s right. I think these guys are going to come out on top of the whole pile. Why? It has nothing to do with big name stars or coaches or things like that. This one has to do with chemistry. This team went for 10 wins last year on force of will alone. That sort of trial-by-fire forges the do-or-die attitude so many National Championship dark horses have to possess to get to the top. I see an undefeated season and an outright, undisputed, unshared Big 10(11) Title for the Hawkeyes. The whole state will be in Pasadena in January.

2. LSU Bayou Bengals: This team is so loaded with talent, experience, chemistry, little guys and playmakers that Les Miles could spend the whole season moving into his new home and never set foot on campus. One day, the Big XII coach will fool with this program and cause some down years, but not this year. This team is too good not to go far. They face many, many obstacles in their SEC schedule, the biggest of which will be Alabama’s Defense, the second biggest of which will be Georgia or Florida in the SEC Championship game. They want an undisputed National Title, and have had a chip on their shoulders since USC stole their last one. Pasadena needs to start setting up the barricades now.

3. USC Trojans: They will lose two games this year, maybe three. I hope one of them is Arkansas, as the Razorbacks always step up for out of conference ranked teams. This is like a Pro team, and they play in the Pac-10, but a certain complacency seeps into teams like this. Too many stars can blind. That will lead to those singular dropped passes, or blown assignments, or turnovers when the time is right (or wrong, depending on your point of view). They’ll still put up double digit wins, but the blemish(es) in the L-column means they’ll have to get on a plane to go play a real team instead of pulling home team honors. That may turn into another upset, especially in Miami or New Orleans. No one has ever 2 ½-peated. That won’t start this year.

4. Louisville Cardinals: These guys are for real, and this could be the beginning of a Miami-like dynasty that can only come from utter domination of a sub-par conference like the Big East. They may even go undefeated. But they’ll be this year’s Auburn if they do, kept out because Big East is viewed as something akin to playing 4 Division 1-AA opponents. I don’t see an undefeated season, mind you, because the Big East is, counterintuitive as this may be, better than C-USA. One upset, to a terribly inferior opponent.

5. Virginia Tech Hokies: Repeating as ACC champions, they will still have some losses in conference to keep them from the National Title. The ACC is going to be very competitive this year, but I see Marcus Vick stepping up to the task, and leading his team to where they need to be. With the new division format, they could actually pull an SEC – style two loss Championship, landing them at a higher rank at the end of the season then some fewer loss teams.

6. Texas Longhorns: Yeah, a lot of folks see these guys as world beaters. I’m just not one of those folks. They beat a sub-par Michigan team last year in Pasadena, and they weren’t even supposed to be there that day. Arkansas had their number early in the season, but fumbled away the chance to expose the emperor’s new clothes. Folks, you may think I’m nuts, but I don’t really have all that much respect for the Big XII of recent years. Texas can have their division, Texas can have their conference. I do see them getting the best of the Sooners – but I see an on-the-cusp Texas A&M looming. And they visit Ohio State. They’ll be highly ranked with one (maybe two) losses coming out of the Championship game, but they will end up getting spanked in their bowl game by a team that actually plays defense.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes: I see Ohio State having a big, big year. I think they’re going to pick the wrong year to lose to Iowa. That should be their only setback, but what a setback it could be this time! They should be the powerhouse team of the Big 10(11), and this conference is going to be strong this year. Plus their out of conference invitation to Texas. That game will be a war to see. Ohio State will not make it to Pasadena, but will get invited to a big party in Tempe, Miami or New Orleans.

8. Georgia Bulldogs: 350 yards rushing per game. 1000 yards passing and rushing for our quarterback, and 1000 yards receiving for TE Leonard Pope. That’s what I see going on this year. The Shock n’ All offense is going to go at the SEC like a formation of M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks rolling through faraway deserts. I think this defense is also going to have something to prove coming out of the shadow of Number 47. The Big Red Line will dominate. The biggest test will be, as always, Florida. (Jerzey and I are in compete agreement, here) If the Dawgs win in Jacksonville, they will face LSU in Atlanta. The Dawgs are the only team from the East who will be able to defeat the Bengal Monster this year. If Florida wins the Cocktail Party, the Dawgs will skip Atlanta and take their one loss ticket all the way to New Orleans or Miami for an at-large spot. (One thing that must also be considered: Georgia’s SEC schedule is actually very favorable, as the Gators and Vols both must play Alabama & LSU. This year could come down to how well the East plays the West.)

9. Boise State Broncos: I don’t know a whole lot about the blue turf boys, but I know that they have been lighting up scoreboards for several years now, and they are showing no signs of wanting to quit any time soon. Their coaching situation has been quite stable, and that allows folks the time they need to build a machine like this. Look for them to go undefeated against their western opponents, with maybe a slip in the season opener to Georgia. (Even there, depending on how they play, they may actually rise in the polls while losing. See: Louisville vs. Miami, 2004.) A one loss Boise State team that can put 50 points on the scoreboard will not be ignored.

10. Florida Gators: Steve Spurrier & Ron Zook brought ridiculous talent to Gainesville, now Urban Meyer gets to take advantage. Chris Leak is the most dangerous SEC quarterback I’ve ever seen, and I’ve said this for years. He has the hunger in his eyes to make impossible things happen. Now, he will be unleashed on the SEC by Meyer. There will be issues as these guys move from Zook’s power offense back into a finesse system not different from what they were brought onboard to do, but the transition will be much more of a boon than a bust. I see their season coming down to the Cocktail Party: if Georgia can keep the ball away from the Florida offense, the Dawgs win. If Florida can pull that dadgum rabbit out of the hat again, and make Georgia beat themselves, they go to Atlanta.

11. Michigan Wolverines: They are going to have a great offense based around Henne and Hart, but such heavy dependence on two sophomores will take its toll against the more experienced teams of the Big (10+1). The defense may let too many points on the board to keep them in the title hunt. That will make for some amazingly fun football to watch, though. Look for Michigan, who has lost its way to the last two Rose Bowls, to get comeuppance this year at the hands of a very good conference.

12. Miami Hurricanes: Welcome to a real conference, fellas! How did those losses to North Carolina and Clemson feel last year? It ain’t like it used to be where you could beat the snot out of poor hapless Temple one week and then travel to Atlantic City the next weekend on your way to play the Northern New Jersey Flag Football Squad called Rutgers. Three losses don’t seem that far away nowadays.

13. Texas A&M Aggies: I see them having a breakout year. They are strong all around, and will give Texas and Oklahoma fits. After their Cotton Bowl shellacking by Tennessee, they will have something to prove as well. The 12th man will have something to yell about this year, for a change.

14. Tennessee Volunteers: This is one of those teams that look good on paper because so many alumni become sportswriters. This team could be loaded, but as we've seen with the Tennessee (and Texas, and Florida, and Florida State, and Missouri...etc etc) teams of the past several years, it isn’t talent that makes the team, it is the talented teammates working together. Posting bail does not count. This team is on the verge of being very good, but there are too many egos at play in the locker room. Too many head games mean your mind is somewhere else when looking in that 30 yard pass. Once the wheels come off this year, even a genius like Fulmer may not be able to put ‘em back together again.

15. Purdue Boilermakers: They were a reasonable squad last year, and so many of them are coming back, they may be able to win enough games to get over the hump. They will chase for the Big 10(11) Title for a while, and may be in the mix because of schedule, but they just won’t be enough for the taller three teams. They are going to loose some barn burners in the final minutes and have a worse record at the end than their talent deserves.

16. Alabama Crimson Tide: SAWB says that these pachyderms win the West. He may know what he’s talking about. This year, they will have one of the top 5 defenses in the country, and you know what they say about defense and championships. Brodie Croyle is ready and healthy enough to make some serious noise this year, and could have the million dollar season most QB’s don’t even get to dream about. I still don’t think they have the raw talent to get past the LSU monster, and playing Florida and Tennessee the same year is not going to help. I think they lose the West by a field goal in one of those three games, but I see them playing on New Year’s Eve at least.

17. Fresno State Bulldogs: Remember what I said about USC maybe having two losses at the end of the regular season? Wouldn’t it just go to prove how weak the PAC-10 is if neither of those losses came to conference opponents? These boys from the Valley adore playing the role of giant killer, and I can see them doing it more than once this year.

18. Oklahoma Sooners: My mind tells me I should rank these guys higher. They play in the Big XII (and don’t you just know that Baylor wishes it was in the North Division after last year…) and have visited the National Championship game often in recent years. But my nose smells blood in the water. They may have Adrian Peterson, but even Wisconsin with Ron Dayne had to play in the Outback Bowl. (Where they got thrashed 33-3 by the Dawgs in 1997.) Texas A&M still remembers how to beat them. Oklahoma State still remembers how to beat them. Colorado still remembers how to beat them. Kansas State still remembers how to beat them. As a matter of fact, the only team who doesn’t have a single player who remembers the last time they beat Oklahoma is Texas, the team most likely to beat them this year. Y’all remember what happened to Florida State in 2002?

19. Clemson Tigers: Are gonna finish waay higher than everyone thinks they are. The ACC looks so good and strong this year, but the joy of having a real conference is offset by the agony of good teams having 3 and 4 loss seasons. With that being the case, Clemson has the talent and the experience to rise just high enough in the mix to have a great year.

20. Auburn Tigers: Are gonna win more games than they lose, but are gonna come up just short in enough of them to play around Christmas come bowl season. All of their games are going to be classics, however, as this new offensive coordinator will truly give opponents fits.

21. Florida State Seminoles: It’s time to let your little boy go, Saint Bobby, he can’t run your offense. An awesome D will get you some places, but without an offense that can pile up the points and hold onto the ball, they will wear down in the 4th quarter, and the scoreboard may not reflect how close those games really were.

22. Texas Tech Red Raiders: If you act truly crazy enough, and say, throw the ball 90 times a game, you’re going to win many just because the other team can’t believe you would play football like that. It is a conceptual problem. Now, if they could just get enough of those opponents to stop cutting apart their defense, they’d be up near the top instead of down here at the bottom.

23. Oregon Ducks: Yes. This is how much I respect the PAC-10’s #2 team. Have fun getting stomped in the Holdiay Bowl by Oklahoma.

24. Bowling Green Falcons: See: Whatever MAC/CUSA team can garner enough air time on Thursday nights to become a darling this year.

25. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Remember what I said about USC having two losses by the end of the regular season? I don’t think these guys will be one of them, yet. But: Last year, the Irish beat Michigan, who got beat by Texas, who beat Texas Tech (barely) who beat Cal who almost beat USC. So a bunch of overrated teams might overlook the underrated Irish. Then again, the Irish might not have a team left after getting mugged by Tennessee on national television, which still won’t count as evidence in the bought and paid for Knox County Criminal Justice machine. But they’re wearing “orange” anyway so we know where they are.

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