College FootBlog continues our countdown of our Preseason Top 25. In this edition, we break down teams #8-#15. In case you missed teams #16-#25, check it out here (#15-#25). Later in the week, we will unveil the top seven, but until then, check out our analysis and breakdown of the teams that are on the cusp of the Super 7.
8. Arkansas: The return of quarterback Ryan Mallett instead of entering the 2010 NFL Draft should pay huge dividends to Bobby Petrino, but it another year under Petrino’s tutelage should only improve Mallett’s draft position next spring. At 6’7″ and 238 lbs., Mallett has the size that NFL scouts like, but he can also make all the throws. Mallett has several experienced and proven wide receivers, and several versatile running backs, headlined by Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson. Offense will not be an issue for the Razorbacks in 2010, but their 89th ranked defense will have to improve if they want to stay in the Top 10 and survive an SEC season.
9. Wisconsin: Big Ten foes will get a healthy dose of John Clay in 2010. The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year checks in at 6’1″ and tips the scales at just under 250 lbs. Clay will run behind an experienced offensive line, which will likely consist of three seniors, two of which were All-Big Ten selections in 2009. Quarterback Scott Tolzien will be a senior and stepped up big in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Badgers will have to replace quite a few upperclassmen from last year’s dominant defense, but they still have playmakers like defensive back Jay Valai who should be solid enough to slow down the many not-so-creative offenses in the Big Ten.
10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a tough test early when Florida State comes to town on September 11th. If they can survive that game, they have the Red River Rivalry minus Colt McCoy, and the rest of the Big 12 schedule could be smooth sailing. Rival Oklahoma State will be without QB Zack Robinson and WR Dez Bryant (although Bryant was suspended for virtually all of last year). The Sooners will have to fill the void of likely top-five pick DT Gerald McCoy, but the defense should hold their own in 2010. Sam Bradford’s injury hurt the Sooners, but it gave Landry Jones some great experience. As a freshman, Jones was a bit inconsistent, but he showed flashes of brilliance last year. If he can continue to improve, he could be the next great quarterback produced by QB coach Josh Heupel.
11. Florida: Although Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler was berated by Urban Meyer, his interview with wide receiver Deonte Thompson was spot on. As great as Tim Tebow was, John Brantley will prove to be a much better quarterback, in the traditional sense of the position. While Brantley will not bring the running ability of Tebow, he is a much more polished passer and should stretch the field vertically much better than his predecessor. The losses of key contributors on defense, including linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Joe Haden will hurt, but what could hurt the Gators the most in 2010 is the goal line opportunities. With the departure of Tebow, there is no significant threat for short-yardage threats in the Florida backfield.
12. Pitt: Fresh off a contract extension, Dave Wannstedt is really settling in as the Panthers’ head coach. The loss of Bill Stull hurts a bit, but Pitt has a couple of capable back ups at QB, in sophomore Tino Sunseri and junior Pat Bostick. Whoever wins the starting QB job has the luxury of having Dion Lewis in the backfield. Lewis was one of the best running backs in the nation last year, and he was only a freshman. As good as the offense should be for the Panthers, however, the strength of the 2010 team will likely be the defense. Going into the spring, the defense looks to have seven juniors and two seniors in the starting line up.
13. Florida State: The Seminoles were an average defense from being a 10-win team last season. Unfortunately for Bobby Bowden and legendary defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, the FSU defense was shredded all season in ’09, ranking 108th nationally overall. Three of the ‘Noles’ six losses were by touchdown or less. The bright side for FSU was the offense, led by quarterback Christian Ponder, who will likely be in the Heisman discussion this season. Ponder has all five starters on the offensive line returning this fall, led by All-American guard Rodney Hudson. If the newly revamped defensive coaching staff can improve last season’s dismal defensive unit, first year coach Jimbo Fisher could easily have his team playing for the ACC Championship in December.
14. USC: The dominance of the Trojans was bound to come to an end at some point, and 2009 proved that regardless of depth and top-tier recruiting, when you ship eleven players to the NFL in one season, it is going to have an impact. Despite the off-the-field distractions and the departure of Pete Carroll, Lane and Monte Kiffin should have Southern Cal back in a familiar place next season–challenging for a Pac 10 Championship. Linebacker Chris Galippo should reap the benefits of playing under one of the best defensive minds in the NFL or college, Monte Kiffin. The Trojan offense should see much improvement from last season as well, now that Matt Barkley has a year of experience under his belt.
15. Iowa: The Hawkeyes surprised a lot of people last season when they made a serious run at the Big Ten title, and they dominated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl with great defense and a solid performance from quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi will have to be much more consistent in 2010 if the ‘Hawks are going to challenge Ohio State for the title this fall. Stanzi loses three All-Big Ten offensive lineman, which was anchored by future first-round selection Bryan Bulaga, but they return their top two running backs and stud DE Adrian Clayborn, who surprised many when he announced that despite dominating the Orange Bowl, he would return for his senior season at Iowa City.