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JP Top 25: Preseason '10

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JP Top 25 archive
• Nos. 1-12: Saturday

If you've followed my voting patterns from the previous five years in the AP Top 25, you know I like to zig when other people zag.
This year's preseason poll is no exception. The AP will release the Top 25 on Saturday. Here are Nos. 13 through 25 from my ballot:

13) USC
2009 record: 9-4
Key games: @ Stanford, Oregon, @ Oregon State

Bottom line: Unlucky No. 13 for the troubled yet still-talented Trojans, who have been buried by the NCAA for Reggie Bush's transgressions. Typically, it takes until Year 3 for those sanctions to take full effect, although the Trojans are barred from a bowl this season. That means the regular season is all they have and they should play like it.

Despite landing an NFL job and two plum college gigs before the age of 35, we have no idea if Lane Kiffin can coach his way out of a paper bag. We do know his dad, defensive coordinator Monte, can and the younger Kiffin showed an aptitude to motivate in his single season at Tennessee, which should be enough for a second-place Pac-10 finish this year.

14) South Carolina
2009 record: 7-6
Key games: @ Auburn, Alabama, @ Florida

Bottom line: Five years into his return to the SEC, Steve Spurrier hasn't won more than eight games in a season and is 18-22 in conference play. Makes you wonder why he came back, when he never won less than nine games in a season in 12 years at Florida, with six SEC titles and a national title?

Given the swoons at Tennessee and Georgia, and Florida's deep personnel losses, there's no reason this "other" Carolina team or "other" USC team, with 15 returning starters, shouldn't deliver the Ol' Ball Coach a division title.

15) Florida
2009 record: 13-1
Key games: South Florida, @ Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina

Bottom line: Brand-name program loses marquee megastar after multiple-title run yet is still picked in the top 10 nationally and to win its conference? Where have we seen this before? Hmmm.

A plunge to the NIT doesn't await, but like UNC's basketball program without Tyler Hansbrough, the Gators will take a step back in the post-Tim Tebow era. Even if new QB John Brantley is half as good as Tebow, the Gators must replace seven starters on defense and nine total draft picks (including seven of the top 75). Urban Meyer is good, but he's not that good (nor, by his own admission, is he healthy).

16) Wisconsin
2009 record: 10-3
Key games: Ohio State, @ Iowa

Bottom line: You can always count on Wisconsin for a big running back, a bigger offensive line and to come up short in the Big Ten race. All coach Bret Bielema has done is win 73 percent of his games but he's 0-4 vs. top 10 teams.

With the return of RB John Clay (1,517 yards), and four of his ginormous blockers, Bielema's Badgers will still be in the second tier of the Big Ten.

17) UNC
2009 record: 8-5
Key games: vs. LSU, Georgia Tech, @ Virginia, N.C. State

Bottom line: With or without Marvin Austin and/or Greg Little, the ultimate success of the Tar Heels' season will come down if they can finally beat the teams they are supposed to. Butch Davis is 0-6 against Virginia and N.C. State. Add two wins to each of the past two regular seasons and UNC is 10-2, instead of 8-4.

Despite a significantly tougher schedule, the Heels should win 10 games for the first time since 1997.

18) Florida State
2009 record: 7-6
Key games: @ Oklahoma, @ Miami, UNC, Florida

Bottom line: Florida State's defense can't possibly be as bad as it was last year (right?), when it gave up at least 37 points five times and ranked 108th in total defense.

The offense should be better with the ACC's best offensive line and an NFL-quality quarterback in Christian Ponder. The schedule's the country's best, with nonconference games with Oklahoma and Florida, but the program's first 10-win season since 2003 is in play.

19) Virginia Tech
2009 record: 10-3
Key games: vs. Boise State, @ UNC, @ Miami

Bottom line: Coach Frank Beamer has won at least 10 games in eight of the 10 seasons in the 2000s. So even with significant personnel losses on defense (only four returning starters) and the offensive line, the Hokies are only going to drop so far down the ACC standings.

They'd win the Atlantic Division but they're in the Coastal, where both UNC and Miami are unfavorable matchups with VT's running game, which should be superb with Ryan Williams (1,655 yards in 2009) and Darren Evans (1,265 in 2008).

20) Georgia Tech
2009 record: 11-3
Key games: @ UNC, @ Virginia Tech, @ Georgia

Bottom line: Paul Johnson has lost seven games in two seasons at Georgia Tech, four of those losses have come against a team that has had extra time to prepare for Johnson's option offense.

UNC and Virginia Tech both get extra time before facing GT this season. That would leave the Jackets at 6-2 in the ACC and in position for another 10-win season. Johnson's selfless decision to bring in former Virginia head coach Al Groh to run GT's defense could turn out to be the best hire of 2010.

21) Arkansas
2009 record: 8-5
Key games: @ Georgia, Alabama, @ Auburn, @ South Carolina

Bottom line: This year's chic SEC team, the Razorbacks have an NFL quarterback (Ryan Mallett) and their top five receivers back from an 8-5 team. They also have an Arena League defense (which ranked last in the SEC in both pass defense and total defense).

Ole Miss, last year's chic SEC pick, started No. 8 and finished No. 20 in the AP Poll. The year before, Georgia started No. 1 and finished No. 13. Let's spare the "Woo Pig" set the inevitable 12-spot drop and start them here.

22) Penn State
2009 record: 11-2
Key games: @ Iowa, Michigan, @ Ohio State

Bottom line: The Nits have to rebuild a defense that lost four starters to the NFL, including big tackle Jared Odrick in the middle, but have eight starters back on offense, including leading rusher Evan Royster (1,169 yards). After posting back-to-back 11-win seasons, they will take a step back without quarterback Daryll Clark.
 
23) Stanford
2009 record: 8-5
Key games: @ Oregon, USC, @ Cal

Bottom line: As Iowa and Pitt demonstrated in 2009, you can lose an NFL running back and actually win more games, if the right pieces remain in place. Coach Jim Harbaugh will obviously miss running back Toby Gerhart (1,871 yards) but with quarterback Andrew Luck and four returning starters on the offensive line, the Cardinal has a puncher's chance to win the wide-open Pac-10.

24) Temple
2009 record: 9-4
Key games: @ Penn State, UConn, Ohio

Bottom line: Coach Al Golden rebuffed advances from South Florida and Tennessee for a reason (besides his designs on the Penn State job). The Owls improved from five wins to nine in 2009, including a 7-1 MAC mark, and return star running back Bernard Pierce (1,361 yards). They have a chance to take another step in Golden's fifth, and likely final, season in north Philly.

25) SMU
2009 record: 8-5
Key games: @ Texas Tech, TCU, Houston

Bottom line: Conventional wisdom suggests Houston's the best team in its league but Conference USA rarely follows a script. SMU won five of their last six in 2009 and return sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron to run what is always a prolific offense for coach June Jones.

Next five: LSU, Utah, South Florida, Oregon State, Rutgers

Photo credit: AP

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Practice update

It sounds like Carolina's offense played really well in the first practice.  Butch said both QBs completed over 75% of their passes and there were no turnovers.  It didn't say who got the most touches or what the ratio was between pass plays and run plays, but players on both the offense and defense said that the offensive line looks great and that the offense as a whole has improved tremendously since this point last year.  Keep in mind that it's just a mid-August scrimmage, but it's still something to look forward to.
 

UNC

I'm not convinced UNC is worthy of ranking at #17, even though this does seem to be the consensus (SI has them at #13). As good as their defense is and whatever weapons they have on offense, they still have a serious question mark at QB. Maybe Yates will do better if an improved offensive line provides him with better protection and a solid running game. But I'll believe it when I see it.

JPD  Your skepticism is

JPD 

Your skepticism is justified. The first two games are going to show us a lot of what to expect this season.

USCe

I dunno.  But I cerainly do not agree with USCe being pre season ranked #13 by JPG.  This team lost its leader on defense in Norwood (LB) and has no one great in the secondary.  They do have a decent pass rusher, but thats about it.  Their offense is still run by the biggest bust currently in college football, Garcia (QB1).  The SEC East is up for grabs when it comes to 2nd place, but that doesn't mean they (whoever it is) are top 15 material.  SEC East is big time weak.

slight disagreement

I would slightly disagree with you on Carolina's secondary (the real carolina, south carolina). haha, just messing with you.

They have stephone anthony, who is exceptional, not sure about the rest of them but i would imagine their secondary is serviceable.

Swap

My take:  swap GT and FSU. But even that's just being picky. 

Speaking of SMU: ECU hosts the Mustangs during Thanksgiving weekend. Before I get too carried away, I think the Pirates will have a good season if they can get to 6-6 or 5-7. With a new everything, no one should expect them  to make much noise this year. However, if they can pick up the offense and play solid defense, something Texas Tech managed under Ruffin's tenure, perhaps the Pirates can make it to their third straight C-USA Championship game. How strange would it be if ECU somehow wins the East and SMU the West going into the game over the holiday weekend? 

The Heels "should" win 10

The Heels "should" win 10 games???  What in the world JP, I thought you were on our side!  Haha, seriously though, 10 wins would be a huge accomplishment with this team and schedule.  I just don't see it happening.

Counting the bowl game

among their 10 wins.

I'd guess a 9-3 regular season with a win over a Big Ten team in Orlando.

— JPG

9 games

I see a 9-4 record when all is said and done.  With the talent we have, it should be more, but we've lost 7 games the past 2 years in which we had a 4th quarter lead.  Until our guys prove they can win the close ones, and the expected ones, I think VT will enjoy the top spot in the Coastal.

I agree 20

With your 9-4 prediction. I think 10-3 is a stretch given the schedule. I think FSU and Miami are vastly improved this season and VT will be looking for some payback. They do have to play us at home though. If we don't beat State and Virginia this season then we should look for a new coach. I see wins over GT, VA, State, Clemson, Duke, and W&M. Wildcards are FSU, Miami, VT and of course LSU. Should be interesting. 

Yeah

A lot of it depends on the results of the investigation.  Marvin may not have eye-popping stats, but he draws enough attention that paves the way for Robert Quinn, the LBs and the secondary to make things happen.  I may change my prediction if we lose him because his presence is extremely important against teams like Georgia Tech.  FSU has me worried more than any team on the schedule.  Miami and Clemson are games that I think we should win, but could lose solely because they have great defenses that could force TJ into making mistakes.  I'm also a little nervous about the new 3-4 GT is bringing in this year.  TJ has never done well against that kind of D.  While I never want to count out Russell Wilson, I still stand by my statement that we will beat NC State this year.

Fortunately

I think we have a bona fide replacement for TJ if he starts to collapse. Renner is more mobile and also has a strong arm. If TJ can't get the offense in gear we will see Renner off the bench in a hurry. If UNC can get by GT and FSU  and VT and hold serve on the rest this could be a great year. It will be an interesting fall with all these questions. 

short leash

If Butch has any sense at all (which I believe he does), he will keep Yates on a short leash. Renner is an unknown with potential at this point, but there is enough talent surrounding him that he should be fine. Why not find out if you have the next coming of Russell Wilson on your roster (God forbid!)?

RW

Be that as it may, and please don't take this wrong, but I am hoping that either T.J. or B.R. (or both in tandum or whatever) have a better year than RW. And by that I mean in terms of wins and stats. I can hope can't I?

I think RW is going to light

I think RW is going to light it up this season if he can stay healthy. It may take a tandem effort on the part of T.J. and B.R. to surpass him. I really liked what I saw of Renner in the Spring game. Game time is another dimension however

One thing I know for sure

If Russell Wilson stays healthy, he will be better than Yates and Renner statistically.  Wilson is the best QB in the ACC.  Period.

Thanks...

Thanks to the both of y'all for admitting something the majority of opposing ACC fans shy away from. 

If RW gets some help from a solid o-line and a group of receivers that decide to catch the damn ball, I really look for him to light it up this year. 

Can't help it when you see

Can't help it when you see talent like that. There was something about that first game with SC a couple of years ago that really had me rooting for him. I felt really bad for him. He was starting to have a good game before the injury and I will always root for anyone, esp. from the ACC, against SC and Spurrier. Despite having a poor supporting cast, sans receivers,he has always played creatively and with a passion to win. As they say the dude has "game"

OF COURSE YOU CAN

And you should. If the "experts" are right though, you've got a better shot with the win column than the stats column, but you never know.

My hope is that the prognosticators are as wrong this year about the Pack being bad as they were last year when they thought the Pack would be good. That said, I'm guessing that my hope is more audacious than your hope.

VT

I know they'll go off in the top 10 but I think other voters are assuming their defense is going to be fine. There's certainly a track record, but offenses in the ACC are a lot better than they have been, not to mention VT's opener.

I think Miami wins the Coastal and ACC titles.

— JPG

Miami...

...is the most well-rounded team in the conference when Jacory Harris plays well.  However, 17 INTs looks ugly on a resume, and I still feel he is the most overrated player in the country.  He does return a much more experienced receiving corps, but lost his security blankets at tight end.  Should be interesting.  If all goes well, Miami definitely has a good shot.
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About the blogger

Joe Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997.
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