The 2009 college football season is now in the books, and as such, it’s time to turn the page and preview the 2010 season. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing what I feel are the top 25 teams as we had into next year. Please note that these rankings are based in my opinion and not how I feel the voters are necessarily going to rank the teams. With that said, here are the teams who rank between #21-25 in 2010: (Note: Special thanks to www.nationalchamps.net for help with both future schedules and depth charts as part of this preview)
21) West Virginia- The 2009 season ended with a disappointing loss to a Florida State team that struggled just to make a bowl game but overall the Mountaineers had another solid year notching 9 wins on the year. Running back Noel Devine will be one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, and he’ll be return alongside 7 other returning starters on offense. The West Virginia 3-3-5 defense hasn’t always been known as an air-tight unit, but they weren’t terrible this year either and they should improve with 9 of their starters returning on defense. The schedule includes home contests against Cincinnati, Rutgers, and South Florida as well as road games against LSU, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh.
22) Georgia- The Bulldogs had a down year by their standards but showed signs of improvement in their last two games as they won at Georgia Tech and against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl. They’ll look to take some of last year’s momentum and carry it into their 2010 season when every offensive starter will return except for QB Joe Cox. Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was fired after his defense performed pretty poorly in each of the last 2 seasons, and although there’s no replacement as of yet, it’s likely that some fresh blood along with 6 returning starters will help improve the Bulldog defense. The schedule is challenging, but is workable. Home games for the Bulldogs include visits from Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech. Georgia plays Florida on a neutral field, and visits South Carolina, Colorado, and Auburn as well.
23) Pittsburgh- The Panthers suffered about as heartbreaking of a loss as a team can have in their season finale against Cincinnati as they dropped a 45-44 to the Bearcats in the game that decided the Big East Championship. They rebounded nicely against North Carolina however, and although there are holes to fill, they should be strong again in 2010. Their strength should be on offense where running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Johnathan Baldwin return. Defensively, Pitt returns 6 starters and should once again be a solid, but not spectacular unit in 2010. Their schedule is very difficult with home games against Miami, Rutgers, and West Virginia and road games at Utah, Notre Dame, Connecticut, South Florida, and Cincinnati.
24) California- The Golden Bears were among the more disappointing teams in the country last season as they were hammered by Oregon, USC, Washington, and Oregon State. They also lost the Poinsettia Bowl to Utah. Still, they did manage to post an 8-5 record and still have a wealth of talent. Running back Jahvid Best is leaving for the NFL, but backup Shane Vereen has the potential to be just as effective in the backfield alongside returning quarterback Kevin Riley. There are 7 other offensive starters returning as well as 6 defensive starters. Their schedule presents several difficult tests for the Bears including home games against Colorado, Oregon, and Stanford, and road contests at Nevada, USC, Arizona, and Oregon State.
25) Houston- Houston at one point in 2009 looked to be a BCS candidate, but 3 losses, including defeats in their last 2 games put a bit of a downer The Cougars aren’t a defensive powerhouse, but their offense is more than good enough to make up for many of those deficiencies. Quarterback Case Keenum, who put up ridiculous passing numbers in 2009 will have running back Charles Sims and wide receivers Patrick Edwards, Tyron Carrier, and James Cleveland back to throw to. Defensively, the Cougars will likely struggle again, although they will have some experience returning in the front seven as they also return 7 starters overall. Still, if they can just do a little better than last season, the offense should be more than enough to carry this team to another impressive season. The schedule is the type of slate that should help Houston to at least match their record from this year if not better it. The schedule features home games against Mississippi State and Navy with road games at UCLA, Texas Tech, and SMU.
For more info: Please visit www.nationalchamps.net, www.collegefootballnews.com, www.miamiherald.com, and www.espn.com