Posted on: August 16, 2008 6:01 pm

EL GIGANTE'S 2008 Pre-Season Top 25! #1 - 10

#10) L.S.U. TIGERS - Being the fourth SEC team in the top ten is impressive, but not surprising for the best conference in NCAA football. With the forced departure of Ryan Perrilloux, the Tigers are lacking that stud Quarterback they’ve had in recent years (JaMarcus Russell / Matt Flynn). Still, an amazing array of talent can be found in Baton Rouge and they are the defending National Champion. So, Louisiana State had to be “on the radar.”

Red-shirt freshman Jarrett Lee is given the reins at Quarterback. He may have to fight every day to keep the job with Andrew Hatch waiting in the wings for his first misstep. Depth also reigns supreme at the Running Back position with Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy & Charles Scott. Williams seems to be the choice by coaches to get the most carries, though. Brandon LeFell returns at Wide Receiver to give Lee a big target at 6’3”. Four out of five starting offensive linemen return, as well.

Middle Linebacker Darry Beckwith leads the Tigers defense with intense, finally-healthy play. The front seven seems solid enough for L.S.U., but the secondary is like a sieve with a crack in it. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if you want to kill the Tigers just keep throwing down the field.

The “demise” of the National Championship for the Tigers will be their inability to match up with their SEC fellows/foes. Battles @Florida, @South Carolina, @Auburn, Georgia & Alabama will present them with three losses, if not more. They’re not geauxing to be a BCS team this year, Baton Rouge.

#9) WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS - A lot of anger has emanated from Morgantown over the departure of Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, but the team he left is much, much better than the squad he inherited in Ann Arbor. Bill Stewart’s team has a very “doable” schedule to make it to a BCS bowl and beyond and offensive talent that would make a couple of NFL teams glare with envy. The only question is their strength on defense.

With nine returners on offense, Pat White is a happy, happy senior Quarterback. Like Tim Tebow, White is a dual threat leading his team with 1,724 yards passing while con-tributing 1,335 yards rushing and 28 total touchdowns. He also has his ENTIRE offensive line back (3 seniors & 2 juniors). Did I mention Mr. White was happy? Look for sophomore speedster Noel Devine to contribute in a big way this year at Running Back and Kick Returner. West Virginia will miss Steve Slaton, but not as much as you might think.

Here we come to the concern of the ‘Neers…defense. Only four starters return from last year’s surprisingly good defense; 1 lineman, 2 Linebackers & a Safety. D-line Coach Kirelawich, especially, has his work cut out for him since the one returning lineman is a sophomore. The secondary is big enough and fast enough, but rawer than steak tartar. Truly, it looks like Pat White and the “O” are going to have to put up 40 points a game (like they did last year; 39.6 ppg) to ensure themselves of a win.

The good news is that their schedule plays out to allow this to happen. Realistically, there are only two, maybe three, games that present any real headache for the Mountaineers; Auburn at home, @ Colorado & maybe South Florida at home for the season-ender on December sixth. Don’t look for Pitt to replicate their miracle from last year’s “Backyard Brawl,” either. Expect West Virginia to win 2 out of 3 of the “problem” games.

 #8) AUBURN TIGERS - Some might be asking “Where’s LSU here?” To which I say, “not as good as Auburn.” This ranking is a combination of returning players, weak out-of-conference schedule (with the exception of @ West Virginia) and no Gators on the SEC schedule.

The switch by new Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin to the spread will allow the athleticism of Quarterback Kodi Burns to show through like it did at last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl. Additionally, the ENTIRE offensive line returns to clear the path for junior Ben Tate & senior Brad Lester at Running Back. Wide Receivers Rodgeriqus Smith, Montez Billings & James Swinton return to give Burns plenty of quality targets. In the spread, these numbers should increase from the traditional Auburn pass yardage.

Once again, Tommy Tuberville’s defense will prove more than up to the task of shutting down opponents. Like the offense, the defense has a new Coordinator in Paul Rhoads whose concentration is the secondary. He also is more of a risk-taker than Will Muschamp was with a higher number of blitz packages and formations. Expect big things from the Tigers’ returning 8 starters led by Sen’Derrick Marks at Defensive Tackle & Linebacker Trey Blackmon.

Turning around the offense is the priority for Auburn, thus the switch to the spread. The ability to take the pressure off of the defense against the likes of Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and West Virginia will make or break the Tigers in ‘08.

 #7) FLORIDA GATORS - Eventually I had to give the Devil his due and here it is. The Gators appear to be getting better this year from last season’s 9-4 team. Frankly, as long as Tim Tebow stays around at Quarterback they’ll be even better next year. That’s a long-shot at best, though. They’re relatively young on both sides of the ball with only 6 seniors, 8 juniors and 8 sophomores among their starting 22. Along with this, a challenging schedule could provide Florida a loss or two. Game #2 of the Gators schedule this year is the resurgent Miami Hurricanes with Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Florida State looming after that.

Fifty-five total touchdowns, 3,286 passing yards and 895 rushing yards are all that Tim Tebow brings to the Gators offense. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner is projected to do just as well with Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and Louis Murphy returning at Wide Receiver and newby Chris Rainey coming in at Tailback. Florida has lost its starting Tight End (Cornelius Igram) for the season, though, with a torn ACL. Aaron Hernandez is expected to step in and the offense shouldn’t miss a beat.  There are additional concerns w/knee injuries that the Gators hope their depth will solve.

What did the Gators do to improve their horrible pass defense from last year? It pretty much comes down to three returners in the secondary whose experience from last season and practice this Spring. As long as Joe Haden (CB) & Major Wright (FS) have made the strides Urban Meyer’s staff claims they have, it’ll be greatly improved. Brandon Spikes at Middle Linebacker and Jermaine Cunningham at Defensive End will provide a strong base for the front seven. The Defensive Tackles are the only question mark among these seven. If they’re solid, the Florida defense will rank among the top 10 again against the run.

#6) MISSOURI TIGERS - After proving they could beat every team in the land (except Oklahoma who they lost to twice), the Tigers are reloaded and ready to pound on teams to make up for being robbed of a BCS berth. Like Clemson, Mizzou starts the season with a bang against Illinois @ St. Louis. This should shake off the rust and prepare them for an otherwise pathetic non-conference schedule (SE Missouri State, Nevada & Buffalo) followed by a Sooner-less Big XII regular season lineup. Their one true test here is @ Texas on October eighteenth.

Chase is the word for the offense. It’s the first name of the starting Quarterback (Chase Daniels), Tight End (Chase Coffman) & even the back-up Quarterback (Chase Patton). Daniels had a near-Heisman level season last year tossing for 33 touchdowns. I expect the same or better with the return of Wide Receivers Jeremy Maclin & Tommy Saunders. Maclin is a game-changer and should prove to be a huge match-up problem for any defense. It seems Running Back by committee will be the one concern for Mizzou’s offense this year with the loss of Tony Temple. Derrick Washington and Jimmy Jackson should expect to see the bulk of the work.

While defensive pass rush was an issue last year for the Tigers, don’t expect it to be this season. The return of Ends Stryker Sulak & Tommy Chavis along with seven other starters on defense instills a lot of confidence in Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff. Eight of this year’s starters are seniors with two juniors and one sophomore. The experience and talent of Free Safety William Moore & Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon drive home that feeling of comfort.

The Kansas game @ Kansas City shouldn’t be as close as last year’s 36-28 final score and I’m looking for the Tigers to have to meet the Sooners in the Big XII Championship. Then, we’ll see if Mizzou can expel the stigma of last year’s double disappointment against Oklahoma.

 #5) CLEMSON TIGERS - Here’s where some are going to start questioning my sanity; it was bound to happen. The combination of 15 returning starters, a powder-puff schedule, the talent at skill positions & outstanding defense make Clemson a pretty simple selection here.

Senior Quarterback Cullen Harper has to be the happiest man in the ACC. He has his favorite Wide Receiver back (Aaron Kelly - 88 receptions) and the two most talented Running Backs in the conference behind him (James Davis & C.J. Spiller). His only concern might be the loss of three offensive line starters. Still, the expectation is for the Tigers to match or exceed their 33 points/game on offense from last year.

The Clemson defense has only one issue, Linebacker. But returning Middle Linebacker Courtney Vincent (even with his DUI arrest) should be able to provide plenty of support for Scotty Cooper (SLB) & Kavelle Conner (WLB). Plus, the D-Line led by two seniors in the at Tackle (Dorell Scott & Rashaad Jackson) and the best secondary in the ACC will keep the Tigers as a top-10 unit nationally.

Clemson starts the season in Atlanta against Alabama on 8/30. This will tell a lot about both teams. After the opener, Tommy’s boys really have only two questionable games (both away): Wake Forest & Florida State. Neither one of these games have half the question marks as Georgia’s ride through the SEC. Don’t expect the South Carolina game to be any concern either with major issues at Quarterback, Running Back & Offensive Line.

#4) GEORGIA BULLDOGS - After finally getting over the hurdle of the Gators in Jacksonville last year, the ‘Dawgs’ felt they should play in the National Championship. I was & am one of those insisting you should at least win your half of the SEC to be allowed that honor; which they didn’t. This year should be different. Mark Richt’s squad has quite a few hurdles in front of them (@ Arizona State, Tennessee, Florida {!}, and @ Auburn), but on paper they seem up to the task.

 The offense is led by junior Matthew Stafford who seems to finally be coming into his own. Existing in the shadow of Florida’s Tim Tebow appears to have motivated or taken the pressure off of him to live up to all of the hype he carried coming out of high school. He is joined by seven other returning starters including: Mohamed Massaquoi and Knowshon Moreno. Overall, they have a nice mix of 4 seniors, 2 juniors & 5 sophomores. Normally, I’m a bit hesitant to “buy into” a team with 5 sophomores, but 4 of them were starters last year. The strength of the Bulldogs team lies in the incredible talent of their skill position players and a solid line on offense.

Georgia’s defense is not as dominant as their offense. With seven returning starters, the ‘Dawgs’ are depending on their Defensive Tackles (Jeff Owens & Geno Atkins) and Defensive Ends (Roderick Battle & Jeremy Lomax) to take pressure off of their back seven. They are all four strong against the run and the ends are tremendous at getting into the backfield. Returners Dannell Ellerbe (Sr) at Middle Linebacker and Cornerback Asher Allen (Jr) ensure that the back seven holds up their end of the bargain.

With its brutal schedule, I can’t understand why so many pundits have the Bulldogs a guaranteed number 1 this season. There are just too many potential hurdles for me to feel that warm fuzzy and believe fully in Georgia. Still, they are incredibly talented (especially on offense) and certainly worthy of a top 5 spot.

#3) SOUTHERN CAL TROJANS - Here’s how you know it’s a pre-season poll. Because things may get a little dicey as a result of week three for Carroll’s kids or Tressel’s troops. Some pundits are also looking to the October fourth game against Oregon October eleventh game against Arizona State as a possible hurdles, as well. It just looks like this season’s schedule lines up pretty well for the Trojans with ALL THREE of the above games at home (along with the Notre Dame and Cal games). The away games are Virginia (blech!), Oregon State, Washington State (beat them by 33 last year), Arizona, Stanford (oh, sweet revenge), and UCLA.

Then comes the offense where the dice are rolling a bit more. While Mark Sanchez returns at Quarterback this year, he’s not getting the love like some recent Trojan hurlers. In fact, he’s been in a struggle with Arkansas-transfer Mitch Mustain until recently just to get the job he’s waited 3 years for. If trouble arises for young Sanchez, like complications from his dislocated knee-cap, how long will Pete wait to pull the trigger on a change? Not long for a former NFL coach, I’d guess. Utilizing a stable of very talented Running Backs will take some heat off of whoever becomes the QB. Look for Stafon Johnson to see the most carries early, but Joe McKnight is the playmaker Reggie Bush once was for the Trojans.

#2) OKLAHOMA SOONERS - Bob Stoops is the 2<sup>nd</sup> best among active coaches with a 81.5% win ratio (behind Pete Carroll at 84.4%). This may surprise some, but this year he’ll live up to this number and beyond. Most of the weight will ride on his offense led by a sophomore QB, Sam Bradford, who threw for 36 touchdowns and 8 INTs in his freshman campaign. Besides Bradford and HB DeMarco Murray, also a sophomore, the starting O is made up of 8 seniors (including the entire line) and 1 junior. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of continuity and experience.

The defense is a little thin at the skill positions with 2 new Cornerbacks and a freshman Weak-Side Linebacker. Experience at both Safeties, Middle Linebacker and D-Line give them hope. It looks like they may give up some yards and a few points, but they should be able to hold enough for the O to outscore the competition.

Out-of-conference schedule is its usual light fare (Chattanooga, Cincinnati & Washington), but their conference schedule may be intriguing. The emergence last year of Kansas, Texas @ Dallas always interests the fans and the possible explosion of Texas Tech this year will keep us guessing a little more than the Buckeye schedule. Also, how fast can Bo Pelini get Nebraska competitive?

#1) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES - With the exception of one glaring issue in week #3, the Bucks shouldn’t have a lot of trouble this year. That exception happens to be the USC Trojans, though. Should be a deal-breaker type game for whoever loses. My belief is after the ever so difficult Youngstown State and Ohio games, Ohio State should be able to squeak out a 24-21 type victory at the Colisseum. Then, the other Men of Troy, Alabama in this case, come to town.

With the exceptions of Penn State and Illinois, the Big 10(+) is down in 2008, including Wisconsin and retrofitted Michigan. The Wolverines game becomes even tougher for the maize & blue since it’s at Columbus (as is the Penn State game).

Things continue to line up for the Bucks with 7 seniors, 3 juniors and only 1 sophomores on the starting offense; 9 are returning starters including the QB (Todd Boeckman), the HB (“Beanie“ Wells) & both Wide Receivers (Brian Robiskie & Brian Hartline). Additionally, the defense returns 9 starters. There are 4 seniors, 6 juniors and 1 sophomore making up the starting 11 on D. Both the Kicker, Ryan Pretorius, and Punter, A.J. Trapasso, are seniors.

Overall, Ohio State’s season rests on its not overlooking a bunch of beatable teams on a silky smooth schedule while focusing too much on Southern Cal. With senior leadership at QB, HB, WR, K, and Middle Linebacker (James Laurinaitis is a BEAST!) plus the entire secondary is made up of returning starters, I have to pick the Buckeyes to win it all.

And so ends another massive cranial spasm for the G-Man.  I'll now lay low for a bit awaiting the season and the inevitable injuries, suspensions & weather clusters that will make this all for naught.

Posted on: August 13, 2008 6:58 pm

EL GIGANTE'S 2008 Pre-Season Top 25! #11-25

Title seems self-explanatory enough:

#25) FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS - Pat Hill’s Bulldogs are looking to erase the embar-rassment of their conference from Hawaii’s exposed farce of last season. With 3 of their first 4 games @UCLA, @Rutgers & hosting Wisconsin, Fresno State will look to pounding their own conference for eight to nine wins. Quarterback Tom Brandstater is the real deal and will throw well beyond last season 15 T.D.s.

#24) ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE - It was only a matter of time before journeyman Saban got the Tide back to the Top 25. If, by some miracle, ‘Bama could win their season-opener with Clemson, they could reach even higher. Playing @Georgia, @LSU, @Tennessee & hosting Auburn won’t make that a long-lived success, though. Eight wins is where I see them ending up.

#23 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS - Defense is the name of the game in Winston-Salem these days. Nine returners on a defense of all upperclassmen ensure the Deacs will better their 22 pts./game from last season. Nine wins are within reach even with an average offense in the ACC. @Florida State, @ Maryland & home versus Clemson are the only clear-cut losses on the board.

#22) PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS - Honestly, JoePa’s boys could be rated higher than this, but off-field issues and questions as to Quarterback make this a comfortable pick. Darryl Clark seems to have won the QB job over Pat Devlin (for now). And with 17 returners among the offense & defense, you would think higher of the Lions, but I see them losing to Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin and possibly Michigan State.

#21) VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES - After winning 42 games over the last four seasons, this will mark a “down” year for the Hokies. While special teams are always amazing in Blacksburg, both the offense and defense up to snuff. Look for Frank Beamer to keep splitting time between Tyrod Taylor & Sean Glennon at Quarterback. With new Receivers and Running Backs, plus suspect line play last year, Va. Tech could lose 4 games.

#20) SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS - A couple of years ago, who would’ve thought the ‘Noles and ‘Canes would be out of the top 25 and the Bulls would be in? Here they are again after a near-dream season in ’07 to continue to be competitive nationally. Led by Matt Grothe & Tyrone McKenzie, the Bulls are good for nine wins in a weak Big East, but should lose to Kansas & West Virginia.

#19) ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI - After pulling a nine-win season last year (preceded by 7 wins in previous 3 seasons combined), a lot of folks are expecting more of the same from Juice Williams & Co. With the loss of Rashard Medenhall, though, I’m guessing there will be a bit of a drop-off. Also, the Illini are expecting to start 11 underclassmen this year.

#18) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS - Rudy Carpenter will need his line to give him a whole lot more in the way of protection this year compared to last. The defense will have to improve greatly against the pass though it has only one returner to the secondary. The ‘Devils’ success will lie primarily with the weakness of their schedule. Eight to nine wins are doable.

#17) TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS - Very quietly the Vols have recovered from a 5-win season in ‘05 to get back to respectability and ten wins last year. The loss of Erik Ainge is actually a plus for Fulmer’s team in some people’s minds because he just couldn’t make them “comfortable.” New QB Jonathan Crompton hosts Alabama and Florida, but must go to Georgia and Auburn. Expect nine wins this year.

#16) TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS - Light out-of-conference schedule w/E. Washington, @Nevada, SMU & U.Mass make the front end easy for Tech, but games against Texas, @Oklahoma & @Kansas make for big speed bumps. The Raiders do return 10 (TEN!) starters on offense including Graham Harrell at Quarterback, along with their whole defensive line.

#15) BRIGHAM YOUNG COUGARS - A pathetically easy schedule makes the Cougars this year’s pick as mid-major “spoiler” of the year. Quarterback Max Hall leads BYU to a guaranteed-minimum ten wins with “challenging” games against UCLA and @Utah. The hope is that they don’t squeak into a BCS berth with this dreck, but be prepared for the outcry from each direction.

#14) KANSAS JAYHAWKS - Not just out of fear of being eaten by Mangino, either. The ‘Hawks don’t rate as high as they did last year due to a substantially more difficult schedule; they have to play Texas, Oklahoma & Texas Tech this year, while they didn’t last year, and they visit Tampa to play USF. Eight wins for sure, though.

#13) OREGON DUCKS - The quack attack returns without Dennis Dixon, but with phenomenal talent, especially among their back seven on defense. Look for the Ducks to have growing pains at the beginning of the season as they break in some new players, then ultimately lose 3 games.

#12) TEXAS LONGHORNS - Quarterback Colt McCoy returns along with two starting Wide Receivers and most of his offensive line to scorch the bulk of their opponents. They will miss the strength and speed at Running Back of Jamaal Charles, though. A tough schedule (Oklahoma, Mizzou, @Texas Tech & @Kansas) makes it tough, but they’ll win 9 games.

#11) WISCONSIN BADGERS - A team that could easily be in the top ten, the Badgers have 9 starters back on offense, but one that’s new is the Quarterback; Allan Evridge. He is a senior, but he’s battling every day with Dustin Sherer just to see the bulk of the snaps. Games @Fresno State, Ohio State & Illinois will present Wisconsin with their biggest challenges.

I'll have the Top 10 posted soon.  Same Bat-time....Same Bat-channel....




The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com