Just because a team surprises one year doesn’t mean they will do so again the next year.
So this seems like a good place to deposit some of last year’s feel-good stories – solidly in the top 25, but not so high that it will look silly at the end of the year if one of them bombs.
20. South Florida. It is almost incomprehensible that George Selvie had 31.5 tackles for loss last season.
Really, that’s ridiculous. Almost as absurd as a program starting up and rising to a No. 2 overall ranking in the land in a little more than a decade.
So the Bulls didn’t finish there last year. Big deal. They still have plenty back this season, and are the best bet to take the Big East if West Virginia happens to stumble.
A No. 2 ranking again? Unlikely. But more ridiculous things have happened.
19. Kansas. I was in Lawrence late last season on a side trip, and definitely got the sense that what the Jayhawks managed to do – go 12-1 and win the Orange Bowl – wasn’t a fluke.
But, man, did they get a nice fluffy schedule.
No Oklahoma. No Texas. No Texas Tech. No nonconference challenges.
Now it’s in reverse. All three of the Big 12 South powers are on the schedule, and Mark Mangino’s team gets a look at South Florida early in the season.
The Jayhawks’ offense is no joke, and the foundation is there for a consistent eight-to-nine win team, especially in a division that could yo-yo between winners over the next few years. The Jayhawks won’t land in the top 10, but a solid season seems quite likely.
18. Texas Tech. Everyone loves the Red Raiders. Is mesmerized by that offense, the efforts of wideout Michael Crabtree, the throws of Graham Harrell and the mad genius of Mike Leach.
But you still have to play defense, no matter how many shiny toys are at your disposal. And if you’re Texas Tech, you still have to play Oklahoma and Texas.
The depth of quarterbacks in the Big 12 is well-established. What goes along with that are potent offenses. Very potent offenses.
There’s no doubt the Red Raiders’ offense will haul its weight. But the defense will have to be better than past versions for Texas Tech to charge into the top 10.
17. Illinois. There isn’t a top-25 team that will learn more about itself in Week One than the Illini.
That might be an overstatement. Someone might lose to a team expected to be bad. Or lose their starting quarterback and tailback on the same play. Or something else awful.
But on paper, Illinois will figure out where it stands vis-a-vis some other big boys (or at least one of them) when it meets Missouri in St. Louis. Win, and maybe the Zooker is up to something bigger than contending in the watered down Big Ten. Lose, and, well, at least Illinois can still contend in the watered down Big Ten.
That Rose Bowl appearance was nice last year, and certainly the Illini are loaded with talent. This is probably about where they should rank, but a 10-2 Illinois team (which is quite possible) would likely be in the top 10 at the end of the regular season.
16. Wisconsin. Another team that should be near the top of the Big Ten, the Badgers endure a brutal bit of scheduling early in the season.
First, no matter how much good he’s done, Barry Alvarez (the former coach and current athletic director) should be questioned for sending his team out to Fresno State. To his credit, he didn’t back out of that obvious trap game, but Wisconsin fans probably wish he did. The Badgers then head to the Big House before playing host to Ohio State and Penn State.
That is not fun, and Wisconsin would be very fortunate to emerge 5-1 from that stretch. Of course, a visit from Illinois comes shortly after it.
The Badgers probably wouldn’t be a national title contender anyway, but the way those games line up make it hard to fathom how these guys will be anywhere near the top 10 by the time mid-October arrives.