Looking for teams east of the Mississippi? This isn’t the interval to find them.
Big 12 teams? That’s a different story. Read on. …
No. 20: TEXAS CHRISTIAN
At this week’s ACC Kickoff, Virginia coach Al Groh asserted, basically, that the Horned Frogs would rank among the best teams in the ACC.
He’s right, of course, and Texas Christian will be able to tell where it stacks up in the ACC by the end of September since it visits Virginia and Clemson.
Thanks largely to a stingy defense, Texas Christian has rolled up six 10-win seasons in the last nine years. That includes an 11-2 mark a year ago, when the Horned Frogs yielded only 11.3 points a game.
A lot of those players are gone, but at some point it’s as much about the philosophy and coaching as it is the players. Texas Christian has that figured out, and it should be considered the Mountain West favorite this season —- not to mention as good as a whole lot of teams in the ACC.
No. 19: NEBRASKA
There’s a little bit of the Florida State Effect in play in Lincoln, where yet another storied program that could reliably be etched into the top 10 every year is worth viewing more warily after failing to collect double-digit victories in five straight seasons.
Last season brought some welcome stability, with a new coach who isn’t despised (Bo Pelini), an athletic director who is beloved (Tom Osborne) and a set of results that demonstrated the Cornhuskers were better than most of the chaff of the Big 12 yet still not quite ready for prime time when they faced bigger names (Virginia Tech, Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma).
Nebraska nearly beat Texas Tech, and it hassled Virginia Tech. It would come as no huge shock if those results were reversed this year.
Of course, the Huskers need answers at quarterback. That’s the difference between them and the four Big 12 teams (Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas) ranked above them. This should still be a good season, but a shot at a North Division title and 9-10 wins ought to be pacify the masses in the heartland.
No. 18: OREGON
The Ducks hung half a hundred on five opponents last season —- coach Mike Bellotti‘s last —- and failed to crack 30 points just twice. Needless to say, that’s a powerful spread offense employed in Eugene.
So with the offensive architect (Chip Kelly) now in charge, you’d think the offense wouldn’t be a problem. And it probably won’t be anytime soon.
But with a good chunk of last year’s offensive line gone, Oregon might not be averaging 40 points again.
No matter. This is a solid top-20 team, and the schedule has come up roses (and, potentially, Roses). Southern Cal comes to Eugene. So does California. And Oregon State. And Arizona State. And Utah.
The opener at Boise State could create headaches, as could the loss of more than half the team’s starters on both sides of the ball. But even if there are some early bumps, the Ducks will be among the Pac-10’s best teams.
No. 17: KANSAS
It sure seems like Todd Reesing has played quarterback for the Jayhawks forever, but this will be the short-yet-accurate signal-caller’s senior season. And like past years, he’ll have plenty of sure-handed targets to throw to.
But the offense wasn’t the difference between 2007’s Orange Bowl victory and 2008’s plodding 8-5 outfit. It was the defense.
In ‘07, the Jayhawks exploited turnovers on a weekly basis, keeping the defense off the field while permitting the efficient Reesing to carve up opponents. Last year, the caused turnovers went down and opponents’ scoring went up.
Kansas again receives a brutal portion of the Big 12 South (Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech) after avoiding those teams two years ago. But the Jayhawks also get Nebraska at home and a legitimate chance to start the year 6-0.
That doesn’t mean it’s as good a bunch as 2007, but the Jayhawks will probably improve on last year and contend for a Big 12 title game berth.
No. 16: OKLAHOMA STATE
Teams that give up 400 yards a game are, ultimately, flawed in very big ways. And eventually, someone is going to expose those flaws.
Last year, those someones were Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oregon.
There are no doubts about the Cowboys’ offense, not with arguably the nation’s best wideout (Dez Bryant) and best left tackle (Russell Okung) among their many stars.
Yet you still have to stop people, and you still need to beat elite teams —- something new coordinator Bill Young probably gives Oklahoma State a better chance to do. After all, the Cowboys have had some trouble with that, dropping a combined 12 in a row to Oklahoma and Texas.
Now, there’s no shame in that; the Sooners and Longhorns steamroll a lot of people. But for all the hype of Oklahoma State emerging as a top-10 team, well, it would be better to take a wait-and-see approach.
On the bright side, everyone will see soon enough. Georgia pays a visit to Stillwater to open the season, a fine nonconference test to start things off.
Maybe the Pokes will show they belong among the best. The guess here is they are this year’s answer to Clemson, albeit a bunch capable of winning eight or nine games and performing respectably against teams outside the top 10.
—- Patrick Stevens