It’s the most wonderful time of year. Where college campuses are flooded with tailgates, a sea full of people parading the school colors, and Lee Corso killing it on “College Gameday.” Yep, it’s time for college football and we are kicking it off with an all-out preview of the upcoming season with “Game Week” where I will take look at the preseason Top-25, Heisman hopefuls, potential breakout teams and players, and of course, predicting the College Football Playoff. So while you sit in class these next two days, itching for Saturday, give us a click & read. It’s finally Gameday.
Note: This is the official AP preseason Top 25.
25. Tennessee Volunteers
There is no doubt about two things when it comes to Rocky Top in 2015. They are young, and they are talented. That lethal combination will be tested in a variety of ways this season, first with a week 2 clash versus #19 Oklahoma and then an absolute gauntlet of an October: home vs. #18 Arkansas and #9 Georgia and then a trip to Tuscaloosa, all in consecutive weeks.
3rd year Head Coach Butch Jones has a pretty solid starting 22, but after that is where the question marks remain. Led by dual-threat QB Joshua Dobbs, and RB Jalen Hurd, The Vols will be pounding the ground-game all season long. The defense will be anchored by pass rush specialists Curt Maggitt and Derek Bennett.
Returning a SEC-high 18 starters in 2015, they will need all the experience they can get with their schedule, but an SEC East title is now realistic for Butch and the ‘Vols.
24. Missouri Tigers
Gary Pinkel and his Tigers don’t get the preseason hype most SEC schools do, but after two-straight SEC East titles, the Tigers are still looking to gain more respect from their conference counterparts. They were just one of 16 schools to tally 10 victories a season ago (finished 11-3) but boy did they lose some firepower, especially on the D-line this season.
Shane Ray and Markus Golden are now in the NFL, Marcus Loud was dismissed this offseason due to an unspecified violation of team policies and Harold Brantley is sidelined for the season with injuries suffered in a major car crash (expected to return in 2016). That leaves an opening for the #3 overall recruit in 2015, DT Terry Beckner Jr. to contribute right away, because the D-line will need what they can get right now, although their strengths are in the secondary and linebacker core this season.
Offensively led by junior QB Maty Mauk (2,648 yards and 25 TDs) and RB Russell Hansbrough (1,084 10 TDs) to go along with an experienced O-line, they’ll need to get the ground game established early and often to help aid a rather inexperienced corps of receivers.
23. Boise State Broncos
17 Broncos return this fall, after an unexpected 11-2 season that ended in a thrilling-victory against Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. You won’t be able to find a weakness on defense if you tried, especially the front seven. Defensive end Kamalei Correa had 12 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season and they return Fiesta Bowl MVP Tanner Vallejo.
A four man race at QB doesn’t seem to phase offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, who has three big targets for whoever is throwing to them, in Thomas Sperbeck, Shane Williams-Rhodes and tight end Jake Roh. Synonymously known for disrupting with what should happen in postseason rankings, this Boise State squad seems to have some of that magic for 2015.
22. Arizona Wildcats
What a job Rich Rodriguez has already done with Arizona. He took redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and turned him into a complete stud, tossing for 3,793 yards and 28 touchdowns and completely understands Rich Rods’ offense, which returns sophomore RB Nick Wilson (1,375 yards) and junior Cayleb Jones (73 catches for 1,019 yards) and has a chance to be just as explosive as a season ago.
Although the defense is anchored by junior All-American Scooby Wright, who had just insane numbers for a linebacker last season, but they’re question marks after him. In a relatively open race for the PAC-12 South, the ‘Cats have to improve on defense once again in 2015 if they want to make the jump to the title game. Or else they’ll just have to outscore everyone. Right, the latter.
21. Stanford Cardinal
A down ’14 campaign (only eight wins) means back to the basics for the ’15 Cardinal. Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and hard-nosed defense. Sophomore Christian McCaffrey looks to be next in line of the long list of work-horse tailbacks in David Shaw’s ground and pound offense, which also returns QB Kevin Hogan for a 4th season.
While only 3 starters from the PAC-12’s top defensive unit from a year ago, they do return linebacker Blake Martinez who led the team with 102 tackles. Don’t expect them to falter too much on defense though, as they have been tops in the nation since Shaw took control of Stanford.
20. Wisconsin Badgers
Flash Gordon is gone, a sad reality for both Bucky and the collective college football community. Insert Corey Clement, (949 yards in ’14) the next guy to rush for a thousand yards or two, and become the staple of the offense in ’15. Joel Stave has to be better. In fact, Wisconsin can’t really do worse than 12th in the Big Ten in passing attack.
They avoid Michigan State and Ohio State this season, but they get a not-so-walk-in-the-park first game with Alabama in Week 1. A quick start would do Wisconsin a world of good this season, who are in line to contend for the West title once again.
19. Oklahoma Sooners
Remember that kid who ran up, down, and all around Kansas for 427 yards (FBS record for one game) last season? He was a freshman, he was Samaje Perine. The 5′ 11″, 237-pound tailback will be getting plenty of the workload this season to ease a new QB to the Sooners offensive mix, Baker Mayfield. Bob Stoops was smart to give this kid the keys to the whip:
Head Coach Bob Stoops has a strong front seven that will willingly blitz at just about any time during a game, but his problem lies in the second half of the defense, where the Sooners gave up a school record 276.2 passing yards per game. They are talented enough to take the Big 12 by surprise, but that means surviving a November of facing TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks.
18. Arkansas Razorbacks
Everybody’s “surprise pick” of the SEC this season, if that is even possible. The 7-6 Razorbacks from a year ago suffered more heart-breaking losses than any other school in the FBS, and are now a year more experienced and especially more hungry. Third-year QB Brandon Allen won’t make mistakes (only 5 INTs in ’14) and has a rocket-ship at wideout in Dominque Reed (6’3″ with a 4.3) to beat SEC defenses deep.
An experienced and nationally ranked O-line will lead a dual ground attack that rushed for over 2,000 yards combine last season in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. They have relatively easy schedule compared to the rest of the SEC, and could be undefeated heading into a ‘Bama clash on October 10th.
17. Ole’ Miss Rebels
One of the SEC darlings a season ago, the running Rebs’ saw their dream season stall in ’14 when star WR Laquan Treadwell suffered a gruesome leg injury. Check out his Instagram if you’re concerned with his recovery process. Junior Chad Kelly, son of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly looks to take control of the reigns this season in Oxford, when in doubt, throw it to Treadwell.
The defense will have to rely on ’13 #1 overall recruit DE Robert Nkemdiche to set the tone in the trenches, as his versatility allows him to play anything from nose-guard to a rushing outside linebacker. It won’t take long for the Rebels to face off against stiff competition, as they head to Tuscaloosa this season, after an instant classic in Oxford a season ago.
16. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The most entertaining player in College Football is the Quarterback for ‘Tech this season, his name is Justin Thomas. He rushed for a school record of 1,086 yards last season and is most certainly a Heisman hopeful with is dual-threat capabilities. He will have to carry the majority of the load as Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins are gone. They are still impossible to completely stop of defend in general, and Thomas takes the triple-option to another level of great.
15. Arizona State Sun Devils
2015 will be a breakout year for the Sun Devils, by all accounts. A veteran defense and QB, trickled in with proven weapons at both tailback and wide receiver, ASU can really build off of their 10-3 record from a year ago, with a solid start to 2015 that begins with Texas A&M in Houston.
They luckily get USC, Washington, Arizona and Oregon ALL at home this season, which makes them a sexy pick to come out of the PAC-12 South, as they are 12-2 at home over the past two seasons. Regardless, I was born into a U of A household, therefore I should stop being so high on the Sun Devils.
14. LSU Tigers
When Les Miles named Brandon Harris the starting quarterback for the Tigers, he was pretty much picking the guy with the best technique on handing the football off, because that’s all the Tigers will be doing in 2015. Handing the ball off to sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette. The 6’1″ 230-pound bruiser will be the focal point of the Tigers offense, although Harris has weapons on the outside to held him become a formidable SEC QB.
Former assistant at Alabama Kevin Steele takes over a defense once again flooded with athletes on the defensive line and future first-round picks in the secondary with Jalen Mills.
Their schedule is as daunting as it gets with back-to-backs against Mississippi State and Auburn, along with a November schedule that includes: at Alabama, Arkansas, At Ole Miss, and home against Texas A&M. IF they can snatch a few surprise victories, they’re in the playoff.
13. UCLA Bruins
Josh Rosen is a name to remember. The top-ranked 2015 QB leads 18 returning starters from a 10-3 UCLA squad that missed out on the PAC-12 Championship game after being pummeled by Stanford a week before. Weapons aplenty on both sides of the ball for Head Coach Jim Mora Jr. specifically Myles Jack, who has played running back and linebacker, is back along with Butkus Award-winner Eric Kendricks.
Leading PAC-12 rusher Paul Perkins is back after a 1,575 yard campaign and so is leading receiver Jordan Payton. Set your calendar for the season finale against USC, as it could decide the PAC-12 South.
12. Clemson Tigers
A season ago, Clemson had the most dominant defense (first in total defense a season ago) in the nation behind linebacker Vic Beasley, who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons. But they have reloaded with Stephone Anthony at inside linebacker and Garry Peters in the secondary to go along with 6’3″ 275-pound beast Shaq Lawson off the edge.
Offensively, Deshaun Watson retains the reigns under center despite missing seven games a season ago with a broken index finger and a torn ACL, but fully healthy now and ready to take the ACC by storm with his dual-threat abilities which he showcased as a freshman.
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
No Everett Golson? Not a problem in South Bend. The southpaw Malik Zaire (who has only attempted 35 passes wearing the Fighting Irish’s colors) has be donned the savior and complete what Golson couldn’t, a national title.
He’s got quite the cast of characters around him, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley (and sure-fire first round pick) protecting him and the versatile C.J. Prosise who he can hand it off to, as well as air it out to, too. Brian Kelly has a motivated squad, headlined by 18 returning starters who are not happy with an 8-5 finish a season ago. They play Georiga Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford, but the rest of the schedule is more than manageable after that, can ND run the table in ’15?
10. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles were in the news for all the wrong reasons this offseason, so the choice to let Everett Golson take control of Jimbo Fisher’s offense went under the radar. Golson will have to be as every bit of great as he was when he led Notre Dame to the National Title game three years back, as the offense took a major hit at just about every position (four new offensive lineman, must replace a record breaking receiver) across the board.
They may have the best secondary in all of the country, but the front seven defensively has a lot of question marks, which luckily FSU can take their time to figure out as their schedule doesn’t really get tough until October when they take on Miami, Louisville and Georgia Tech, with November bringing a clash with Clemson.
9. Georgia Bulldogs
If you’re going to pick a SEC team that isn’t from the Western part of the conference, this is your team. Although the Bulldogs haven’t won an SEC title in a decade, tailback Nick Chubb is the force behind trying to stop that streak this season. The rusher had 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman when Todd Gurley went down, he now is the go-to-guy.
The running attack will certainly help recently named starter Grayson Lambert, a transfer from Virginia, to get comfortable with a new and improved pro-style offense. They will be defensively sound once again this season (finished 17th in total defense in ’14) with linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd.
8. USC Trojans
Cody Kessler is the reason you’re hearing USC’s name in all the playoff talk this preseason. The senior is a Heisman candidate coming off a season where he tossed for 39 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, to go along with nearly completing 70% of his passes, a school record.
The offensive line has experience, with three upper class-men protecting Kessler, who will be throwing to sophomore standout Juju Smith and junior Darreus Rodgers. What may keep the Trojans out of the playoff will be their defense, where they have to replace Leonard Williams on the defensive front. They will have to travel to Auzten Stadium to face Oregon this season, where the two will square off to see who is atop the PAC-12 this season.
7. Oregon Ducks
Speaking of the Ducks, they have to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota with a FCS transfer who threw for 10,438 yards and ran for 1,232 yards at Eastern Washington for three years, the rich get richer. There is speed everywhere, per usual in Eugene. Tailback Royce Freeman will receieve the heavy load with Thomas Tyner out for the season with a Torn ACL, and WR Bralon Addison, returns from the same injury he suffered a year ago.
The Ducks have come by leaps and bounds defensively compared to prior years, and this season outside linebacker Christian French will apply pressure from just about everywhere. They travel to Michigan State for a epic showdown with Sparty, which will really tell us how much the Ducks miss Mariota.
6. Auburn Tigers
He may look like Cam Newton, but Jeremy Johnson isn’t going to compare himself to the Heisman winner, although their play-styles are incredibly similar. Johnson has extraordinary arm strength and improving accuracy that will allow Auburn’s lightning quick offense to be a complete juggernaut in the SEC.
They return seven starters offensively, with speed and talent all over the place, making them most likely the best offense in a loaded SEC West. New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp comes from Florida where things didn’t work out, but he has a National title (Texas in ’05) under his belt when he has solely focused on that side of the ball. They have a terrorizing schedule, but so does everyone else in the SEC West.
5. Michigan State Spartans
Yes, Ohio State might be the class of the Big Ten and the class of college football in general, but Michigan State isn’t a team to sleep on. The defense will be physical and fast with Shilique Calhoun back on the edge and 6’4″, 300-pound Lawrence Thomas clogging up any run game an opponent might have.
Connor Cook doesn’t get much respect, but he will have plenty of supporters by the end of the season, you can take that to the bank. He’s a potential first-round pick next May and will not make mistakes in Mark Dantonio’s pro-style attack. They lost to Ohio State and Oregon last season, the two teams competing for the National title. They play both again this season, this time with a major chip on their shoulder.
4. Baylor Bears
You’re not suppose to be this good when you lose Bryce Petty, but the Bears just keep reloading. The new powerhouse of the Big-12 has its typical speed on the outside ( WR’s KD Cannon and Jay Lee) and a stud at tailback (Shock Linwood, 1,252 yards and 16 TDs) but this year they feature a new trick up their sleeves.
Size. Massive amount of size. LaQuan McGowan is a 6’7″ 342-pound tight-end that scored against Michigan State last season, 6’9″ 280-pound Shawn Oakman is still the scariest man in college football, and he sets the edge for an improved Bears defense. They face TCU on Black Friday, which will be the game of the season if you ask me.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
If you read back on most of the teams, you notice that everyone is coming to Tuscaloosa this season. Yes, their schedule is freighting for an untested QB (which they will have, whether it be Jake Coker or David Cornwell) but their defense is probably still tops in the country.
Next in line on the running back express is Derrick Henry, who at 6’3″ 242-pounds will run through any SEC defense you throw at him. The speed to his power is Kenyan Drake, who has clocked in a casual 4.4, 40 on multiple occasions. This team will be full of first rounders once again, but who is their QB? Nick Saban doesn’t even know yet.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
Quarterback Trevone Boykin is the best dual-threat in a country filled with them. He tossed the pigskin for 3,901 yards and ran it for 707, totaling 42 touchdowns for the Horned Frogs a season ago. He has senior receivers in Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee ( 106 receptions for 1,771 yards between the two) and two-headed monster at tailback.
The defense is a work in progress, but Head Coach Gary Patterson is a guru in that field, and has plenty of speed and physicality to work with to make them a great unit.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Cinderella squad (if you can even call them that) from a season ago, THE Ohio State is once again enjoying it’s view from the top. They have three quarterbacks that could win the Heisman if they were in separate offenses, one (Braxton Miller) decided to test the waters as a tailback and receiver. That leaves Urban Meyer with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, both worthy of the nod, so the Head Coach is going to play them both and see what happens.
Then again, he could just ride Ezekiel Elliot all game on the ground, or have his dominating defense shut opponents down all game long.
Yeah, life is good in Columbus, at least for the time being.
Embrace the Madness, Gameday is almost here.
All stats courtesy of SI and ESPN.com