The next issue of CN Magazine is a very special one. Our summer issue, which will be out around the first of June, will be 48 pages of coverage and information you won't want to miss! It includes:
- The annual honoring of "Mr. Cyclone" for 2005. (Hint: think football)
- Our Cyclones year-in-review for 2004-05.
- Scout.com's college football preview for 2005.
This is going to be a really neat issue. So if you're not already a subscriber, make sure you're one by May 15th to get this great issue conveniently in your mailbox later this spring. One of the features included in this college football preview is a first-ever preseason top 25, as selected by Scout.com's publishers, of which I am one.
Here is the ballot I will submit to the network, along with my reasoning behind why each team is ranked where they are. Just so you know, I rank the teams based on where I think they will finish at the end of the season, so I include scheduling with my rationale. Too many prognosticators like to do a preseason poll on talent alone, and then pick how they think the season will end separately, so they can have it both ways. As for me, I'd just as soon put it all on the line and look like a genius or an idiot, with an emphasis on the latter.
By the way, this will probably change somewhat come August, but for now here it goes…
I know, this is a real shocker, right? The Trojans are playing for history, trying to become the first time in the modern era of college football (since 1936) to win three consecutive Associated Press national titles. Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart returns, as does Reggie Bush and everyone else on an explosive offense. This unit, even without Norm Chow calling the shots, could join Penn State in 1994 and Nebraska in 1983 as one of the greatest offensive teams of the last generation. The defense loses some fine pieces to the NFL, and the schedule is deceptively difficult with road games at Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and California. Still, until someone beats them they deserve to be here.
Les Miles just struck gold, with a little purple mixed in. Kirk Ferentz told me recently on the radio that this was the most talented team the Hawkeyes faced last season, and nearly everyone returns for 2005. An offense that took a while to round into form last season should flourish with a full season of JaMarcus Russell at the controls. The defense loses Marcus Spears and a pair of corners, but that is offset by a more than friendly schedule that includes just four road games. And just one of those – Alabama on November 12th – is against a bowl team from last year. All of the Tigers' toughest foes – Arizona State, Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn – come to Death Valley.
Perhaps no team in college football has a better chance of finishing undefeated than do the Cardinals. Last season they dominated Conference USA, and this season they may very well do the same to the Big East if former prep phenom Brian Brohm is ready to step in at quarterback. There is a reason why Bobby Petrino remained at the helm. He's no dummy. It's much easier making the BCS from the Big East than it is the SEC. Here are the road opponents: Kentucky, South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Connecticut. Louisville will be favored in every one of those games.
So exactly why did Urban Meyer say no to his alleged dream job in South Bend and yes to the Gators? Have you looked at the roster he's inheriting? Chris Leak meet Alex Smith, now go out and duplicate his numbers in this offense. He will at least come close. The defense has a few holes to plug, including the premature loss of Channing Crowder. However, this is an odd-numbered year, which means archrivals Tennessee and Florida State must come to The Swamp. Mark down November 12th on your schedule, that's the date Florida heads to South Carolina to face the old ball coach.
In terms of pure talent on both sides of the ball, there may not be a more loaded squad heading into the season than Volunteers. Gerald Riggs, Jr. is back, as is a three-headed quarterback monster. Although look for Erik Ainge to eventually claim the starting spot. This could be Phil Fulmer's best team yet in Knoxville, which is saying something. So why are they only No. 5? Check out the schedule. Road games at Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Notre Dame. If Tennessee goes undefeated with that schedule we should just give them the national title regardless of the BCS.
The Wolverines return 16 starters, and maybe the best offensive backfield in college football. Sophomores Chad Henne, Michael Hart, and Max Martin are joined by freshman sensation Kevin Grady. And if anything happens to Henne senior Matt Gutierrez is good insurance. Steve Breaston becomes the focal point at wideout with Braylon Edwards gone. Now, can a defense that faded badly down the stretch in 2004 improve? If so, the Wolverines could soar higher with seven home games – including Ohio State – and no Purdue on the schedule. Michigan's fortunes likely ride on road dates at Michigan State and Iowa, two places where the Wolverines haven't played well under Lloyd Carr.
7. Ohio State
The Buckeyes return the most experienced team in the Big Ten, and should enter 2005 with momentum after drubbing Michigan and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl to close out 2004. The best set of linebackers in college football reside in Columbus, as does the best wide receiver duo with Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn, Jr. The two questions for Ohio State are the running game and a replacement for kicker Mike Nugent. A challenging schedule brings Texas and Iowa to the Horseshoe, misses Purdue, but calls for road games at Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan.
The Longhorns return 16 starters from their Rose Bowl championship squad, but they suffered two major losses in Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson. In other words, they lost their key player on offense and defense. However, talent is never a problem for Mack Brown, beating Oklahoma is. Vincent Young should finally deliver against the retooling Sooners on October 8th, but the rest of the schedule is problematic. Texas could win their first Big 12 title since 1996, but road games at Ohio State, rebounding Missouri, Oklahoma State, and rival Texas A&M will keep them out of the national title race.
Here is my first dark horse pick for the season. When we last saw the Bruins, they were losing to Wyoming in the Las Vegas Bowl after quarterback Drew Olson was hurt. Drew is back, but another Olson could take his place. BYU transfer Ben Olson, the consensus top quarterback recruit a few years ago, is in Westwood and ready to challenge. Maurice Drew is a stud at tailback, as is Mercedes Lewis at tight end. Spencer Havner is a potential All-American on defense. Karl Dorrell is just 12-13 so far, but with a favorable schedule and 48 returning lettermen this will be his breakout season. Look for the Bruins to send a message on September 17th by beating Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl.
10. Virginia Tech
The Hokies were one of the nation's hottest teams at the end of 2004, and just missed upsetting Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Gone is ACC Player of the Year Bryan Randall, but based on returning numbers alone Frank Beamer's club still has to be considered a favorite to repeat in the absolutely loaded ACC; provided Marcus Vick finally has his criminal past behind him. The schedule skips Florida State and gets the Hurricanes at home. However, bookend road games at N.C. State to open the slate and Virginia to conclude it are dangerous.
11. Purdue…The entire defense is back and Brandon Kirsch should be a capable replacement for Kyle Orton. The schedule skips Michigan and Ohio State and gets Iowa at home. But can the Boilermakers finally win the close ones?
12. Miami (Fla.)…For once the Hurricanes aren't losing a bushel-load of talent to the NFL. However, they have a gaping hole at quarterback and could start the season 0-2 with road games at Florida State and Clemson to kick things off.
13. Iowa…The Hawkeyes are one of just four teams in the country to finish in the final top 10 three years running. They return two of the top linebackers in the country in Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, and when we last saw Drew Tate he was doing a pretty good Doug Flutie impression. Then there's the presence of Ferentz, arguably the country's best head coach. So why do I not have them as high as most others? Four reasons: at Iowa State, at Ohio State, at Purdue, and at Wisconsin.
14. Oklahoma…The Sooners are young and restless, so you better get them this year. They're still talented, they're just in process. However, the schedule is conducive towards defending their Big 12 title if they can continue their mastery of Texas.
15. Texas A&M…On returning talent alone the Aggies should be higher than this. But when you look at a schedule that starts with a road date at Clemson and also includes stops in Boulder, Manhattan, Lubbock, and Norman you re-evaluate that assertion.
16. Florida State…The Seminoles always have elite-level talent, but won't return to elite status until they rediscover an elite quarterback. Especially in the increasingly rugged ACC, which is poised to become an elite league.
17. Penn State…Laugh now, but Joe Paterno will be laughing later. The Nittany Lions have the best defense in the Big Ten and an end to the Zack Mills soap opera. Then there's an extremely friendly schedule. This is a bounce back year in Happy Valley.
18. Georgia Tech…The Yellow Jackets are another potential surprise team for 2005 with Reggie Ball, P. J. Daniels, and potential All-American Calvin Johnson returning. Look for Tech to make a statement by winning at reigning SEC champion Auburn to open the season September 3rd.
19. Georgia…The Bulldogs graduated a very talented and successful senior class, and then saw Thomas Davis leave early for the NFL as well. D.J. Shockley takes over at quarterback and Mark Richt is a solid head coach, but Georgia appears to be a step behind SEC East rivals Florida and Tennessee this year.
20. Fresno State…The Bulldogs are coming off an upset of Virginia in the Boise Bowl and return the bulk of that team for 2005. If you're looking for this year's Utah or Boise State look no further. Especially if they can beat Oregon on the road (which they can) on September 17th.
21. Pittsburgh…Dave Wannstedt takes over his alma mater, and inherits the prolific and fiery Tyler Palko, my Heisman Trophy dark horse, at quarterback. Ironically, his first real road test is at Nebraska, the school he spurned two years ago to remain with the Dolphins.
22. Iowa State…In Ames they're asking why not us? The Cyclones return 17 starters, were inches short of winning the Big 12 North last season, and have another favorable schedule. The starting 22 is solid and capable of a special season, but depth is a concern.
23. Arizona State…Who needs Andrew Walter when you have Sam Kellar? He led the Sun Devils to an upset of Purdue in the Sun Bowl. This is probably the second-most talented team in the Pac-10 next to USC, but you have to wonder if the recent scandals will take their toll.
24. Miami University…The Redhawks return 17 starters, but it's the schedule that gives them the edge in the MAC over Bowling Green. After a likely loss at Ohio State on September 3rd they could run the table. A nice debut for new coach Shane Montgomery.
25. Missouri…Last year was supposed to be the breakthrough in Columbia, but despite the presence of Brad Smith and the Big 12's top defense it was a near washout. Call this a hunch, but without the burden of expectations expect the Tigers to contend strongly for the Big 12 North.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)