1. Michigan Wolverines
THE GOOD—This is the most talented team in a watered down Big Ten, and it's not even close. The Wolverines feature an explosive offense, a schedule that includes eight home games and only road game against a team that had a winning record last season, and are hungry after the way last season finished.
THE BAD—The defense must be rebuilt, but it's really only the secondary that's in trouble. There are enough highly recruited athletes to simply reload on the defensive line, but a secondary that was torched down the stretch last season lost its best player in Leon Hall. The cornerbacks left over don't scare anybody.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Will Lloyd Carr really release the hounds on offense? If the answer is yes then look out. Just two times since 1968 have the Wolverines started a senior quarterback and not at least won the Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl (Steve Smith in 1983 went to the Sugar Bowl and Todd Collins in 1994 went to the Holiday Bowl). That should be the minimal expectation for what could be Carr's swan song. I think that at the end of the regular season this will be the only undefeated team left standing.
2. USC Trojans
THE GOOD—Man 1-85, there isn't a more talented team in the United States of America. Come to think of it, this squad may be more talented than the squads in the now-defunct NFL Europa. I count 18 guys on the two-deep who could be first day NFL draft picks someday, and that doesn't count the incoming recruiting class that was ranked #2 by Scout.com. There may not be a Reggie Bush or Carson Palmer on this year's team, but top to bottom this squad may have more overall talent on both sides of the ball.
THE BAD—So why aren't the ridiculously loaded Trojans ranked #1? Because when factoring in their schedule it's difficult to see them running the table given who they're playing on the road. I would venture a guess that no team in college football history has ever won in Lincoln, Seattle, South Bend, and Eugene in the same season. Throw in another scary trip to Berkley and games against Oregon State and UCLA – two teams that beat USC last season – and you have the makings of the toughest schedule in the nation.
THE BOTTOM LINE—If the Trojans go undefeated against this schedule they shouldn't have to play a bowl game, too. We should just give them the national championship. They would've earned it against this gauntlet.
3. LSU Tigers
THE GOOD—Even with the loss of several studs in the secondary, the Tigers return a nasty defense, especially the filthy front seven. Even with the loss of the #1 overall pick in the NFL, the Tigers return two highly-touted quarterbacks. One, Matt Flynn, was putting up 40 points on Miami the last time we saw him two years ago. The other, Ryan Perrilloux, was the top recruit in the nation when he signed in 2005. The schedule features a lot of potential toughies, but all but one of them – at Alabama on November 3rd – are at Death Valley.
THE BAD—Replacing once-in-a-decade safety LaRon Landry won't be easy, and the loss of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher leaves big shoes for Gary Crowton to fill. Crowton is originally out of the pass-happy BYU program, while Fisher was a guy that strove for balance, so it will be interesting to see how the players and coaches respond to each other during the transition.
THE BOTTOM LINE—It's just too tough to run the table in the SEC. Of the six SEC teams to win national titles in the last quarter century, only three – Georgia (1980), Alabama (1992), and Tennessee (1998) – did it by running the table. Still, there is recent precedent here for LSU. The Volunteers lost the #1 overall pick in Peyton Manning and won the national title the next year. The Trojans lost the #1 overall pick in Carson Palmer and also won the national title the next year. Can LSU continue to trend? Don't be surprised at all if they do.
4. Virginia Tech Hokies
THE GOOD—Until the bowl game loss to Georgia, no team in the ACC was playing better football down the stretch of 2006 than were the Hokies. And nearly every significant contributor from that squad returns this season. This is one of the most physical teams in the country, with a speedy and aggressive defense to go with a running game that mauls its opponents. If they get anything out of the passing game at all…
THE BAD—…and that's the big question mark heading into the season. Sean Glennon was just average last season, and fans were hoping the more mobile Ike Whitaker would unseat him in the spring. However, the exact opposite happened and Glennon now has a stranglehold on the job, or is at least keeping the seat warm until Tyrod Taylor is ready in 2008. If the Hokies are going to make national noise this season, they need Glennon to be more than just a guy under center. They need him to add the big play to a passing game that does have some gamebreakers at wide receiver.
THE BOTTOM LINE—This will be America's team this fall, given the horrific tragedy the campus endured in the spring. If Glennon matures, the rest of the team is good enough to produce a storybook season.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
THE GOOD—Ray Rice, the best workhorse tailback in college football not playing in Ann Arbor, returns to run behind what should be one of the nation's best offensive lines again. The defense emerged as an elite unit last season, and while some depth was lost most of the standout players return. And did you look at that schedule? It's a joke. Rutgers probably won't be an underdog until at least the West Virginia game on October 27th, and that game is in Piscataway.
THE BAD—The good news is starting quarterback Mike Teel returns. The bad news is that starting quarterback Mike Teel returns. It's hard to denigrate a quarterback that led his school to its only 11-win season a year ago, but at times Rutgers shocked the nation in spite of Teel. They won't get away with that again. Teel needs to emerge as a threat in the passing game, and if he can't do that with the kind of running game he has then he just doesn't have what it takes.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Why did Greg Schiano turn down the chance to go back to Miami? Because he has a better job now. He's got better facilities, a homegrown recruiting base that rivals Dade County, and it's much easier to get to the BCS from the Big East than it is the ACC. Schiano and company also won't rest on their laurels since most folks are dismissing them as a fluke last season and picking them at least third in the Big East. That gives Rutgers the perfect motivation to again shock the nation. Don't be surprised if this year's Rutgers is…again this year's Rutgers.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
THE GOOD—The receiver and secondary units are as good as any in the country. The running back position, even with the early departure of Adrian Peterson, goes at least three-deep with quality players. An offensive line that went through growing pains two years again is now a dominant force. There's only one game on the schedule that the Sooners won't definitely be favored in (Texas), but that's a rivalry game on a neutral field. And last season Stoops showed he's still a big-time coach, overcoming the loss of Rhett Bomar and the injury to Peterson to win the Big 12 title.
THE BAD—The loss of Bomar is still impacting the program, and it's the second straight season the Sooners go into the season with an untested quarterback as a result. Last year it was Paul Thompson thrust under center as a quarterback-turned receiver-turned quarterback again. Are either Joey Halze, a little-used reserve, or Sam Bradford, who was on the scout team last season, ready to step up and lead? Also, the defensive line is young and counting heavily on players who were highly-recruited, but haven't done diddly poo in college as of yet.
THE BOTTOM LINE—You know the Sooners will have a good defensive line as long as Stoops is the head coach, so it all comes down to who steps in and steps up quarterback. If Halze and Bradford are ready, a national title run is possible with this schedule.
7. Wisconsin Badgers
THE GOOD—Almost all the pieces are in place for one of the more experienced teams returning in the country. Since it's Wisconsin, you start with the fundamentals. They'll be gritty with four starters returning on the offensive line to go along with Big Ten Newcomer of the Year P.J. Hill at tailback. The kicking game is rock solid, one of the best in the country. One of the toughest defenses in the country to score against last season has a stout front seven and two very effective cornerbacks back, too. Travis Beckum is a nightmare matchup at tight end. And, as is usually the case for the Badgers, the schedule is laughably easy with nine guaranteed wins before the season actually begins.
THE BAD—Four starters return on the offensive line, but Joe Thomas largely carried this unit the last two years, and there isn't another All-American candidate up front to take his place as the stalwart. But the biggest hole is at quarterback, where the sloppy but often effective John Stocco has graduated. Tyler Donovan looked good when he was hurt last year, but he could be unseated by Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge. Both are athletically superior to Stocco, but do they have his grit and resourcefulness?
THE BOTTOM LINE—If there was ever a season for the Badgers to break through on a national scale this would seem to be the one.
8. Texas Longhorns
THE GOOD—The best skill position talent returning in the Big 12 can be found in Austin. Colt McCoy, Limas Sweed, and Jamaal Charles are the Longhorns' version of the triplets. Cedric Dockery is the leader of another massive offensive line, although there are some holes to fill up front. The defensive line, specifically tackles Derek Lokey and Frank Okam, is the best part of a defense that struggled down the stretch last season. The schedule doesn't have a road game against a team that was in a bowl game last season until November 3rd.
THE BAD—All three starters return at linebacker, but they face competition from youngsters after failing to impress last season. The secondary featured three pros, including the Thorpe Award winner, but was torched often in pass coverage last season. It needs to replace three starters for this fall.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Mack Brown still has to prove he can win something substantive in Austin without the services of Vince Young. He hasn't won a Big 12 title, nor seriously challenged for a national title, without him—and don't think that Texas fans haven't noticed.
9. California Golden Bears
THE GOOD—Come on, it's a Jeff Tedford-coached team. So you know they're going to keep scoreboard operators busy. Like the rest of his Cal teammates, quarterback Nate Longshore persevered through a disastrous debut in Knoxville to post gaudy numbers. All-American DeSean Jackson headlines a high-octane receiver corps. Marshawn Lynch was a thoroughbred, but replacements Justin Forsett and James Montgomery aren't actually stiffs.
THE BAD—There are questions on defense, where as many as seven starters have to be replaced. Linebacker Zack Follett is the only real standout returning, and he's moving to a new full-time position. The schedule also has several potential obstacles to overcome.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Quietly, Cal actually tied USC for a share of the Pac-10 title last season to continue their steady upward climb. They get the Trojans at home in November, and Tennessee comes to Berkley to kick things off. Winning those two games would go a long way towards sending the Bears to Pasadena for the first time since 1959 as an at-large BCS team.
10. West Virginia Mountaineers
THE GOOD—The most potent and explosive 1-2 punch in college football is Pat White and Steve Slaton. White continued to improve as a passer last season, and was Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Slaton is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Head Coach Rick Rodriguez is fully in tune with these two and has devised a scheme that perfectly takes advantage of their considerable talents. It's a scheme that no one in college football has been able to stop the past two seasons when both White and Slaton are healthy.
THE BAD—They're one of the few teams that utilize that odd 3-3-5 scheme, and based on the atrocious defense the Mountaineers played at times last season it's obvious they're not fooling anybody. The schedule is also one of the toughest the school has played in recent years. The first two road games – Maryland and South Florida – scream upset alert. West Virginia also faces Rutgers and Louisville in consecutive weeks midseason.
THE BOTTOM LINE—White and Slaton are worth the price of admission, and will win plenty of games by themselves. But is the supporting cast good enough to send them out with a BCS bang?
11. UCLA Bruins
THE GOOD—Nobody returns more starters than the Bruins, who return 21 players with starting experience if you count quarterback Ben Olson, who was injured midseason and replaced by Patrick Cowan, who also is back. Whoever wins the starting job will get good balance from Chris Markey, who is a 1,000-yard rusher. The defense got nasty in a hurry under new coordinator DeWayne Walker, and they should be just as good in 2007. Bruce Davis might be the best pass-rusher in the nation, all three starters at linebacker return, and a stout secondary is intact.
THE BAD—Maybe I'm missing something, but why are folks in Westwood all excited about hiring Jay Norvell as their new offensive coordinator? Norvell, a former ISU assistant, comes to UCLA from Nebraska, where Bill Callahan calls the shots. I'm not sure why his pedigree is that exciting to Bruin fans, but it apparently is. A brutal schedule includes nine opponents who are seriously thinking bowl bid – or more – this season.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Can Karl Dorrell really coach? We'll find out this fall. This is his best team yet, but maybe the toughest schedule he's faced as well.
12. Tennessee Volunteers
THE GOOD—Erik Ainge was having an All-SEC season until he got hurt, and he missed the entire spring rehabilitating as well. Still, a senior quarterback is a major plus in the SEC East. The tailback position is well stocked with a plugger in Arian Foster, a rising talent in Montario Hardesty, and a burgeoning star in LaMarcus Coker. This could be the best linebacking unit in Knoxville since the 1998 national championship season. I think the SEC East race has four teams nearly identical in talent, so schedule will be a major factor. Even though the game with Florida is in the Swamp this year, Tennessee probably has the friendliest slate of the top contenders.
THE BAD—Sure, no one in the SEC has recruited as well as Tennessee has over the years—including Florida. But there are still a lot of holes to fill, beginning with the wide receivers and defensive backs. Each unit lost three starters to graduation. Are the talented, yet unproven, replacements ready to step up and produce?
THE BOTTOM LINE—Somebody has to win the SEC East Division, so why not the Volunteers? Phillip Fulmer seems to do better with lower expectations, and that's certainly the case this season.
13. South Carolina Gamecocks
THE GOOD—The best defense in the SEC not located in Baton Rouge resides in Columbia, where coordinator Tyrone Nix isn't afraid to attack with this athletic unit. The defensive line goes 8-9 deep, the linebackers are as good as there are in America, and that should help to improve a secondary that needs to improve. And the old ball coach is calling the plays on offense, so you know that South Carolina will at least be serviceable on that side of the ball.
THE BAD—The offensive scheme is sound, but it lacks an accurate quarterback to pull the trigger. The fans keep waiting for Blake Mitchell to be supplanted, but he keeps coming back because he's gritty. But Mitchell is a bad fit for this offense because he's not a quick decision maker, nor is he particularly accurate. And his best receiving threat, Sidney Rice, left a year early for the NFL. Have you looked at that schedule? It's enough to test the old axiom that "defense wins championships," because this is the best defense in the division.
THE BOTTOM LINE—If it weren't for the schedule – the first two conference games are on the road and the final four dates are Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and Clemson – I'd go out on a limb and predict South Carolina to win the SEC East.
14. Florida Gators
THE GOOD—The defending national champions shouldn't have any problems scoring points. Four starters return on a solid offensive line, led by All-SEC candidate Drew Miller. The receivers are explosive, led by NFL prospect Andre Caldwell and All-American in waiting Percy Harvin. However, all of Gainesville is abuzz about the debut of Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback. The mobile youngster with the rocket arm will have to prove that he can beat opponents through the air this year, though. Still, he's a perfect fit for Urban Meyer's offense. Think Alex Smith.
THE BAD—The defense will be almost entirely rebuilt. Now, this is Florida, so it's not like they don't have athletes there. However, replacing nine starters is a tall order, especially when you're playing in the SEC. And there's the seven-week stretch of games against Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina. That's a gauntlet.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The Gators will contend for the national title again…in 2008.
15. Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
THE GOOD—Nobody else wanted the job, but that still shouldn't stop defensive coordinator turned head coach Randy Shannon from getting his honeymoon period. The defense was already going to be filthy, but now has the extra incentive of rallying around their former coordinator as their new head coach. If a couple of youngsters at linebacker step up, this could be the best defense in the ACC. All-American candidates Calais Campbell and Kenny Phillips are the stars, but there's plenty of speed and athleticism elsewhere. The offense should be bolstered by an improved running game featuring the 1-2 punch of Javarris James and Graig Cooper.
THE BAD—What has happened to Quarterback U? The school that produced Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Gino Torreta, and Ken Dorsey has been asking itself that question two seasons running. Kyle Wright, perhaps the top prep quarterback in the nation in 2003, has never lived up to the hype, and Kirby Freeman hasn't been able to translate his practice play unto the field. The Hurricanes are excited about Robert Marve, Florida's Mr. Football last year, but he's not ready yet. If Shannon is going to take off in his first year he needs Wright to step up and have a solid senior season.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Over the years Miami has been most dangerous when it's been doubted, as is the case now. The talent is there to be the surprise team in the nation, but a difficult schedule may not cooperate.
16. Ohio State Buckeyes
THE GOOD—It's the exact opposite of last season. This time, it's the defense that is expected to carry the load for an offense that was decimated by the NFL draft. Vernon Gholston and Malcolm Jenkins are All-American candidates, and James Laurinaitis was a consensus All-American last season as a sophomore. This also may be the season that former all-world recruit Marcus Freeman becomes a star. On offense, it has to be the season that former all-world recruit Chris Wells becomes a star. Look for him to run a lot behind massive tackles Kirk Barton and Alex Boone.
THE BAD—No Troy Smith, no Anthony Gonzalez, no Ted Ginn, and no Antonio Pittman. The best Big Ten offense since Penn State's great 1994 squad is now in the NFL. That means a return to the kind of conservative, field position scheme that Jim Tressel actually favors. But at some point Todd Boeckman or somebody will be asked to win a game at quarterback. It remains to be seen whether or not he or anyone else on the roster can do that.
THE BOTTOM LINE—A soft early schedule could have the Buckeyes opening up 8-0 before facing Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan to close out the season. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't win any of those games.
17. Penn State Nittany Lions
THE GOOD—What wide receivers Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, and Jordan Norwood lack in size they more than make up for in speed and athleticism. Tight end Andrew Quarless is also a budding star. Neither Dan Connor nor Sean Lee may be as good as Paul Posluszny was, but together they form a dynamic duo at linebacker. All four starters return to what might be the Big Ten's best secondary. Juniors Justin King and Anthony Scirrotto are All-Big Ten caliber players. The Nittany Lions are also riding some momentum after upsetting Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.
THE BAD—Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions have won two Big Ten titles (1994 & 2005). Northwestern has won three. They've played in one Rose Bowl, the same as Purdue. And they've had three losing seasons when prior to joining the league they'd had just one losing season since 1938. So how has Penn State gone from the elite of the elite to just another good football school? The obvious answer is the lack of playmakers at quarterback. In 1994 PSU had Kerry Collins, and 2005 they had Michael Robinson. Both were All-Big Ten. Each won the Big Ten title. Other than that, the young men under center have been just fair to midland. Unfortunately, that's the best way to describe current quarterback Anthony Morelli, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Since the Big Ten aligned itself with the Outback Bowl for the 1995 season, every conference team that played in that game has improved their bowl stock the following season, with just three exceptions (Penn State in 1995, Ohio State in 2000, and Iowa in 2005). If Morelli improves the Nittany Lions could be the next Big Ten team to take advantage of the Outback Bowl bounce.
18. Florida State Seminoles
THE GOOD—Bobby Bowden's latest recruiting class was highlighted by two much-needed assistant coaching upgrades. The respected Jimbo Fisher was hired away from LSU to coordinate an offense that has been stuck in neutral ever since Mark Richt went to Georgia. Former FSU assistant Chuck Amato, an ace recruiter, returns to Tallahassee after getting fired at N.C. State. There's still plenty of talent on hand, so if these two coaching hires pan out the Seminoles could find themselves back in the ACC Championship Game.
THE BAD—Not to sound like a broken record, but this is another formerly elite program that has fallen off because of mediocre quarterback play as of late. And neither the experienced Drew Weatherford, nor former mega-recruit Xavier Lee, are waking up the echoes of Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The schedule has a lot of potential landmines, but I've got a hunch that old Bowden has a few more tricks up his sleeve before we put the winningest coach in Division I-A history out to pasture.
19. South Florida Bulls
THE GOOD—This was the best team you never saw last season, and 17 starters return from a squad that finished 9-4. Conference contemporaries Brian Brohm and Pat White rightfully overshadow sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe, but the time is coming shortly when he will become a household name. He completed 64% percent of his passes last season and led the Bulls in rushing while being named Big East Newcomer of the Year. Three of last season's top four wideouts return, as does four starters on the offensive line. On defense, George Selvie and Ben Moffitt are all-conference candidates, and the Bulls might have the best secondary in the league as well. Add two Iowa State transplants – new defensive line coach Dan McCarney and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie – and a solid unit just got nasty.
THE BAD—If Mike Ford, one of the top recruits Jim Leavitt has ever signed, isn't ready to assume the tailback duties the running game could be a problem. As much as you like Grothe's mobility, you can't have a quarterback not named Vince Young leading your team in rushing.
THE BOTTOM LINE—This is the most underrated team in the nation heading into the season. Don't be surprised if they're in the BCS.
20. Louisville Cardinals
THE GOOD—The Steve Kragthorpe era got a major boost when Brian Brohm turned down the NFL and decided to return to Louisville. While Brohm is special, and maybe the #1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, backup Hunter Cantwell isn't exactly chopped liver. Kragthorpe can win with both of these guys. The Cardinals also might have the two best receivers in the conference with Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas. The linebacking unit could be special with Malik Jackson joined by former Miami mega-recruit Willie Williams. And don't expect a major drop-off between Bobby Petrino and Kragthorpe, because Kragthorpe was probably the most respected up-and-coming coach in the country.
THE BAD—A featured tailback has yet to be discovered, something that former ISU assistant and new Louisville running backs coach Tony Alford is hard at work rectifying. Youngsters and former reserves will be counted on heavily on the defensive line and in the secondary.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Another talented team with too tough a schedule. The Cardinals face four tough road games at Kentucky, N.C. State, South Florida, and West Virginia. To get back to the BCS they'll probably need to win at least three of those, and I think that's asking too much.
21. Alabama Crimson Tide
THE GOOD—The Tide may finally have the man who has enough ego and resume to overcome Bear Bryant's shadow. For all of his prickliness and ethical lapses, Nick Saban – a true coaching mercenary – can flat out coach. And he usually doesn't take long to turn things around. At Michigan State he took a squad that had been to just one bowl game in the four seasons prior to his arrival to the postseason in his first year. At LSU he won the Peach Bowl and Sugar Bowl in his first two seasons. Mike Shula left more than enough talent in the cupboard for Saban to continue the trend in Tuscaloosa. There isn't a glaring weakness on the roster, and John Parker Wilson is the type of resourceful, tough quarterback Saban loves.
THE BAD—The schedule is brutal. An early road game at Vanderbilt should sound the upset alert, especially since Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida State are the next three opponents. Can you say looking ahead? Houston won't be a pushover and Tennessee and LSU come to Tuscaloosa in consecutive weeks. Saban's first Iron Bowl is on the road.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The talent, if not the schedule, is there for Saban to make an immediate splash.
22. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
THE GOOD—If you're thinking these guys are going back to obscurity without Calvin Johnson, think again. Chan Gailey has recruited well the last several years, and it's starting to pay dividends. Reggie Ball's departure at quarterback is addition by subtraction, he was a turnover waiting to happen. Replacement Taylor Bennett was impressive in the Gator Bowl. He should get a lift from a running game featuring Tashard Choice, the best tailback in the ACC. An underrated defense coordinated by John Tenuta, maybe the best defensive mind in the nation right now, returns eight starters and should be salty.
THE BAD—While Johnson's departure won't sink the program, it does severely cripple the passing game because there doesn't seem to be anybody close to his ability in line to emerge as a replacement. A tough schedule, featuring seven bowl teams from last season, awaits.
THE BOTTOM LINE—While repeating as Coastal Division champions may be a tall order minus Johnson, the Yellow Jackets will serve notice early that they're still a solid ACC program by beating Notre Dame in South Bend in the opener.
23. TCU Horned Frogs
THE GOOD—After being rudely interrupted by BYU last season, look for TCU to resume its perch as the dominant program in the Mountain West Conference. And it's not like an 11-win season is something to sneeze at, but TCU was sort of forgotten last season because of the Cougars and Boise State. As is typically the case for Gary Patterson's program, it starts with the defense. Nine starters return from a unit that was second in the nation in rushing and scoring defense. Both defensive ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz were All-MWC last season.
THE BAD—With six road games on the schedule, including Texas early and BYU late, the Horned Frogs need either Marcus Jackson or Andy Dalton to step up at quarterback in place Jeff Ballard, who won over 90% of his starts.
THE BOTTOM LINE—I don't think any team from a non-BCS conference will make a serious run at a BCS bid this season, so TCU will just have to settle for being the best of the mid-majors.
24. Auburn Tigers
THE GOOD—The Tigers typically don't realize expectations when they're high in the preseason, and typically excel when they're not. This season the latter is the case, so look out SEC West. Still, despite never seriously challenging for the national title as they were expected to, Auburn still won 11 games and a New Year's Day bowl game in 2006. This season, Brandon Cox is back for his third season as the starting quarterback, but his confidence has to be shaken after mastering the five steps and you're dropped last season. Thankfully, he's got a running game that goes three-deep at tailback. The Tigers are expecting the defensive line to be stout with All-American candidate Quentin Groves leading three returning starters.
THE BAD—Normally you're concerned when having to replace four starters on the offensive line, but this unit was such a disappointment last season that starting over may not be a bad thing. The secondary returns three starters, but this is hardly an impressive unit. And although the schedule features just four road games, look who they're against: Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia.
THE BOTTOM LINE—This team has a lot of questions, but you have to bank on Tommy Tuberville, Al Borges, and Will Muschamp, the best coaching triumvirate in the SEC, finding enough answers.
25. Missouri Tigers
THE GOOD—An explosive offense that just got even better when it finally discovered a big-play threat in the running game after Tony Temple finally lived up to his recruiting hype in the Sun Bowl. The trigger man is Chase Daniel, who last season made everyone forget about Brad Smith. Adam Spieker leads a solid offensive line, the receivers are all big targets, and perhaps the two best tight ends in the country are Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. And did I mention that Missouri plays in the lowly Big 12 North?
THE BAD—The defense has to replace about half of last season's starters, they open conference play by facing Nebraska and Oklahoma back-to-back, and for whatever the reason the Tigers just haven't been to take that much expected next step under Gary Pinkel. Until they do, you have to be skeptical that they actually will.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Mizzou hasn't won a conference title since 1969, the year before Bob Devaney began the era of Nebraska domination. The Huskers think they're back after winning the North last season, but I think the Tigers finally show us something when they beat the Big Red on October 6th and make it to their first Big 12 title game.
27. Texas A&M…The Aggies return lots of talent and experience, but so far they're a combined 2-12 since the Big 12 was formed against the conference foes they face away from College Station this fall.
28. Georgia…The ‘Dawgs were hot at the end of last season, but having to rebuild both your offensive and defensive lines is tough to do on the fly in the always rugged SEC East.
29. Oklahoma State…If they get any defensive improvement at all the Cowboys could challenge South Florida for the mantle of most underrated team heading into the 2007 season.
31. Nebraska…I don't know that Bill Callahan will ever return Nebraska to its place of prominence, because the Huskers no longer have a national identity by voluntarily tossing aside their uniqueness.
32. Oregon…It's the same old story for the Ducks: explosive offense but just not enough defense. Still, it's always hard to win at Autzen Stadium and California, USC, and Oregon State must visit Eugene.
33. Boston College…Was it the program or Tom O'Brien? We'll find out right away because the Eagles return plenty of talent, but the head coach who rebuilt the program bolted for conference rival N.C. State.
34. Arkansas…A surprising SEC West title was followed up by a tumultuous offseason that included Mitch Mustain transferring and Houston Nutt's cell phone records being investigated. At least the Razorbacks still have Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
35. Arizona…This is a make it or break it time for Mike Stoops, which is why he brought in Sonny Dykes to install a Texas Tech-like pass-happy offense. The Wildcats will hunker down and make their first bowl appearance since 1998.
36. Wake Forest…The defending ACC champions – is that a misprint? – return a lot of the key contributors from their dream season, but they won't sneak up on anybody this time around.
37. BYU…It comes down to how much will the experienced Cougars miss record-setting quarterback John Beck? Arizona State transfer Max Hall won't get much of a grace period since four of the first six games are on the road.
38. Kentucky…Quick, guess who has the most explosive offense returning in the SEC? Statistically it's the Wildcats with Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, and Keenan Burton. And they're coming off their first bowl win since 1984.
39. Arizona State…Dennis Erickson will try to do what several others before him have attempted and failed as of late, and that's turn the talented Sun Devils into consistent winners. He has 9 starters back on offense to try and rebuild with.
40. Iowa…On paper this is not the most daunting squad Kirk Ferentz has put on the field, and the Hawkeyes are just 13-12 since Tate-to-Holloway. But a very favorable schedule – no Michigan or Ohio State – should inflate their record.
41. Notre Dame…Now the real Charlie Weiss era begins because all the name talent left to him on offense by Tyrone Willingham has graduated. And the schedule, especially the first eight weeks, is brutal.
43. Purdue…Another familiar script for the Boilermakers, who will score plenty of points and also give up plenty. Remember when Brock Spack could actually coordinate a defense?
44. Boise State…The Broncos won't be returning to the BCS, much to the chagrin of a nation who thoroughly enjoyed them in the Fiesta Bowl, but they won't give up their dominance of the WAC without a fight, either.
45. Texas Tech…The Big 12's most consistent program will find itself in a bowl game – again – but won't seriously challenge for the conference crown – again.
46. Virginia…If steady quarterback play can be found the Cavaliers have the experience and talent returning to be the surprise team in the ACC.
47. Kansas…This could be Mark Mangino's best team yet, and a 7-0 start is not out of the question. Regardless of what happens, though, they still have some of the coolest uniforms around. That has to count for something.
48. Vanderbilt…Is this finally the year the Commodores get back to a bowl game for the first time since 1982? They've been close the last two years and this year I think the answer is yes.
49. Southern Mississippi…Boise State, BYU, and TCU may get more hype, but over the years no "mid-major" program has been more consistent than the Eagles. They're the class of Conference USA again.
50. Kansas State…There's excitement in Manhattan after a much better than expected debut to the Ron Prince era produced a bowl bid, but can a young squad handle higher expectations and a tricky schedule?