Thoughts from the voters ...
1. Miami - You get bumped out of the National Championship game by your bitter rival who you beat in head to head competition, your head coach heads to the greener pastures of the NFL and four of your stars of the 2000 season were taken in the first round of the draft. Time to panic? Definitely... unless you are Miami. No one but the Canes could overcome this amount of adversity. If injuries, deaths of current and former players, a real life natural disaster named Andrew and five years of NCAA imposed sanctions weren't enough to make the Hurricanes go away how will they be fazed by a little bit of off season drama?
The Canes enter 2001 without Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Damione Lewis. Let me introduce you to D.J. Williams, Daryl Jones, Andre Johnson and William Joseph who have been waiting in the wings for their chance to shine. They will be ready to play and Larry Coker will be ready to coach. This former Offensive Coordinator has been around the program since 1995 and helped Butch Davis build this quality team. He has assembled a staff which includes former Miami legends Randy Shannon as Defensive Coordinator and Rob Chudzinski as Offensive Coordinator. Who knows the Miami mystique, swagger, tradition and style any better?
The offense returns junior QB Ken Dorsey who is 14-1 as a starter and is ready to improve upon is 25 touchdown to 5 interception ratio. Dorsey proved he was wise beyond his years in 2000 by leading the Canes to a come from behind victory against Florida State in the waning minutes of the ball game. He also led Miami to a 37-20 beating of Florida in the Sugar Bowl where he took MVP honors. Favorite targets Moss and Wayne will be NFL stars this year, but he still has a group of capable receivers including TE Jeremy Shockey who came onto the scene out of nowhere in 2000. With Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee battling it out for the running back position and seasoned veteran Najeh Davenport holding down the fullback position, Dorsey has an array of weapons to choose from. And he will have all day to choose with linemen Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez protecting him game in and game out.
The mindset that "defense wins championships" is still apparent in Coral Gables and who better than former Cane Randy Shannon to preach it? A linebacker under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson in the 80's, Shannon brings knowledge and experience to the table. He bleeds orange and green and his kids will bleed for him. When choosing three starting linebackers for the 2001, throw darts at the board and take your pick. Jonathan Vilma, Howard Clark, D.J. Williams, Chris Campbell and incoming freshman Leon Williams can all make an impact. Safety Ed Reed is back for his senior year to lay the lumber and providing blanket coverage all season long are James Lewis, Mike Rumph, Philip Buchanon, Markese Fitzgerald and Maurice Sikes. The guys in the trenches will be Matt Walters, Jamaal Green, Cornelius Green and Jerome McDougle. Also keep an eye on JUCO transfer Andrew Williams who made an immediate impact in spring ball.
Miami's worst enemy is scheduling. The season kicks off at 8:00 pm on September 1st against Jo Pa's Nittany Lions in newly renovated Beaver Stadium. Two weeks later the Washington Huskies make their way to the Orange Bowl trying to prove that last season was no fluke. October 13th Miami heads to Tallahassee looking for their first win at Doak Campbell since 1991. BIG EAST games follow and it all comes to a head on December 1st in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech for the unofficial BIG EAST Championship.
The Canes got the short end of the stick in 2000 and are out to prove a point this season. Pasadena is a dream that can become a reality of they stay focused, get a few lucky breaks and continue playing Hurricane style football.
2. Florida - Steve Spurrier is still stinging. Losing to Florida State and Miami in the same season cannot sit well with this arrogant overachiever. Bottom team on the State of Florida's Football Totem Pole isn't exactly a bad place to be in regards to the rest of the country. The Gators could have thumped 99% of the other NCAA squads across this vast land. They just happened to get punked by the two that will remind them of it all off season. No one loves that chatter more than Seminoles or Hurricanes. While the rest of the world has gloated, Spurrier has put on his white coat, has gone back into his lab and is coming up for a formula that will get his squad to Pasadena in January. Like a dog who has been kicked, the Gators will come out ready for war in 2001.
Would it be preseason in Gainesville without a quarterback controversy? Although Rex Grossman appeared to earn his stripes last season, the job is wide open and sophomore Brock Berlin is ready to end any debate. Berlin narrowed the gap in spring and will go for the kill when fall practices open. Whoever is throwing the ball in the season opener against pushover Marshall will be aiming towards Freshman of the Year WR Jabar Gaffney or Reche Caldwell. Graham and Gillespe return at RB and Brown, Nattiel and Oquendo-Johnson will be out there protecting the endzone.
Last season was a wake up call for the Gators and I'm sure Stevie has reminded them of those few painful losses all offseason. Tennessee and Florida State visit The Swamp in 2001 and the rest of the schedule is tailor made for a run for the roses.
3. Oklahoma - Welcome to the big time Mr. Defending Champs. Are you ready for the pressure of a high ranking? Not going to sneak in the back door like you did in 2000. All eyes are on Stoops Troops and General Heupel has left the building. Contenders or pretenders? The world is about to find out. Nate Hybl may sound like Heupel, but does he have that hone for winning and finding the endzone? Unlikely. Josh Heupels don't appear out of thin air everyday. Neither do National Championships and going back to back is a rare feat especially when losing your QB and Big XII Defensive Player of the Year Torrance Marshall.
Still, Oklahoma has that confidence that defending champs usually possess. Coach Stoops is already touting the replacements for last year's stars and he is "comfortable" with his squads attitude, depth and hunger. All the right ingredients for another run at the title. Four "warm up" games are on the schedule before facing Kansas State and Texas in back to back weeks. Nebraska is looming in late October and there is always that darn Big XII Championship Game to get through. You never want to count this bunch out but even folks in Norman have to admit this will be an uphill battle.
4. Florida State - No Joe Mauer For You -- ha ha! It way sound trivial but Nole opponents truly dodged a bullet when Minnesota Prep QB chose MLB and the Twins over FSU and life in Tallahassee. This freshman would have competed for the starting job because the truth is the Noles QB situation is as weak as their argument that they deserved to be in the title game last season. With Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke long gone, unprovens Chris Rix and converted QB to WR back to QB Anquan Boldin taking snaps, the position is less than stable. It also doesn't help that long time quarterbacks coach Mark Richt has left to start a new regime at Georgia. Rumor has it that there will be more focus on the running game (duh!) but do the Noles have the man power? RBs Ford, Jones and Maddox sound more like a law firm than a trio of tailbacks. The defense loses Jamal Reynolds and Tommy Polley but as always appear ready to reload with Jennings, Hope, Womble and Dockett. Still, it will take time for this new bunch of Noles to gel and with ACC rival Georgia Tech headed to Tallahassee for the third game of the season there is little time to waste preparing.
The Noles haven't lost at home since 1991 when Miami came to town and escaped with a 17-16 victory. Will that streak come to an end this year? Miami visits on October 13th and has a bone to pick with this bunch of Noles who stole their chance to play Oklahoma for the National Championship in 2000. Get ready for an all out war as both teams should be undefeated and ranked in the Top 3.
5. Nebraska - Isn't QB Eric Crouch about 34 years old now? That kid has been around since the 1984 Orange Bowl, I swear. According to the media guide he's a senior so I'll take their word for it. Mr. Crouch, a highly touted mobile QB with a lame passing game is again up for the Heisman Trophy and his Huskers are almost a unanimous Top 5 squad. Can they live up to the hype? Possibly.
The Huskers started strong in 2000, got the wind knocked out of them by Oklahoma, had Lady Luck shining on them in the final few games and thrashed Northwestern to close out bowl season. How will they fare in 2001? The running game has lost a step as has the receiving core. Only 12 starters return from last year's squad. But with Crouch's winner mentality and a favorable schedule (including eight home games that bring Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Kansas State to Lincoln) Nebraska can make a run at the title but must regain the dominance of the Huskers of old to get through the late season run and the Big XII Championship where they'd most likely see Oklahoma or Texas.
6. Oregon State - Ahhh... finally a team that has breathed some life into the lifeless Pac 10. Arrogance, swagger and a certain head coach sporting a scowl and an always crooked cap. Is this the 1989 Miami Hurricanes? Sort of but not really. Offensive firepower - sure. Hard nosed defense? Maybe next year. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Corvallis, Oregon and the home of the OSU Beavers. If you think this bunch isn't for real, ask Bob Davie and his sacred Fighting Irish who got the fight absolutely knocked out of them 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl. Again, we all know ND had no business being in that game and Virginia Tech would have been a better measuring stick for the Beavers, but it was an impressive win and incredible season nonetheless. Can they repeat in 2001?
Senior QB Jonathan Smith is ready for another go around and let's not forget supertailback Ken Simonton who ran for 1,559 yards in 2000. Graduation stole away a good chunk of the receiving core but rumor has it that able candidates are ready to step in and fill the void. Easier said than done. OSU is still a few years away from using the "we don't rebuild, we reload" analogy. Still, with a favorable early season schedule don't be surprised if the Beavers are 9-0 going into their final two games against Washington and revenge driven Oregon. Then again this is the Pac 10 and running the conference table is never an option.
7. Texas - Drive through Austin and I'm sure it is another year of outlandish predictions and pipe dreams. Doesn't Texas have the No. 1 recruiting class every year? Aren't they supposed to be in the title game every January? You can obviously name drop all day long with QBs like Simms and Applewhite battling it out year after year. Heck, if you believe what you read WR Roy Williams already has that Heisman locked up. Well I don't buy any of it. Texas always finds a way -- to choke, that is. I mean getting pummeled by rival Oklahoma is bad enough, but falling to the mighty Cardinal of Stanford? Come on now. You are guaranteed one "major" choke a year from Brown's Bunch.
The QB battle is still yet unsettled but Simms is the frontrunner. A few too many interceptions and rest assured Applewhite will return and the rivalry will continue. Seventeen starter return from last year's squad, but then again last year's squad went 9-3 and didn't meet expectations either. A National Championship in Austin? Better put that victory parade on hold and worry about Oklahoma and upset minded North Carolina coming to town September 8th. The Heels still got a bone to pick with you, Mack!
8. Tennessee - Another season of high expectations for Phil Fullmer's bunch. Last year's disappointing 8-4 season has been called a rebuilding year and word out of Knoxville this season is, "look out." I say, "we'll see." Every season the Vols are supposedly back and by week three Spurrier has played his mind games, toyed with his bitter rival and Tennessee has lost its focus. The Vols visit The Swamp on September 15th after opening with Syracuse and Arkansas while the Gators tune up with Sisters of the Poor and Bucholtz High School.
Tennessee took a hit courtesy of the NFL Draft. Gone are RB Travis Henry, WR Cedrick Wilson and LB Eric Westmoreland. Good news is that returning sophomore Casey Clausen is back at QB attempting to fill the void left by Peyton and Tee. John Henderson returns to anchor the defense but there is some inexperience in regards to offensive skill positions. These young Vols have to hit the ground running because there is little margin for error with this top-heavy schedule.
9. Oregon - Some think this is the year of the Ducks. I still see them as the second best team in their own state. The 35-30 victory over Texas in last year's Holiday Bowl should be credited to yet another Longhorns choke job instead of an impressive Oregon win. Still, QB Joey Harrington led the Pac 10 in passing yards and is ready for a Heisman run in 2001. Is he up for the challenge? Probably not. It'll be tough for the Ducks to repeat the success of 2000 especially after losing seven defensive starters and some special teams players.
Playing in such a sporadic conference as the Pac 10, Oregon can be in that upper echelon. They also get a break not facing Washington and having bitter rival Oregon State in Eugene this season to pay back last season's 23-13 loss.
10. Virginia Tech - The Hokies crack my Top 10 for two reasons: nine returning defensive starters and RB Lee Suggs. The defensive unit in 2000 was as strong as ever and Suggs is more than capable of breaking his record of 1,207 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. Question remains can he do it without Mr. Vick stealing some of that spotlight. Let's just say that QB Grant Noel won't strike the same amount of fear into opponents as Michael Vick did.
With another cupcake out of conference schedule (Connecticut, Western Michigan and Central Florida? That is criminal!) the Hokies should be 10-0 when the Canes come calling on December 1st for the unofficial BIG EAST Championship Game.
1. Florida - Great team, most of the players come back.
2. Miami - No Pressure of being #1, Dorsey, Portis, and Davenport ... nuff said.
3. Oklahoma - Still have a great team, and they have Stoops as a coach who I think is great.
4. Nebraska - Year in and year out talent, will contend for the championship.
5. Tennessee - Loads of young talent, great fan support and good coaching.
6. Florida State - Down year in my opinion but will still win nine games.
7. Texas - The Horns have the talent but what about the coaching?
8. Oregon State - Dennis Erickson has done an amazing job, can he keep it up?
9. Georgia Tech - Will open some eyes this year, especially if they beat FSU at home.
10. Virginia Tech - Will probably go undefeated till Dec 1, if they have good QB play.
1. Oklahoma - While it's extremely difficult to put a team that's starting a brand new quarterback as the preseason No. 1, I'm a firm believer in that you're No. 1 until proven otherwise. Oklahoma ended last season as national champs, and I haven't spent this offseason in Norman to say they haven't gotten even better. So while I think they're looking at a possible nine or 10-win season, they're still tops in college ball until someone knocks them off.
2. Miami - The most talented and deepest team in college football right now, and they're led by a seasoned quarterback that is needed to win it all in today's game. If the Hurricanes can get by early road tests at Penn State and Florida State, this is a team that would seem destined to Pasadena despite some late season road trips to Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
3. Florida - They have as much skill position talent as anyone else in college football, and they're led by a tremendously talented quarterback. However, question marks in the trenches and a schedule that includes games against LSU (twice, perhaps), Florida State, and Tennessee, getting to the Big Show won't be easy.
4. Nebraska - They're led by a starting quarterback who has played in a lot of big games in his career. The Huskers will again be dominating up front and they get their two toughest games (Oklahoma and Kansas State) at home.
5. Florida State - Whether people want to admit it or not, this is still one of the most dangerous teams in college football. Their defense will again be nasty and they get their toughest opponent (Miami) at home, where they haven't lost since 1992. Then they will have six weeks to find a quarterback by the time they play at Florida.
6. Texas - Their passing game will be tremendously dangerous, led by a future first round pick at quarterback. Defensively, they have as much talent as anyone in America. They get Oklahoma at home, but Mack Brown has never beaten a Top 10 opponent in his entire coaching career.
7. Georgia Tech - Thanks to an outstanding quarterback and a much improved defense, the Yellow Jackets could be back in the Top 10. The only team as good as them on their schedule is Florida State, and they play instate rival Georgia at home. They could be turning into the ACC's version of Virginia Tech.
8. Oregon - Once again, a proven quarterback is at the helm and he has plenty of weapons around him. Their defense is underrated and although it might get shredded once or twice, this team's won 16 of their last 19. Their two toughest tests (Oregon State and Wisconsin) are at home.
9. Virginia Tech - Frank Beamer and his staff face their toughest challenge since leaving probation - replacing Michael Vick. While many believe the Hokies play a one-game schedule (home against Miami in December), they did almost slip a few times (see at West Virginia 2 years ago) even with Vick.
10. LSU - Year one under Nick Saban showed promise. The Tigers return most of last year's starters, including a proven quarterback. They get their toughest opponent (Florida) at home, and the only other team close in talent on the schedule is Tennessee.
1. Florida - Not an easy schedule for a preseason #1 team but has the talent to go through it unbeaten if they catch a break here and there. FSU is at home as is Tennessee and all road games are doable. Whatever QB Spurrier settles on will have plenty of options.
2. Nebraska - I think this may be high to rank the Huskers but their schedule is favorable with only four road games. Of the four only Colorado should be a challenge.
3. FSU - Don't dance on their graves just yet. They are going to win the ACC and will be very tough to beat in their October showdown with Miami. Rix will get in a groove and they will split their games with in state rivals at worst.
4. Virginia Tech - Probably not in the same league as a lot of other top teams on paper but has a very favorable schedule. They travel to West Virginia and Pitt but outside of that the main obstacle is Miami and that is a December showdown in Blacksburg where the weather will highly favor the Hokies. This is a talented team that has superb coaching and will will be hard pressed to lose more thna one game this year.
5. Miami - Arguably the most talented team in America but has some questions marks. I just think there are too many variables in place to assume they will waltz through this year's schedule unscathed. It could happen but I'd like to see how they produce early against Penn State and Washington. If they get to FSU undefeated they could go all the way. New coaches as well as unproven WR are something to consider.
6. Texas - The perennial preseason top 10 team is back but this year there may be some substance to that ranking. The schedule is favorable and the talent is second to none. Can Mack Brown put it all together?
7. Oklahoma - I am one of their largest skeptics. Their schedule in not impossible but I think they'll be hard pressed to win in Nebraska. They have Texas on a neutral field and Texas A & M and Kansas State at home so they could end up very high when all is said and done.
8. Tennessee - One of the tougher schedules out there but they have a lot of players returning and if they get production from Clausen and Stephens they could do some damage in the SEC. They'll get a lot of points for a tough schedule should they continue to win.
9. Oregon - The Pac 10 looks to be very close and any one of several teams could rise to the top. I am betting on Oregon being that team but I think this could be a year where a lot of teams beat up on each other and there could be a group of teams with two losses.
10. Georgia Tech - I doubt they will win in Doak Campbell as some predict but they do have a lot of returning players as well as a favorable schedule outside of the FSU game.