CFB Preview - Teams 11-15

The look at the upcoming college football season continues today as teams 11-15 in the top 25 are revealed. Is this where the Buckeyes will pop up?

11. LSU - There's a storm brewin' at LSU it seems... the NCAA is hot on the trail of some dirty deeds going on down there.  They are already on probation and are being investigated for academic fraud.  But aside from that, this is a team that has a chance to be pretty good this year as they bring back some talented players from last year's Sugar Bowl champ.

WR Michael Clayton could be the next big LSU receiving star. (Allsport)

There are some real possibilities on offense, but it depends a lot on if the QB situation does not turn out to be a problem.  Rohan Davey is gone, and now it appears the reins will be handed over to sophomore Matt Mauck.  Mauck came in off the bench last year against Tennessee and stepped up big to help LSU win the SEC title.  There should be some solid weapons around him as LaBrandon Toefield returns at RB and Jerel Hudson is back at WR, and the very talented Michael Clayton will step in nicely for departed star WR Josh Reed.  Eric Edwards and Marcus Spears will see time at TE; each one was a highly-recruited prep star.  Three starters return on the offensive line as well including a sophomore to watch, C Ben Wilkerson.

On defense, six starters return, and improvement is needed over last year.  The starting LBs will still be good even though Trev Faulk bolted early for the NFL.  Bradie James and Jeremy Lawrence return there, but depth is an issue.  The front four should be solid, and S Damien James will anchor the secondary.  Defensively though, LSU needs to be better in 2002.

Schedule-wise, LSU's road slate is pretty rough.  They must open the season at Virginia Tech, and in the SEC, they must travel to Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas.  Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina appear to be the toughest home games.  Overall, LSU has some issues, but they look like the odds-on favorite in the SEC West.  They have a real chance to get back to the SEC title game, but early on at least, they look to be a notch below Florida and Tennessee.

12. Washington State - Washington State was one of the surprises of last season, coming out of nowhere to compete for the Pac-10 title.  They did it behind a quality offense, led by QB Jason Gesser and some good skill players.  Some key players are gone on each side of the ball, but the Cougars return enough to compete again this season.

There's a lot of hype surrounding returning Cougar QB Jason Gesser. (Allsport)

Gesser is the main man on offense, and he will be someone who is expected to compete for post-season quarterback awards this year.  Even though leading WR Nakoa McElrath is gone, he'll have some quality receivers, particularly a very talented two-sport athlete in Mike Bush and returning starter Colin Henderson.  At RB, last year's starting TB Dave Minnich is gone, and someone will have to step forward there.  Some incoming JUCO transfers could help as well as FSU transfer Devard Darling.  The OL won't need much help though as four starters return, led by talented G Calvin Armstrong.

On defense, S Lamont Thompson and LB Raonall Smith -- each second-round draft picks -- must be replaced, but five starters return. The defensive line should be good, led by DE Fred Shavies and DE D.D. Acholonu, who had 9 1/2 sacks last year.  Tai Tupai and Rien Long are returning starters at DT.  Both CBs return as well.  LB could be an issue though.

The schedule, all things considered, is actually not too bad.  There is the early road game at Ohio State, but that should be WSU's toughest road game all year.  The rest of their out-of-conference schedule consists of a road game at Hawaii and home games against Idaho, Nevada and Montana State (we can only hope that WSU will be looking past OSU to Montana State).  In the Pac-10, Washington State gets Oregon, USC, Arizona State, and Washington at home, and road games are at Cal, UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona.  There's a chance that WSU could be favored in all those Pac-10 games. 

So the schedule is set up for WSU to win the Pac-10... do they have what it takes?  I think the answer is yes.  On paper, I like Washington and Oregon better, but this is a team that should be right in the thick of it.

13. Nebraska - Did you ever think that you'd see Nebraska mentioned as a program on the decline?  I didn't, but there have been people saying that recently.  I don't think we can call it a decline though... just a transition period.  The Eric Crouch era is over, and it is now time for someone new to step in.

Dahrran Diedrick rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. (Allsport)

That someone is junior Jamaal Lord.  Reviews on Lord seem positive, but does he have what it takes to lead Nebraska to conference title contention?  Luckily, he won't be alone as a fine RB tandem returns in Dahrran Diedrick and Thunder Collins.  Judd Davies is back at fullback, so this rushing attack should be pretty good.  The line might be an issue though as only two starters return. Wilson Thomas is a capable WR, but TE Tracey Wistrom could be missed.

Defensively, five starters return from a Nebraska defense that gave up a whopping 99 points in their last two games.  Needless to say, they'll have to do better than that.  The defensive line should be good as Chris Kelsay and Damione Adams return at DE, and remember the names Patrick Kabongo and Seppo Evwayare (memorable names indeed) at DT.  Cleveland-area product DeJuan Groce is a returning starter at CB and will be the leader of the secondary.  But there are some spots to fill at both DB and LB.

Schedule-wise, the Huskers have their traditional matchups with punching bags (this year, Troy State, McNeese State and Utah State come to Lincoln), but there are some tough spots.  One comes at Penn State in an early out-of-conference game.  In-conference, the Huskers get the two toughest teams on their schedule -- Texas and Colorado -- at home and miss Oklahoma, but road games at Texas A&M, Iowa State and Kansas State might not be easy. 

This is a team that won't be expected to win the Big 12.  It's actually hard to believe their projected here as the fourth-best team in the Big 12.  But don't count them out just yet.  There is still a lot of talent in this program, and they have what it takes to win ten ball games.  And with those key Texas and Colorado games at home, hey... who knows what might happen?  Right now, they have too many questions to rank much higher than this, but at the end of the year, it could look a little different.

14. Texas A&M - This may be a bit high for Texas A&M, but when you get to this point in the rankings, it's sorta anyone's guess.  In case you haven't figured out, I am big on returning starters, and A&M has a bunch - 17. 

Sammy Davis will be a leader on defense for A&M. (Allsport)

Ten of those starters are on offense.  Texas A&M never has been a team to light up the scoreboard, and last year they did struggle at times, but this year should be a bit better.  QB Mark Farris, WR Jamaar Taylor, WR Terrence Murphy, and WR Bethel Johnson are all experienced and should make for a solid passing game.  A&M also has promise in the backfield as TB Derek Farmer and FB Joe Weber return.  Four starters also return on the OL although the very good C Seth McKinney will be missed. 

Defensively, A&M is characteristically expected to be very good.  The leader is the Candyman Sammy Davis, an All-American CB.  Davis is possibly the top CB in the Big 12 and will be a candidate for the Thorpe Award.  Three starting LBs return as does Davis and two others in the secondary, and watch for Ty Warren, a former top 100 recruit, at DE.  The defense should be A&M's bread n' butter this year and will be one of the top units west of the Mississippi.

Schedule-wise, A&M has a couple of rough spots, but it could be worse.  Out-of-conference, a road game at Pittsburgh and a home game vs. VaTech are the toughest games.  In-conference, the Aggies are at Texas this year, but they host Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech.  Road games also include Kansas, Baylor and Oklahoma State. 

Texas A&M has not been the power in recent years that fans want them to be, and there have been some calling for R.C. Slocum's head.  This team has the potential and the schedule in their favor to make some things happen this year.  Whether or not they do is another issue, but on paper, it looks promising.

15. Ohio State - Some fans are surprised that OSU has been rated in the top ten this year (I'm one of them).  Others would still be surprised if they are at 15.  I too did not think I would have them this high, but if you consider the teams below this ranking, I'd like the Buckeyes' chances with any of them.  For that reason, I put OSU at 15.  And the fact that they do have a lot of potential has something to do with it as well...

Matt Wilhelm and the rest of the Buckeye D will be looking to bust some heads. (Allsport)

There are three main question marks surrounding this team -- Quarterback, Offensive Line, and Cornerback.  For me, the two main ones are QB and OL.  The talent is there at WR and RB, and if Craig Krenzel (I think at this point, there's little doubt that this will be his show) can be solid at QB and the offensive line can stay healthy and come together, this team has possibilities on offense.  There isn't an established superstar (yet) at the WR and RB positions, but there are at least nine players -- Ross, Hall, Clarett, Riley, Vance, Jenkins, Gamble, Carter, Childress -- who have shown me that they are very good players and can make things happen.  We just gotta get the other two spots in shape.  I'm a bit worried about the OL, but like others, I am starting to become more and more confident in Craig Krenzel.  He isn't exactly Heisman material, but as Duane mentioned in his spring wrap-up, you don't need a superstar QB to win.  If Craig can make good decisions and run the offense, that could be the difference. 

Defensively, I think OSU will be at least one of the top two in the Big Ten.  I'm not ready to say that they will be one of the elite defenses in America just yet, but they are on the right track.  Nothing really needs to be said about the defensive line.  The thing I like about it is that no one outside of Columbus is talking about the DL, but we know what OSU has there, and the rest of the nation will feel the pain starting August 24th.  I like the fact that we almost have a big-time secret weapon that not many people outside of Ohio seem to know is coming.  At LB, OSU should be good again.  Matt Wilhelm is Matt Wilhelm; he will continue to do his thing this year provided he stays healthy.  Cie Grant brings speed and athleticism to the position that few other LBs have, and Robert Reynolds has the potential to do the job at Sam.  The heralded freshmen should also be able to help out at LB.  Safety is not a question mark; OSU has the two best safeties in the Big Ten and the best back-up in Will Allen.  CB, however, is the question mark.  I have a feeling that the starting duo of Dustin Fox and Richard McNutt will be decent although there may be some rough times.  Depth is a concern though.  Hopefully the incoming freshmen can help.  We'll find out how good this DB unit will be real early when the passing attacks of Texas Tech and Washington State come to town.  Special teams are also key; the punting should be fine, but the kicking needs to continue to improve. 

The schedule won't be easy even though many of the tougher teams OSU plays will be at home.  It's good that Texas Tech and Washington State will be making the trip to Columbus and not vice versa, and this is a year when Michigan and Penn State are at home, and not playing MSU this year is a break.  Road games at Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois could be tricky though, and most think that at least one loss will come out of that group of games.  And then there's the game at Cincinnati... we can't overlook this game.  UC looks to have a quality team on paper.  Kent State, San Jose State, Indiana, Minnesota, and at Northwestern are games that should be Ws, although we have learned not to overlook Minnesota.

Sooo... what's the verdict?  I think 15 is about right.  Sure, there are some big question marks with this team, but I think the potential is high if those questions can be addressed.  That may even be too much to ask, but if it happens, this team can have a very successful season.  And even if it doesn't happen, the defense may turn out to be good enough for the Buckeyes to still be in the thick of things in the Big Ten. 

Keep an eye out for more of the college football preview soon, including the rest of the top 25!

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