Consensus Poll Says OSU Still Top-10 Team

For the second year in a row, a ridiculously early BSB consensus poll of experts has Ohio State as a preseason top-10 come next season. But unlike last year, when OSU was in the top five, this year the Buckeyes are in by the skin of their teeth. That might be fine, though, given what OSU has done over the past few years when starting near the No. 10 spot.

For the third year in a row, the Ohio State football team goes into the offseason on a loss. But unlike a year ago, when Ohio State knew it would return to the gridiron in the fall as a guaranteed top-five team, the Buckeyes go into 2009 with a number of stars having left the team after the three-loss season.

Still, Ohio State will add an excellent recruiting class to a group of returning talented youngsters, a combination that places the Buckeyes on the fringes of the top 10. That location seems to fit Ohio State well; the Buckeyes started both the 2002 national title season and the 2007 season that ended in a title game appearance around that position. That should be enough to keep Buckeye fans hopeful going into the August lid-lifter against Navy in Ohio Stadium.

Some media pundits already have released top-10 lists for the 2009 preseason. BSB has compiled a composite top 10 of rankings we could find, and the Buckeyes sit in a shaky tie for 10th in that poll. The rankings were released by ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, CNNSI's Stewart Mandel and CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd.

Some usual suspects round out the top 10 with the Buckeyes holding on for dear life at the bottom.

The BSB ridiculously early top-10 consensus poll:
1. Florida (30 points)
2. Texas (26)
3. Oklahoma (24)
4. Alabama (16)
5. USC (15)
6. Virginia Tech (13)
7. Oregon (12)
8. Ole Miss (10)
9. Oklahoma State (7)
10 (tie). LSU and Ohio State (4)

Also receiving votes: Utah, Georgia Tech.

Conspicuously absent are any other Big Ten teams despite Penn State's Big Ten co-championship and Rose Bowl appearance. Echoing its regular-season win against the Sooners, Texas is ahead of Oklahoma thanks to getting second-place nods from both Feldman and Mandel.

After the top three, opinions vary wildly. Only Dodd, who slots the Buckeyes seventh, has Ohio State in his top 10. Feldman and Dodd place Virginia Tech fifth but Mandel has the Hokies 10th; opinions on Ole Miss differ to the point that Feldman and Mandel have the Rebels sixth while Dodd does not include the Cotton Bowl champions.

Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, USC, Alabama and Oklahoma State are the seven schools listed in each expert's top 10.

Short capsules on each team the Buckeyes will have to contend with for national glory follow:

1. Florida: The defending national champions return plenty of talent, led by 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, a bearer of two title rings. Tebow, who will be a senior in 2009, has a combined 62 passing touchdowns and 35 rushing scores over the past two seasons. He will miss speedster Percy Harvin, a star both catching and running the football who left early for the NFL draft. A defense that placed fourth in the nation in points allowed in 2008 returns most of its starters, including star linebacker Brandon Spikes and secondary stars Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Joe Haden and Will Hill.

2. Texas: The Longhorns shouldn't have much trouble scoring as most prongs of a deep rushing attack return, as does the Heisman runner-up in quarterback Colt McCoy, who threw for more than 400 yards in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, and top target Jordan Shipley. Defensively, Texas' spotty defense will miss the graduating Brian Orakpo, who was feted after the season as the nation's best end and by some as its best defensive player. The Longhorns will hope a young secondary, paced by sophomore playmaker Earl Thomas, will grow up and fast.

3. Oklahoma: Major cogs from an offense that topped 60 points in five consecutive games will return, including Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, running backs Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who caught two touchdown passes in the national title game. Star defensive lineman Gerald McCoy returns as well to anchor a defense that had its fair share of struggles in 2008 as well, finishing 68th in yardage allowed.

4. Alabama: The Crimson Tide wasn't exactly known for its offensive attack in 2008, and even that group will lose some talent in 2009 in the persons of game-managing quarterback John Parker Wilson, running back Glen Coffee and All-America tackle Andre Smith. Defensively, Alabama's second-ranked rush defense should continue to be staunch as nose tackle Terrence Cody, known as Mt. Cody, returns.

5. USC: Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain – or maybe even top 2009 QB Matt Barkley – will take over for Mark Sanchez, but he'll still have plenty of talent on offense led by running back Joe McKnight and star wideouts Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams. Defensively, the Trojans will have plenty of talent returning even with the loss of standout linebacker Rey Maualuga. Defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Taylor Mays lead the charge.

6. Virginia Tech: The Hokies top-10 defense can expect to lead the way again, as sack leader Jason Worilds and interception leader Stephan Virgil will come back. Offensively, Tyrod Taylor will have full possession of the reigns of the offense. He ran for 61.5 yards per game in 2008 but will have to improve on his passing efficiency, which was 11th in the ACC.

7. Oregon: The Ducks' offense was in full stride by the end of the year, and many of the principal players return. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli looked good at the end of the season, and Oregon has plenty of depth at the position. LaGarrette Blount looked like a star in the making near the end of the year with 8.5 yards per carry on 43 tries with five touchdowns over the last four games; he'll be asked to key a rushing attack that finished second in the nation in '08. Defensively, the Ducks will miss safety Patrick Chung but two talented cornerbacks return.

8. Ole Miss: Jevan Snead showed what the Texas coaches said when he lost out to Colt McCoy for Texas' starting QB job in 2006 – that he has plenty of talent. He led a talented Ole Miss team to a fantastic year highlighted by a win against national champion Florida and a drubbing of Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. He'll miss celebrated left tackle Michael Oher, though running back/wideout Dexter McCluster returns after averaging near 50 yards rushing and receiving per game. Defensively, Ole Miss was one of the best teams in the SEC and boasts the return of star defensive end Greg Hardy.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys had plenty of offense in 2008, just not enough to compete with the Oklahomas and Texases of the Big 12. Quarterback Zac Robinson, fifth in the nation in passing efficiency, comes back, but that's not all; both returning running back Kendall Hunter and wideout Dez Bryant, who finished in the top seven in the nation in rushing and receiving yards per game, will suit up again. The question will be the defense, which finished 93rd in the country in yards allowed.

10 (tie). LSU: The Tigers appeared to find a quarterback near the end of the year, as Jordan Jefferson took over and led the team to a blowout of Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl. The return of wideout Brandon LaFell, who originally declared for the draft, will help. The Tigers expect the hiring of coordinator John Chavis to help on defense, but losing tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is a big blow.

10 (tie). Ohio State: Youth will be the buzzword for the Buckeyes in 2009, but that might not be a bad thing. A number of highly touted offensive players from the class of 2008 might get the chance to shine at quarterback, wideout and on the offensive line. A strong defensive line and the return of starting safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell should keep the defense strong, especially if a young corps of linebackers stars like it could.


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