By: David Folz
The final edition of the college football pre-season top 25 focuses on the teams primed to win it all in January. These teams have question marks but overall, their teams should overcome the adversity dealt with to get to a BCS bowl game in one way or another. Here is the top five in college football:
5. South Carolina- The Gamecocks enter this year with their highest expectations ever. Coach Steve Spurrier has done a fantastic job recruiting the state’s talent and the areas talent to build a team on the verge of being in the national championship picture. The Gamecocks enter this year with a new starting quarterback Connor Shaw, but considering the erratic mess Stephen Garcia was, it should be an upgrade. They do not have a solidified number one receiver from last year when Alshon Jeffery left, so the opener against Vanderbilt will see what Shaw and wide receiver players will be. The offense though will be mainly centered around Heisman candidate and the best back in college football Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore will be the guy on offense while the defense will be the key early to keep the Gamecocks in games. Shaw started seven games last year but not one without Jeffery so Ace Sanders will have to be his go-to guy early until the receiver depth gets better. Spurrier is on the verge of big things for the Gamecocks, should win the SEC East, and with a little luck, could be playing for the Crystal Football at the end of the year.
4. Oregon- The key question for Oregon will be this year: Can they beat USC? Sure they have a new quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and two offensive linemen, but the big question will still be can they beat the Trojans? Here’s why the offensive replacements don’t really factor in for Oregon: Chip Kelly will have an explosive offense regardless of who he puts on the field, he is an offensive mastermind at the shotgun/spread offense and this year will be no different. If Marcus Mariota is the starter, then him and the combo of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas will carry the Ducks offense to big things. The defense was porous a year ago, but with an influx of talent on that side of the ball this year, especially in the front seven, the Ducks should be facing USC twice this year, and probably both times in the L.A. Coliseum. November 3 is the first matchup for the Ducks and Trojans in LA, with the second being for the Pac-12 Championship Game, and possibly a berth to the National Championship on the line.
3. LSU- Before even the Tyrann Mathieu story broke I was going to put LSU at #3 because of USC’s talent and Alabama winning last year. Now that Mathieu is gone, the real question exists not so much on defense but who will be on special teams being explosive? Remember how good Mathieu was at kick/punt returning a year ago, something that vaulted him into being a Heisman finalist. He was a decent but not great Cornerback, but when he got his hands on the ball it led usually to six points for the Tigers. That will be a question mark to be answered. As well as Zach Mettenberger, the new quarterback who will be relied on this year. The former Georgia recruit left after off-the-field issues plagued him and then Les Miles took him in and now he fills the role this year. He has four offensive linemen returning to help him stay on his feet, as well as the running backs behind him returning. LSU isn’t a proficient passing team, nor will be when Miles is the head coach, thus running ball will be a premium and with four running backs returning that will not be a problem. The thing for Mettenberger is do not do what Jordan Jefferson did in the National Title game and looked completely incapable of throwing a football if his life depended on it. The defense should be again near the top despite only four full-time starters returning from a year ago. You know the story with a top contender in football, they can recruit the best players and just reload, and such is the case with LSU. November 3rd will not only be Oregon/USC but also LSU/Alabama, so if you want to see the top 4 teams in the nation on one day fight for the best in the land, that will be your dream day. Ultimately whoever wins that November 3 showdown between the Tigers/Crimson Tide will ride to the SEC title, and play for a national title bid.
2. USC- You want to know how big an impact Matt Barkley makes on this squad? Without him, Oregon is probably the favorite in the Pac-12, Stanford is probably #2 and USC is third, and barely a top 20 team. With him, the Trojans are national title contenders. Also to that with Barkley back, eight other starters are back on the offense, including Robert Woods and Marquise Lee, the nation’s top receiver duo. The defense returns six starters but should be stout this year and if they are not, the offense will carry them anyway. The same case for Oregon exists for USC and it’s whether they can beat the Ducks twice. It will be a monumental day in college football on November 3, and it will showcase who will be playing for the Pac-12 title game at the end of the year, just the matter of where they will play will be determined. If USC goes far this year, the fans and coaching staff can thank Barkley for coming back this year to put them that far.
1. Alabama- The nation’s best team a year ago will start the season this year the same way, despite some losses on defense and Trent Richardson leaving. Defensively, four starters from a year ago return. The thing with that is like LSU, Alabama just reloads on this side of the ball with recruiting and filling in holes. Seven new starters this year won’t phase the Tide, as all of them are really athletic and will again be towards the top. The running back scenario will not be that hard to solve as Eddie Lacy will be called upon this year to carry that load. While quarterback A.J. McCarron does not need to do much other than manage the game, not force anything and turn the ball over, his receiving cast isn’t really that impressive. Kenny Bell will be the guy who will have to shine if opponents really want to fear Alabama’s offense, otherwise they could stack the box against the run. With a new offensive coordinator though, it could take some time to figure out, and time is fortunately on their side with the summer, but not on their side for the season. Right away they play Michigan in Arlington, Texas. Then in week three they face Arkansas, and the Razorbacks did not forget the 24 point blowout loss from a year ago. If the Tide falter in either of those two games, or even those two, then they can forget about an SEC title and a trip to a national title game. Also their season may rely on the November 3 showdown against LSU and how some other things play out (South Carolina’s success, USC/Oregon, Oklahoma/Florida State success) but anyone ruling out Alabama in the title hunt can do so at your own risk.Please join us on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter @DailyShootout