The long climb toward the top team in the nation -- at least by C&F's accounting -- continues now with teams 16-20.
Yes, C&F is high on the Scarlet Knights. Ray Rice is gone, but the Rutgers passing game is poised -- poised, mind you -- to have a breakout year. in fact, if it's going to happen, it will be in 2008. The offensive line could be a question; but the defense returns eight starters after being ranked 17th and allowing 327.5 ypg last year. The conference slate could be tough. Rutgers travels to West Virginia and USF.
I'm skeptical about the Badgers, particularly after last year. But their defense should be stout. If P.J. Hill remains healthy, he could offset the difficulties of a new starting QB. Again, the defense and an impressive offensive line opening holes for Hill will be the key here. A healthy deal of hedging by C&F should be appropriately noted.
18. Penn State
This should be the year that JoePa gets his team back in the Top 25. Starting QB Anthony Morelli is gone, which is likely not a bad thing if you listen to the Nittany Lions faithful. The top three WRs -- responsible for 1,600 yards last year -- return. Yes, Penn State and Wisconsin aren't likely to end up right next to each other in teh final rankings, but it's difficult to tease out the teams in this area of the ballot, and this order made the most sense. SBN blog: Black Shoe Diaries
19. Arizona State
The Sun Devils bring back Rudy Carpenter and just enough to make them a palatable choice for the Top 25. All that said, they don't bring back enough to win the Pac-10, and are likely to come in third or even fourth -- lower if they can't keep Carpenter from suffering multiple concussions. But underestimating Dennis Erickson has never been a smart move for prognosticators. Welcome to new SBN member House of Sparky.
This might be a little bit low for a potential BCS buster, but that's an acknowledgement of the tough schedule. The Cougars will have to win at Washington to have a shot at a top-20 finish -- understood. But they also have UCLA on the slate a week later, and they go to TCU and Utah, making an undefeated conference schedule (a must for any BCS hopes) a tough sell. That said, the Cougars should have another potent offense behind Max Hall. The defense could be uneven. Look for them to drop a game somewhere, but clean up the mess well enough to land in the Top 25 again.