11. West Virginia
This is significantly up in the rankings from where C&F originally had them. The "tweaking" of an offense that has been key to the Mountaineers' success is worrisome, and Noel Devine will have to try to replace Steve Slaton. South Florida and Rutgers have been challenging for Big East control the last couple of years, Louisville will not be down and out forever and Pittsburgh is a darkhorse conference contender. The nonconference slate, which features Colorado and Auburn, is also tricky. But Devine averaged an eye-popping 8.6 ypc last year. The offensive line returns intact. Oh, and that Pat White guy returns. The defense will be down, but the defense will not decide how far the Mountaineers go. Rutgers, Auburn and South Florida come to Morgantown, much to the chagrin of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce should the 'Eers win those games. (Hide the couches!) The only really treacherous part of the schedule is at Louisville on Nov. 22, at Pitt six days later and then vs. South Florida on Dec. 6.
When it come down to it, West Virginia and Texas were kind of 11a and 11b. QB Colt McCoy should be over his sophomore slump, possibly leading to a performance resembling the 68.2 percent completion rate, 29 TDs and 7 INTs of his freshman year. The o-line is stout. The defense loses a few big players, but Will Muschamp will be there, BOOMing his way to another solid unit. Texas' biggest problem in coming in this high? They are likely to be the third-best team in their division, behind Oklahoma and Texas Tech (in an order I haven't entirely decided yet). The Longhorns also have a brutal stretch in the middle of the schedule: Oklahoma (Dallas, Oct. 11); vs. Missouri (Oct. 18); vs. Oklahoma State (Oct. 25); at Texas Tech (Nov. 1). And a once-defeated or twice-defeated Texas would likely have the scalps of an improving Florida Atlantic and Arkansas on its nonconference wall. (Not an imposing slate, but not 2007 Kansas-esque either.) SBN blog: Burnt Orange Nation
Yeah, Big Ten fans are going to give me crap, and I'm probably way off here, but I still believe in the Fighting Redacteds. Iowa is dealing with scandal, Michigan will struggle some in the first season of Rich Rodriguez (a price worth paying for future dominance, I'm sure), and I don't think Penn State or Wisconsin are nearly as good as most people think. Good? Yes. As good as conventional wisdom dictates? Probably not. Missouri looks to be the only sure-fire loss, though Ohio State will be out for revenge. Beyond that, the toughest games are at Penn State, at Michigan and at Wisconsin. Go 2-1 in those, and Illinois will likely mirror the 9-3 regular season that put them right about here last year. There are questions about the defense and, most troubling, the running game. But if QB Juice Williams does a little bit better as a passer (say, going from 57.3 percent completion to 58.3 or 59 percent) and WR Arrelious Benn has the potential he's believed to have, this team could easily end up No. 2 or No. 3 in the conference. Good enough for the Top 15, unless the "Big Televen is teh suxxorz" sentiment takes over.
Er. Yep, this is the part of the ballot that could prove really embarrassing to C&F, but if you can't look like a fool in the preseason, when can you? [Maybe the rest of the season for you.--ed Har har.--C&F] In case you haven't noticed, I'm high on the Big XII this year, and you haven't even seen the Top 10 yet. (Maybe it's because the Big XII is the SEC's sister conference now.) In any case, Kansas toughens their nonconference slate a bit this year, adding a game at South Florida. Troublesome games? At Oklahoma is a likely loss, as is Missouri. That means Texas and Texas Tech will decide the team's fate. Split those, and a solid 9-3 record will get them this high. QB Todd Reesing comes back, as does RB Jake Sharp, who ran for 832 yards last year and was No. 2 on the team in rushing yards. The defense should be strong, though Aqib Talib is gone. The Jayhawks won't get the lucky bounces that came their way last year, but they should be good enough to contend in the Big XII North, the weakest of the two divisions. SBN blog: Rock Chalk Talk
15. North Carolina
While I'm throwing darts at the board, why not? This spot was Virginia Tech's for awhile, but looking at both teams, I'm convinced that the Heels have an edge. The nonconference schedule, if navigated at 3-1, could look impressive: McNeese State (okay, not that one), at Rutgers, Connecticut and Notre Dame. The gauntlet comes early: at Rutgers is Sept. 11; hosting the Hokies nine days later; at Miami on Sept. 27; vs. Connecticut on Oct. 4. But that is as close to challenging as the slate gets. Every significant rusher and receiver returns to help QB T.J. Yates. The defense returns eight starters. Again, the only thing that could keep Butch Davis' squad out of the Top 15 if they do as well as they should is perception -- i.e., the ACC sucks. But somebody has to grab control of the Coastal Division, and the Heels look as good as anyone else. If they win impressively enough, they'll earn their way here. SBN blog: [North] Carolina March
C&F is completely open to your comments on this arrangement, which can be justifiably mocked. This where things stand now, and teams will likely move up and down before the final ballot is submitted.