Rabalais: Trojans on top, but LSU right behind
By SCOTT RABALAIS
Published: Aug 19, 2007
The press still likes a nice, round number. Even more, the press likes a column idea to fill the slot in the schedule, which is why the chance to give you the 10th edition of my preseason top 25 vote for The Associated Press comes at a good time.
We’ll start at No. 1 with the team LSU fans love to hate, even more than Alabama.
1. USC (11-2 in 2006)
Why the Trojans are No. 1: Talent, talent, talent, especially on defense — led by Lawrence Jackson, Keith Rivers and Terrell Thomas. John David Booty and Joe McKnight should have the Trojans playing for it all in their home state.
Why they could be No. 2 (or worse): USC blew a national title shot with season-ending loss to UCLA in 2006. Does Booty have another big, late-game interception in him?
2. LSU (11-2)
Why the Tigers are No. 2: Defense. LSU might have the best front seven going, led by Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Ali Highsmith.
Why they aren’t No. 1: Too many question marks on offense: Flynn, receivers, O-line, punt game. But being No. 2 in the BCS era is just as good as being No. 1 — until after the championship game, of course.
3. West Virginia (11-2)
Why the Mountaineers are No. 3: QB Patrick White and RB Steve Slayton are back for one more run in Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. Enough said.
Why they aren’t No. 2: Chances are good WVU can blow through the Big East undefeated. But if LSU does the same in the SEC, that’s a better achievement.
4. Wisconsin (12-1)
Why the Badgers are No. 4: Eighteen starters return off the winningest team in Wisconsin history, led by 1,500-yard rusher P.J. Hill.
Why they aren’t No. 3: Schedule gets an upgrade with games at Ohio State and Penn State, plus home date with Michigan.
5. Michigan (11-2)
Why the Wolverines are No. 5: Could be the nation’s most explosive offense with QB Chad Henne, TB Mike Hart and WR Mario Manningham.
Why they aren’t No. 4: The defense that was carved up by Ohio State and USC underwent a complete overhaul.
6. Florida (13-1)
Why the Gators are No. 6: Momentum from last year’s national title. And Urban Meyer can finally hand the spread offense to QB Tim Tebow full time.
Why they aren’t No. 5: Meyer and Tebow might be a perfect match, but defense won it all for Florida in ’06. The loss of nine starters will sting a bit.
7. Oklahoma (11-3)
Why the Sooners are No. 7: So they fell for Boise State’s trick plays. Don’t forget OU is a proven program. Defense, especially the secondary, is solid.
Why they aren’t No. 6: An undecided QB race and no Adrian Peterson at RB are troubling.
8. Texas (10-3)
Why the Longhorns are No. 8: The pass-and-catch combo of Colt McCoy to Limas Sweed is the Big 12’s best.
Why they aren’t No. 7: It’s splitting hairs, but Mack Brown is 4-5 against Oklahoma. The Red River Rivalry will likely again decide the Big 12 South.
9. Virginia Tech (10-3)
Why the Hokies are No. 9: Eight starters return off the nation’s No. 1 defense, led by LBs Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi.
Why they aren’t No. 8: The O-line is a mess, but not so much so that the Hokies can’t win them all — including at LSU.
10. Louisville (12-1)
Why the Cardinals are No. 10: QB Brian Brohm did what coach Bobby Petrino probably wishes he did: turned down the NFL for a national title shot.
Why they aren’t No. 9: A new coach (Steve Kragthorpe from Tulsa) can be unsettling. And the defense needs work.
11. California (10-3)
Why the Golden Bears are No. 11: QB Nate Longshore could be the biggest roadblock in USC’s path to the title, a path that first leads to Berkeley on Nov. 10.
Why they aren’t No. 10: For all the bouquets thrown coach Jeff Tedford’s way, the Bears haven’t been all that just yet.
12. Arkansas (10-4)
Why the Razorbacks are No. 12: Two names: Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, simply the nation’s best 1-2 running back combo.
Why they aren’t No. 11: It’s been such an offseason of upheaval for the Hogs, they could be 11-0 or 5-6 when they visit Baton Rouge on Nov. 23.
13. Penn State (9-4)
Why the Nittany Lions are No. 13: The apparently immortal JoePa and eight starters back on offense led by QB Anthony Morelli.
Why they aren’t No. 12: Star LB Paul Posluszny left for the NFL. Another All-American, Dan Connor, will carry the banner for Linebacker U.
14. Auburn (11-2)
Why the Tigers are No. 14: A rugged defense will keep Auburn in games despite questions at running back and on the O-line.
Why they aren’t No. 13: They’re scared of Nick Saban. Isn’t everybody? Seriously, the offense has questions to answer.
15. Ohio State (12-1)
Why the Buckeyes are No. 15: With just five starters returning on both sides of the ball the defense, led by LB James Laurinaitis, might have to come to the rescue.
Why they aren’t No. 14: With no Heisman-winning QB Troy Smith or Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State is in reload mode.
16. Georgia (9-4)
Why the Bulldogs are No. 16: QB Matthew Stafford has the experience to help UGA over the rough spots.
Why they aren’t No. 15: Despite great recruiting, Georgia’s only All-SEC first-teamer is kicker Brandon Coutu.
17. UCLA (7-6)
Why the Bruins are No. 17: UCLA is getting lots of freeway mileage out of upsetting USC, that and 20 returning starters including All-American DE Bruce Davis.
Why they aren’t No. 16: Can Ben Olson hold off Trojan-slayer Patrick Cowan at QB all year?
18. Missouri (8-5)
Why the Tigers are No. 18: Mizzou is potent offensively with QB Chase Daniel throwing to TEs Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman. An Oct. 6 home game with Nebraska should decide the Big 12 North.
Why they aren’t No. 17: Like UCLA, Missouri has to prove it’s worth as a football power.
19. Rutgers (11-2)
Why the Scarlet Knights are No. 19: Keeping coach Greg Schiano was the best recruiting job Rutgers did this offseason. Heisman candidate RB Ray Rice isn’t bad either.
Why they aren’t No. 18: The non-conference slate (Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk State, Maryland) costs Rutgers quality points.
20. Nebraska (9-5)
Why the Cornhuskers are No. 20: Still having nightmares about QB Sam Keller throwing for a zillion yards in the 2005 LSU-Arizona State game? He’s flinging it this fall for Nebraska.
Why they aren’t No. 19: The defensive front must fill holes, but a Big 12 North title remains a strong possibility.
21. Tennessee (9-4)
Why the Volunteers are No. 21: QB Erik Ainge is one of the SEC’s best passers, and the Vols seem to have righted the ship after going 5-6 in 2005.
Why they aren’t No. 20: They maybe shouldn’t be No. 21 without RB LaMarcus Coker, but benefit of the doubt is granted to start.
22. Clemson (8-5)
Why the Tigers are No. 22: They’re not McFadden and Jones, but James Davis and C.J. Spiller are a potent pair (2,100 yards in ’06). Add seven defensive starters back and Clemson could win the ACC Atlantic.
Why they aren’t No. 21: The division is tough with Florida State, Boston College and defending ACC champ Wake Forest.
23. TCU (11-2)
Why the Horned Frogs are No. 23: Looking for this year’s Boise State? Look in Fort Worth. TCU boasts a great defense led by DEs Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz.
Why they aren’t No. 22: Needs to settle on a quality replacement for QB Jeff Ballard.
24. Oregon State (10-4)
Why the Beavers are No. 24: With 18 returning starters and confidence built from upsetting USC, the Beavers are the Pac-10’s dark horse.
Why they aren’t No. 23: Road trips to California and USC will determine OSU’s fate.
25. Boise State (13-0)
Why the Broncos are No. 25: Boise has averaged 11-plus wins the last five years, so this is no flash-and-dash program.
Why they aren’t No. 24: Can new QBs Taylor Tharp and Bush Hamdan run the Statue of Liberty play?
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