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Now that the deadline for underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft has passed, I figured I'd go with my way-early top-10 list for 2009.
1. Florida: I would have had the Gators #1 as long as Tim Tebow came back, but the fact that LB Brandon Spikes, the leader of the Gators' D, returned too makes this even more solid.
2. Texas: Colt McCoy is coming off a superb season, and he gets to throw to his pal Jordan Shipley, who returns for a sixth season. UT still needs to establish its ground game more, but the young secondary should be much better, and having LB-DE Sergio Kindle back will spark the pass rush.
3. Oklahoma: No one came out better after seeing who didn't leave for the NFL. It starts with QB Sam Bradford and DT Gerald McCoy, who will anchor the D. I give UT the slight edge here, because the Sooners lose a bit more on the offensive line.
4. Oregon: Whether it's Mike Bellotti running the show or coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly, this team will pile up points, and I'm going with a hunch that it's going to be a good year for the Ducks. They might not have a bunch of guys who were listed as starters returning (only nine), but they do have a lot of players with plenty of game experience and an exciting strong-armed QB in Jeremiah Masoli. Defensively, the secondary could be a concern, but if they can survive a tricky start to the schedule, they get USC in Eugene. Given all that the Trojans have lost, this could be the year the Ducks unseat Pete Carroll.
5. Virginia Tech: The Hokies' backfield looks dangerous with rising star Tyrod Taylor and RB Darren Evans, and you know Bud Foster will field a salty defense. They open in Atlanta against an Alabama team that will be breaking in a new QB, and they get Nebraska at Lane Stadium. Both would be nice out-of-conference wins.
6. Ole Miss: Jevan Snead has shaken off the rust. He will be one of the top-10 QBs in the country and should put up big numbers throwing to Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge and Lionel Breaux. The Rebels do have to replace the great Peria Jerry, but there are a ton of talented D-linemen coming back, starting with pass-rushing terror Greg Hardy. The Rebels also get Alabama and LSU in Oxford in 2009.
7. USC: Losing QB Mark Sanchez stings a little for an offense that still should be quite potent, led by a good emerging O-line and star WR Damian Williams. The defense needs to be almost completely rebuilt in the front seven, but getting monster safety Taylor Mays back is a huge plus.
8. Alabama: The defense should be nasty, as many of Nick Saban's recruits are coming of age, but breaking in a new QB has to be a big issue for the Tide, who also have a few big holes to replace on the O-line.
9. LSU: If QB Jordan Jefferson plays anywhere near as well as he did against Georgia Tech in the bowl game, the Tigers have the talent to compete for a national title. However, the defense needs to become much more consistent under new D-coordinator John Chavis. I'll give Bama the slight edge over LSU, because they'll meet in Tuscaloosa.
10. Oklahoma State: This could be the most dynamic offense in the Big 12, which is saying something. The Cowboys' defense, though, is still a big concern.RANDOM STUFF
• Former Carolina Panthers assistant Sal Sunseri is expected to be named Alabama's new assistant head coach and linebackers coach, sources say. Sunseri was the Panthers' D-line coach, but was a star linebacker at Pitt in the early '80s. He had come to Pitt as a walk-on and went on to become a team captain and consensus All-America selection as a senior in 1981. He actually worked under Saban for one season in 2000 at LSU, where he coached linebackers and was the Tigers' special-teams coordinator.
• Onetime USC assistant Carl Smith, whom Pete Carroll had hired after offensive coordinator/QB coach Steve Sarkisian got the Washington head-coaching job, is not going to be coaching the Trojans after all. Sources say Smith is accepting a job with the Cleveland Browns.
• Oklahoma State snared top RB recruit Dexter Pratt from LSU. The nation's #15 RB is a 225-pound bruiser. "Pratt is a big land for Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys do not have a committed 2009 class indicative of its strong season and national exposure," ESPN's Billy Tucker says. "It appears the switch from LSU may have initially stemmed from an off-the-field academic issue; either way, the Cowboys have just greatly improved their future roster with the addition of Pratt. The ESPNU 150 prospect has a really good size-to-speed ratio as a back and overall prospect."
• Credit Robert Griffin with helping Baylor land coveted Texan Skylar Scott, the nation's #52-rated WR, over Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska. "Baylor is close to home, and I really like the coaches. I'm looking forward to playing in the spread offense and playing with [quarterback] Robert Griffin. I really feel like they've got a whole new thing going there," Scott told the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald.
• Oregon picked up a nice commitment for the 2010 class when it landed one of the fastest players in the country in running back Ethan Grant from South Florida's North Broward Prep, reports Larry Blustein.
• Jamaal Green was a good player on the great 2001 Miami national-championship team. Green, a tough defensive end from New Jersey, went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, but that was never his childhood dream. As Adriana M. Chávez reports, Green is now fulfilling his dream, working in law enforcement. His dream became a reality Feb. 17, 2008, when he became a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the El Paso area.
• The fastest recruit in the state of Florida isn't going to Florida, Miami or FSU this year, apparently. Instead, running back Lindsey Lamar of Tampa Hillsborough High, a 10.35 100-meter man, is heading to USF. Lamar and DE Ryne Giddins are two of Jim Leavitt's big pick-ups in the past few days.
Lamar, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder, averaged 11 yards per carry in 2008, rushing for 1,336 yards on 121 carries and 18 touchdowns.
Giddins, a 6-4, 230-pound pass rusher, is the nation's #5 defensive-end prospect.
• Ball State hired former BSU QB Joey Lynch to coach receivers on the staff of new head coach Stan Parrish, reports Doug Zaleski:
Lynch started the first four games his senior season, then was replaced in the starting lineup by Nate Davis. Instead of sulking, Lynch tutored Davis on the intricacies of the position. Davis went on to break nearly every school passing record in three seasons. In the press release announcing he would give up his senior season in order to enter the NFL early, Davis singled out two teammates, Lynch and Dante Love, for special help. "I will never forget the way Joey Lynch treated me during my freshman season," Davis said in a statement.