Some movement in Top 25 for '05
Forde: Top 25 for 2005
Since we last left you with the Gatorade still soaking on Pete Carroll's shirt, players have come (thanks to Signing Day) and gone (thanks to early departures to the NFL). How has it affected the Top 25 for 2005? Here's the latest look.
1. USC Trojans
Why: The Trojans were the landslide choice a month ago -- and that was before Matt Leinart stunned everyone by announcing he's staying on campus. Now it's simply not a fair fight for the rest of the nation.
Why not: The only reasons to bet against USC are the fact that nobody has won three straight wire-service national titles, and offensive mastermind Norm Chow might bolt for the NFL.
Why not: Losing star linebacker Derrick Johnson and running back Cedric Benson will hurt, and Oklahoma is still on the schedule.
Why not: Wide receiver Braylon Edwards made Henne look good on many occasions, and the Wolverines face a major rebuilding job in the secondary.
4. Tennessee Vols
Why: Three proven quarterbacks return, plus plenty of additional experience after all the possible early-entry candidates decided to stay. And for once, the Volunteers have post-bowl momentum.
Why not: In their last four SEC games of 2004, the Vols gave up an average of 32.8 points and 467 yards offense. That needs to improve before facing Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, et.al. in '05.
Why not: The Hawkeyes must do some rebuilding on the defensive front seven.
Why not: New quarterback. Rebuilt offensive line. Key losses on defense. And did the Sooners lose some of their aura during that mugging in Miami?
Why not: An NCAA investigation could turn into a mushroom cloud over Columbus. Buckeyes fans have done their best to minimize the potential repercussions, but that might be whistling past the gridiron graveyard.
Why not: Even with all the players coming back, it's never easy to replace a great quarterback (Stefan LeFors), your top rusher (Eric Shelton) and top receiver (J.R. Russell).
Why not: These guys don't know what it takes to win at the highest level. How quickly can they learn that vital quality?
Why not: Larry Coker needs to rekindle a Miami offense that seemed short on playmakers at times this year.
11. LSU Tigers
Why: This team is littered with prep All-Americans, many of whom got valuable experience in a "rebuilding" 9-3 season. And signing prep superstud Ryan Perrilloux only makes the quarterback position that much more intriguing.
Why not: After losing Nick Saban, it's hard not to think LSU settled for Les with Miles.
Why not: Key losses on the offensive line and in the secondary, and you have to wonder whether the talent level has taken an appreciable dip from the halcyon days in Tallahassee. (A good '05 recruiting class might help some, but it's dangerous to count on too many true freshmen.)
Why not: Losing quarterback Brian Randall could prove a bigger blow than anyone could have imagined at this time last year. Time for Marcus Vick to live up to his surname.
Why not: Have to be concerned by how the Aggies finished the season, losing four out of five -- including a loss to Baylor and a 31-point shellacking in the Cotton Bowl from underdog Tennessee.
15. Boise State Broncos
Why: Dan Hawkins' program has a ton of momentum going right now, and brings back a lot of talent. Many people in Boise thought all along that '05 would be the Broncos' best team.
Why not: The offensive and defensive lines were exposed by the superior size and speed of Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.
Why not: Even a top-flight program will struggle after losing four-year quarterback David Greene, defensive end David Pollack, most of the receiving corps and a couple other defensive stars through early entry.
17. Fresno State Bulldogs
Why: Just about everybody of consequence is back from a team that won its last six games, including an upset of Virginia in the Micron PC Bowl. And next season, WAC heavy Boise State must come to Fresno.
Why not: Somebody unexpected always seems to jump up and get Pat Hill's team somewhere along the line.
18. Auburn Tigers
Why: Tigers should be very good up front on both sides of the ball, and bring back a posse of quality receivers. If Al Borges can do half the work with Brandon Cox that he did with Jason Campbell, they'll move the ball productively again in '05.
Why not: No team could lose quarterback Campbell, running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown and defensive backs Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen without some serious slippage.
Why not: The defense will have to be largely rebuilt -- and it was shaky at times anyway.
Why not: The Red Raiders still have to compete with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M in the murderous Big 12 South.
Why not: Some key senior personnel on both sides of the ball must be replaced.
22. California Bears
Why: I erred in not including the Golden Bears in January. Despite losing superior talents Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington, coach Jeff Tedford has this program on such solid ground that it will not slip entirely off the map.
Why not: Better do something to upgrade a defense that was undressed by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
Why not: Does Dave Wannstedt know what he's doing on the college level? For that matter, did he know what he was doing on the pro level?
Why not: In three years under Chan Gailey, Tech has not been able to push past "decent" and into "good."
25. Iowa State Cyclones
Why: Quarterback Brett Meyer and wide receiver Todd Blythe, both sophomores, will be one of the top tandems in the country. Playing in the Big 12 North will help the Cyclones' record.
Why not: We'll see how this program performs with a bullseye (admittedly, a small bullseye) on its back.
Another Dozen To Watch
Alabama, Boston College, Colorado, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Oregon, Purdue, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- FSU's Fisher: Doesn't matter how team wins
- Winston says contact with ref unintentional
- Sooners' Perine (427 yards) bests Gordon
- No. 4 Miss. State bounces back, slams Vandy