Adam Jones is the author of Jones Top Ten, and the new book Rose Bowl Dreams.
About the Author
Adam Jones is the author of Jones Top Ten, and the new book Rose Bowl Dreams.
2009 Season Preview
Submitted by Adam on Sun, 2009-08-23 22:33.
Ben shouts to me that I am losing, 109-89. I never have bowled well and I am not bowling well now. Actually, I am not bowling at all; I'm in the kitchen, drinking coffee. We live in a world where fathers and sons can play without messy physical interaction, courtesy of the Wii. Ben's not bowling against me; he's bowling against "mii"-a computer-generated avatar, virtual dad, reasonably handsome and complete with authentic receding hairline. Apparently my avatar needs work at avoiding the 6-10 split.
Switching to Wii baseball, virtual dad does play a pretty good shortstop, far better than the real me ever did. So all hope is not lost. If virtual dad could only speak to my sons honestly about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and broken hearts, then we would really have something. Perhaps there's a software update coming.
So we live in a world that outsources the old game of catch to machines. This being the same world that outlaws tag on the school playground. Thank God that the machines turn off. Thank God for swimming pools and pick-up basketball, dogs and front yards. And for little boys, especially those who put in the time and beat the odds and grow up to leave it all out on the field on a Saturday afternoon. Thank God for fall. Thank God for college football.
Welcome back, friends, to season 15 of the Jones Top Ten: the truth about college football.
Fifteen years? That's hard to believe. Perhaps I should bore you to death with a 15-year retrospective of all-time teams and games. Better, let's live in the moment and talk about 2009.
We start with consensus in the top two. Florida/Texas locks for Pasadena? Maybe, but college football is a strange bird. Oklahoma and USC seem to be the three and four, according to the collective wisdom. I am happy to share my opinions of where I agree and disagree (oh, and I do disagree), but we will get to that in a moment.
I have already decided my point of irritation with announcers for the year. The repeated refrain that Team X "just needs someone to drive the bus"-you know, if they just had a kid who could manage the game, run the offense, move the chains, limit mistakes, then they would be just peachy. Great, except the implication is that this is an easy thing to do. Good Lord, if you could turn any two-star walk-on into Jay Barker by simply telling him not to throw any picks, then LSU might have won the national title last year. The Craig Krenzels of the world are not talentless drones; to the contrary, they are pretty damned hard to find (and apparently none of them with any 2009 eligibility live south of the Mason-Dixon line).
The two best players in the nation at their positions, for my money, are both safeties. USC's Taylor Mays and Tennessee's Eric Berry are the most impressive pair of ballhawks at season's start since 1980, when the consensus All-Americans were none other than Ronnie Lott and Kenny Easley. The 1980 All-American team on defense was the best ever, when taking into account their total college and pro contributions. It included Lott, Easley, Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor, Hugh Green, E.J. Junior and Bob Crable, among others, including Kenneth Sims, who ended up an overall number one pick, but didn't pan out in the NFL.
This trip back through college football history brought to you by Bobby Bowden, whose Florida State Cinnamonroles (beautiful on the outside, completely gooey and lacking in any nutritional substance on the inside) should easily be in the top fifteen, but I will believe it when I see it.
Florida State is a mess and I don't believe they will be any better in 2009. They no longer scare anyone and that's a major problem; intimidation used to be more than half the battle for FSU. I am not convinced Miami's resurgence will be complete this year, either. Michigan will be, for at least another season, a shadow of its traditional self. The Big East simply forgot to field a contender this year. Rutgers? Yeah, OK. Why Al Groh is still coaching at Virginia can only be explained away by the administration's total commitment to academics at the expense of ACC football. All this and Brian Cushing did steroids? The hell you say.
So who do I like? Glad you asked:
1. Florida: I tried so hard. I really tried. There are an infinite number of hack writers (including this one) in the country who can tell you that Florida is the best team in the country. Contrarians will come out of the woodwork to tell why it ain't so...but then they will crawl right back into the woodwork. Because it is so. Oh, I guess the loss of Percy Harvin could be devastating, but the Gators have some potential replacements waiting in the wings who will be household names soon enough; they don't exactly lack for speed at the skill positions. I believe Texas has a higher upside than does Florida. Of course, a Florida fan would respond to that by noting that they are the defending national champions, so how much (expletive deleted) upside do they really need?
2. Texas: The offense got Colt McCoy a well-deserved trip to New York and is about as easy to contain as a jello sculpture. Regression toward the mean be damned, they may be better this season with a hurry-up downhill running game and more chances to bomb away off of play action (McCoy's arm is stronger than you think). But the Horns are in the two spot because of defense. Far better than given credit for last year, this year's version, with a host of nuclear DB's you haven't heard of and the ninth-circle demon warrior Sergio Kindle, should keep Texas safe regardless of any struggles the offense encounters.
3. Oklahoma: I agree with the consensus that the Sooners are third, but just barely. With Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and the gifted tackle Trent Williams all back, along with two excellent running backs and the best (by far, in my opinion) defensive line in college football, what's not to like? Some fret over the offensive line, but I think the Sooner line will be better than expected (and thought them somewhat overrated last year); they have much with which to work. Were I a Sooner fan, I would be far more concerned that there are too many Jesus Harolds in the secondary.
4. Ohio State: Oh, Lord, Jones, just kill me now. I hear you all saying it. The Buckeyes dominated most of 2006 and were punished by a perfect Florida storm in the BCS title game. The "rebuilding" squad of 2007 arrived a year early, backed into the BCS title game and simply lost to a better team, LSU. USC worked last year's Buckeye squad in the biggest non-conference game of the year, but Ohio State was probably better than their press clippings by season's end. With Michigan on the wane, OSU gets whatever kids they want and they don't tend to run out of quality football players. I think Jim Tressel is tired of being criticized; he (potentially) has Vince Young 2.0 at QB and he will not hesitate to use him. Buckeyes over Trojans in September, Big Ten title, Rose Bowl bound.
5. Georgia: The second-best team in the SEC is not Alabama, nor LSU, nor everybody's prom date, Ole Miss. It's Georgia. Without Matthew Stafford, without Knowshon Moreno, it's still Georgia. The Bulldogs boast the best offensive line this side of USC and one of the best defensive lines. They get almost an entire starting line-up back from injury and add a stellar recruiting class that most folks missed because of the hauls at Florida, ‘Bama, LSU and Tennessee. Schedule's murder? True, but I am not telling you who has the best chance to navigate the schedule, I am telling you who I think the best teams are period. Part of the schedule problem for Georgia is the number of key road games. Of course, Mark Richt's teams play better on the road than they do at home. They also play better when they start in the middle of the pack, expectations-wise. All this and (heresy alert) I am not even sure Joe Cox is a huge downgrade at QB. Matthew Stafford may have been taken first in the NFL draft, but he was never an elite college quarterback, making throws that elicited oohs and aahs on one play, followed by gasps and blasphemy the next. If Bud Foster coordinated the defense (he doesn't; see team #8), then I would even rank them a spot higher.
6. California: The Golden Bears field the best defense in Jeff Tedford's tenure, especially the secondary. They will also field the best running back in the entire nation, Jahvid Best. With even average quarterback play from Kevin Riley, which is what they usually get, I think they get ten wins. If he improves over last year's numbers, and Tedford's quarterbacks tend to over time, then the Bears beat ‘SC for the Pac Ten title. Best gives them a huge margin for error in most games.
7. Alabama: If the other team does not score, then your team cannot lose. Meet the Alabama Crimson Tide. Everyone back on D, no one back on O (and their offense wasn't exactly the Indianapolis Colts last year anyway). Their opener against Virginia Tech may eventually be decided by a rock/paper/scissors game at midfield between John Parker Wilson and Jim Drunkenmiller. Nevertheless, the defense really is great enough to keep them in the top ten and receiver Julio Jones is all kinds of special. Now the Tide just needs to get him the ball.
8. Virginia Tech: Even without Darren Evans, I think the Hokies can clean up the ACC, albeit probably with a loss to either Carolina or Georgia Tech. The defense could be the best in the nation (not only that, but they have one starter named "Cam" and another starter named "Kam," cool). Frank Beamer will find someone to run the ball-it is one of the few positions where Tech actually recruits big time talent. The problem is Tyrod Taylor. He's one of the most dynamic athletes in the game...right up to the point he actually throws the football, which he does fairly often (173 attempts, splitting time last year) and poorly, with a particular aversion to throwing touchdown passes. Think Nebraska's Jamaal Lord, but less accurate. Nevertheless, the lines on both sides are tough. The Hokies will also score on defense and special teams, which will no doubt be the difference in a couple of close games, including Alabama perhaps.
9. USC: You didn't think I would get to them, did you? I simply don't understand why anyone thinks they are one of the best five teams in the nation. Granted the offensive line will operate with the efficiency of a Gleaner combine. Granted Pete Carroll tends to succeed with whatever untested five-star quarterback he plucks from Rancho del Mission Viejo de Cayamunga Mater Dei. Granted, arguably the best player in the nation plays free safety. Granted the Trojans simply drop in future NFL athletes anywhere they please on defense and it all seems to work. The problem? Even when Troy seems invincible they go out one weekend and prove that they are not (Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State again...all have beaten top 3 USC teams in the last three years). Then USC rights the ship, goes on a rampage, comfortably wins the Rose Bowl playing basically a home game and the chattering class piles on about how the Trojans would have given (insert national champions here) a better game than the opponent (usually Ohio State) who actually lost the BCS title game. This squad isn't even close to invincible. Top ten? Certainly. But Ohio State will gain some measure of revenge and Cal will field a better football team.
10. Notre Dame: The Irish are deep and talented and will have, naturally, a schematic advantage courtesy of their rotund field general/svengali. Had Coach Weis been the title character in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," then Willie Wonka would quickly be out of the candy business and selling shoes somewhere. To punch their Golden Ticket, the Irish will depend on the brilliance of Golden Tate, who may be one of the most untouchable skill players in the land or might simply be a fictional creation of the Notre Dame marketing department. I suspect he is the last lost Ismail child, hidden from the world and registered as George Burlhamp, an engineering major from Muncie, until the time comes for him to emerge from the shadows and lead the Irish to glory. Golden Tate? Seriously? In any case, whichever Clausen kid (Casey, Jimmy, Marky, Eddie???) throws to Tate will do so behind a very good offensive line (on paper anyway, which is about what they have blocked like over the last two years) and be backed by a defense that can, get this, actually run. The Irish, for good measure, may well have signed the best defensive high schooler in the country last year, Manti Te'o. He's a bone thug Polynesian killer, which makes me wonder how USC didn't land him. This is not about schedule, by the way, I think the Irish are one of the nation's ten best teams and have a legit shot at taking down the Trojans.
Number eleven is Mississippi, closely followed by Oklahoma State. This reflects a rough consensus by most on the two best darkhorse candidates for a top five (or better) season. I'll buy that, but I don't think either team is better built than Notre Dame. I will say the Rebels' Jevan Snead and State's Zac Robinson are both better quarterbacks than Jimmy Clausen. But Houston Nutt coaching a high expectation team? Huh. As for Oklahoma State, their opener with Georgia could set a terrible tone, but they get points for scheduling cojones. The Cowboy defense has some serious holes, although new defensive coordinator Bill Young may prove very adept at coaching around them (great hire). Both of these teams will certainly be fun to watch.
If any team makes a surprise run-up the polls, it may be Penn State. The best quarterback in the Big Ten is Darryl Clark, not Terrelle Pryor and not Juice Williams. Clark has fewer toys to play with this year, but he does get Evan Royster back in the backfield and the Penn State defense, even with few returning starters, will give him plenty of opportunities to play keep-away. I just don't see the Nitts in the top ten, where a lot of others have placed them.
LSU? Loaded, of course they are. The Tigers could be the most athletically gifted team in the nation, and they added a recruiting class with (arguably) the best defensive back, receiver and quarterback on the board. This will all be of great benefit when a track meet breaks out. On the football field, LSU played poorly last season, with a complete meltdown on defense down the stretch. They have both potential and means to improve greatly. New DC John Chavis, like Bill Young at Oklahoma State, should help immediately. I am also not sold on quarterback Jordan Jefferson. All that said I wouldn't be shocked if the Tigers up and won eleven games.
TCU has the best chance of the Mountain West lot to make the BCS uncomfortable. Get this, the Frogs have won 11 games four out of the last six years. Their defense is legit, regardless of what conference you play in-TCU may have the best pair of cornerbacks in the game AND the best defensive end, Jerry Hughes. They will need to generate a mite more offense to get past BYU, a team with a better top-to-bottom roster, but fewer real difference makers.
Boise State will win ten or eleven, but they are not as good as the magical 2006 or 2008 teams.
That ends the list of true contenders and non-BCS potential interlopers. I haven't listed Oregon for a reason. Sports Illustrated put the Ducks front and center, with Oklahoma State and Mississippi, as a breakout top ten contender. They're not. Lots of shiny objects on the Oregon squad, but a new coach, four new offensive line starters and a defense that only a mother could love will doom them to the Starbucks Bowl.
You know already that I am down on FSU, Miami. Michigan, Virginia and The Entire Big East. Who am I high on?
Georgia Tech and North Carolina (not FSU and Miami) are my favorites to make noise in the ACC. Complicating matters, both play in Virginia Tech's division. Georgia Tech may find tougher sledding the second time through the conference with Paul Johnson. I assume most of his opposing numbers have purchased the "Defending the Option, with Tom Osborne" instructional video by now. Carolina's roster is a year away from being truly deep, but Butch Davis will get there.
If you want a really dangerous team in the ACC, then try North Carolina STATE. They may be the best under-the-radar pick in your neighborhood buy/sell game. They close with Virginia Tech and North Carolina and it is entirely possible the Wolfpack could win the ACC Atlantic in those two weeks.
I haven't mentioned Clemson or Boston College. One of these teams will fail to live up to expectations. Guess which one?
The SEC, of course, goes far deeper than the five teams already mentioned. Year two of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas finds him with a quarterback who can throw, a very underrated running back and an improved defense. It might be enough for Petrino, a man with the loyalty of a feral cat, to coach the entire season without fielding offers from Auburn (did they really hire Gene Chizik? Talk about bringing a knife to a gun fight...).
For all his silly theatrics, I think Lane Kiffin probably does know what he is doing (and I know his father does) and the cupboard is not exactly bare at Tennessee. Florida may lay 60 on the Vols early on, but this will be a very good squad by season's end. Down the road, if you think Vanderbilt will fold up the tents without D.J. Moore and return to their sacred place as everyone's favorite homecoming game, then you haven't been paying attention for the last four years. The Commodores will totally screw up someone's Saturday-maybe even Mississippi's on October 3rd if the Rebels aren't careful. I would say the same about Kentucky, another team folks will likely sleep on.
I believe this is the season that South Carolina finally melts down. I have always wondered why 80,000 plus fill Williams-Brice every Saturday to watch traditionally mediocre football. Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier have taken the Gamecocks about as far as they can go, high water marks of nine wins in 2003 and eight in 2006. The wheels fall off this year
In the Big 12, two north teams are probably among the best 25 in the country. Nebraska will be better in Bo Pelini's second year (they weren't bad in his first year, actually). We will know how much better when they travel to Virginia Tech on September 19th. Kansas is the best team in the north, but the schedule is a bad science fiction movie and the Jayhawks are the laboratory experiment. They may emerge anyway. I have little faith in Colorado getting over the hump, although Dan Hawkins used to be a better coach than recent results suggest. I don't think Missouri figures into the race, either.
Yes, Texas Tech will slip, but not as far as you think and not for the reasons you think. The Tech offense does not need Michael Crabtree to score points. Last year's Tech squad had a confluence of great defensive players who are no longer available. It's still enough to win eight or nine and scare the bejeesus out of defensive coordinators everywhere. Baylor will end up in a bowl game. Read that again.
The best team not mentioned so far is Iowa. The Hawkeyes broke free from a down cycle last year behind a seemingly invigorated Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has an outside shot to wrest the conference away from the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions. So does Michigan State, who quietly won nine games last year and did not suffer their traditional mid-season swoon (although the Spartans were worked by the conference bullies). Whither Illinois? I hate to be a pessimist, but, for all the talent, I still don't think Ron Zook is a very good football coach and Juice Williams looks to me like Tyrod Taylor with a better press agent. Wisconsin is on the outside looking in; can the Badgers break through?
If you made me pick a Big East champ, then I would pick South Florida. Or Pittsburgh. Maybe Rutgers. TCU or BYU would beat any of them and Utah might, as well.
Out west I love Cal and I don't like Oregon, you already know that, but I am very intrigued by the Rick Neuheisel/Norm Chow unholy alliance at UCLA. The Bruins need good quarterback play to go with an underrated defense. Odds are, these two coaches will deliver it. Oregon State returns a solid quarterback, both Rodgers brothers and a host of defensive questions. They are guaranteed to beat someone they shouldn't during the year. If there is a surprise from the Pac Ten, then it will come from Arizona. Stanford lurks behind; the problem with the Cardinal is, like Georgia Tech, no one will take them lightly anymore.
Deep in the bowels of college football, Southern Miss and Troy could produce some surprising results. The Trojans scared LSU to death last year and thwacked Oklahoma State the year before. If you want to know how good Notre Dame's defense might be, then don't miss their opening game with Nevada. If the Irish aren't paying attention, they could lose, causing me to completely disavow what I wrote about them earlier in this space.
I continue to have a soft spot for Navy. Their 51 wins over the last six seasons is near miraculous.
Tim Tebow will win the Heisman. I believe that the voters will find him deserving of the Archie Griffin treatment and be ready to name the second two-time winner; lowering that emotional barrier is crucial to his chances. Colt McCoy finishes second. But the candidate who will really get torqued this year is Jahvid Best, who will produce 2700 combined rushing/receiving yards and lead Cal to the Pac Ten title only to finish fifth in the Heisman race behind Tebow, McCoy, Sam Bradford and, wait for it...Jimmy Clausen.
That's the way the season will go. Or won't. I have mentioned above every team I believe will flirt with the AP top 25. Once the season shakes out (about week three or four), I will mention every team that hits the AP list and a few others each week. If this doesn't include your favorite team, then feel free to e-mail me for my stupidity. But bring data. The JTT is more power poll than anything else and follows a neutral field rule (is Team A better than Team B all things being equal?). I'm wrong a lot and, of course, I will at times depart from my own rules, "hobgoblin of little minds" and all of that business.
Thanks for playing and have a wonderful fall.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Adam Jones
Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith Family and Football is now available in paperback from Thomas Dunne Books.
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( categories: 2009 )