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College Football - Offseason College Football Top Ten

By Michael Melissa
Sunday, July 15th, 2001

Last season, Oklahoma put the college football world on its ear with an improbable national title run. On the arm of quarterback Josh Heupel and the smothering defense of Rocky Calmus and company, the Sooners went the distance finishing with a 13-0 record and an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State, 13-2.

Do they have enough to do it again? Texas and Nebraska may have a say in that as both teams head into the 2001 season ranked above Oklahoma. The Longhorns and Cornhuskers aren't the only ones with national championship aspirations this season, below is a list of the top ten teams (as chosen by your esteemed author who basically threw ten names in a hat and pulled them out one by one).

1. Miami: If not for a loss to Washington last season, the Hurricanes could have been battling for the title rather than FSU last season. Fortunately for Miami, they return basically the same team minus a few key components, most notably wide receiver Santana Moss (NFL) and head coach Butch Davis. After turning the program around, Davis took the NFL money and ran - straight to Cleveland. Offensive coordinator Larry Coker takes over a 'Canes squad that could be the one of the most explosive offensive teams in college football.

Ken Dorsey returns as the senior signal caller. Moss is gone, along with Reggie Wayne, which has opened up the position for a five-man battle. Look for converted QB Ethenic Sands and Andra Johnson to push each other for the split end job, leaving the other to lead the way for the rest of a young group of receivers. Keep an eye on running back Najeh Davenport who is ready for a breakout season, and with Dorsey passing lights out the running game should open up. Defense will be strong with a couple of eye-catchers possibly taking over the spotlight - DE Andrew Williams and CB Phillip Buchanon.

If the Hurricanes have one problem, it may be their schedule. First, they must travel to Penn State, then two weeks later, host Washington in a revenge match. On the horizon, are matchups with FSU and Virginia Tech, both on the road.

2. Oregon: Since Mike Bellotti took over as head coach at Oregon the Ducks are 49-22, best in the Pac-10 over a six-year span. Bellotti looks to keep that record in tact and may have the squad to do so this season.

QB Joey Harrington returns for his senior season after pacing the Pac-10 in passing yardage, touchdowns, and total offense. Mix in RB Maurice Morris, who rushed for 1,106 yards last season and scored eight touchdowns, with WR Keenan Howry, who is on pace to break the Oregon reception record, how could the Ducks go wrong this season? Defensive end Seth McEwen is the only returning full-time starter in the defensive front seven, while Zack Freiter finished the season as a starting tackle. The secondary, the Pac-10's best, returns three starters led by All-American cornerback Rashad Bauman. Most of the defense, while young, saw plenty of action last season and could be a pleasant surprise this season.

Aside from the season opener against Wisconsin in Eugene, Oregon, and a road trip to UCLA near the end of the year, the Ducks could have fairly smooth sailing. The Pac-10 title could come down to Dec. 1 when they face in-state rival Oregon State.

3. Nebraska: If what we saw at the Alamo Bowl last season is any indication of the state of Cornhusker football, the rest of the nation should be plenty nervous. Nebraska dismantled an impressive Northwestern squad 66-17 and returns basically the same squad this year.

Heisman-hopeful QB Eric Crouch returns as the main offensive threat for the 'Huskers. Crouch rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 20 TDs on the ground last season, not to mention tossing for 1,192 yards and 13 TDs. WR John Gibson also returns for a sixth season and will be the go to guy for Crouch in the air, along with senior TE Tracey Wistrom, whose 22.3 yards-per-catch career average is a school record. At RB, juniors Dahrran Diedrick and Thunder Collins, who combined for 289 yards at 6.3 per carry, take over. Nebraska, who had their defensive lapses last season, will be strong in the secondary but will need the defensive line to step up and replace the lost production of graduating seniors DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Loren Kaiser.

The Cornhuskers worked the schedule just right as three of their toughest games this season will be at home. The first test for Nebraska will be against Notre Dame, followed by Oklahoma and Kansas State later on in the season.

4. Tennessee: The Volunteers can focus on football now that the NCAA has pulled the plug on its investigation. Phil Fullmer's squad heads into the 2001 season with a six-game regular season win streak (they fell to Kansas State, 35-21, in the Cotton Bowl) and sports one of the strongest defensive backfields in college football.

A solid defense also returns with eight starters, including Outland Trophy-winner DT John Henderson who decided to stay for his senior season. Andre Lott will anchor the secondary as he moves from safety to cornerback. Look for the running game, led by senior RB Travis Stephens, to open up the passing game. QB Casey Clausen returns and will throw to a solid receiving corps which includes Donte Stallworth and punt-returner Eric Parker.

A pair of early SEC road games against Arkansas and Florida could determine the Vols' fate for the season. A road trip to Notre Dame also looms over Tennessee later in the year.

5. Florida: Heading into this season, the lone question at the Swamp is who will start at QB for the Gators? For a Steve Spurrier offense to work, a consistent passer is needed. Fortunately for Florida, the wide receiver corps is stacked which could give either Brock Berlin or Rex Grossman a small level of comfort behind center.

Grossman had the edge over Berlin for the starting QB spot going into spring drills, however, by the end of the session, Berlin closed the gap. The knock on Grossman is that he lacks consistency, which is what Florida will need this season if they plan to make a national championship run. While there is no real feature back for the Gators, look for Earnest Graham, Robert Gillespie, and Willie Green to produce solid numbers. Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell lead a talented group of receivers that seem to improve with every game.

The Gator defense is one of the best in the nation, with arguably the best back seven in college football. Despite missing spring practice, MLB Travis Carroll is expected to be at one hundred percent by the start of the season. He'll get support from Andra Davis, who returns this season after missing last year due to a knee injury.

The Florida schedule is as tough as they come. The Gators will face Tennessee, Mississippi State, and FSU all at the swamp and will have to travel to LSU and South Carolina.

6. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets could be the surprise of college football this season. With sixteen starters returning (nine on defense, seven on offense) Georgia Tech is one of the most experienced teams in college football.

Senior QB George Godsey has his sights set on a Heisman Trophy this season and may have the squad to help him reach that goal. As wide receivers Kelly Campbell and Kerry Watkins remain a dangerous duo, tailback Joe Burns again spearheads the running game behind three returning offensive line regulars. Nine starters are back on defense, including end Greg Gathers, who finished third in the nation last season with 13 sacks. CB Daryl Smith started nine games last season and led the team in tackles as a true freshman, which earned him Freshman All-America honors.

The Yellow Jackets' season could come down to a Sept. 15 matchup with FSU in Tallahassee, followed two weeks later with a home battle with Clemson. How they fare in those two games could decide where Georgia Tech will play during bowl season.

7. Texas: The Longhorns will get a chance to avenge their 63-14 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 6 and you can bet they already have that date circled.

With Chris Simms taking over the starting QB duty, Texas may have the best second string QB in the nation in Major Applewhite. Both are steady QBs capable of leading a team and will challenge each other to work hard throughout the season. The Longhorns have legitimate game-breakers at WR with Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson. In order to get passing game going, however, Texas will need a solid season from freshman RB Cedric Benson. The defense is a tough group and should be tougher this season, led by DE Cory Redding and LB De'Andre Lewis.

Along with the matchup against the Sooners, Texas will also host Colorado and head up to Oklahoma State later in the year. Both could be season-defining games for the Longhorns this year.

8. Florida State: It's a bad word at FSU, but it looks to be a rebuilding year for the 'Noles. While it may not be a major overhaul, Bobby Bowden will have a little less to work with than in the previous five-years.

Chris Weinke is gone and the QB job will be left to either Chris Rix or Anquan Boldin. Despite losing Travis Minor, the 'Noles will replace him with junior Nick Maddox, a top TB recruit two years ago. Also gone is WR Marvin Minnis, but the 'Noles aren't hurting with Atrews Bell and Robert Morgan taking over. Middle linebacker Bradley Jennings, safety Chris Hope, and tackle Darnell Dockett return to steady the defense.

FSU will be tested early in the season when they face an improved Georgia Tech at home, and later on against Miami and Florida.

9. Oklahoma: All eyes will be on Oklahoma this season to see how it defends its national championship. Without Heupel behind center, the offense may lose a step, but look for Bob Stoopes to rally his troops once again.

The Sooners will rely on Georgia transfer Nate Hybl to take over for Heupel. Last season, he was 9-for-16 in passing with two TDs. The receiver corps returns virtually in tact, along with RB Quentin Griffin who gave the Sooners the ground attack needed to open up the passing game last season. LB Rocky Calmus, who had 128 tackles last season, returns and is set to claim the Butkus award.

Look for Texas to be hungry when these two meet on Oct. 6. Also laying in wait, will be Nebraska, in Lincoln, later in the season.

10. Virginia Tech: The big question in Blacksburg is whether the Hokies can survive the loss of QB Michael Vick. The athletic QB put Virginia Tech on the college football map, now the program will have to rely on other parts of the offense, if it hopes to succeed this season.

While Vick may be gone, RB Lee Suggs returns. Suggs has been in Vick's shadow for the past two years - he'll get a chance now to show that his 27 TDs last season was not a fluke. Grant Noel takes over at QB and will throw to a WR squad led by Andre Davis (21.3-yard per catch career average). The Hokies return nine starters on defense, four of which were 2000 All-Big East performers and two were Freshman All-Americans.

It's a typical Virginia Tech schedule again this year with the only real challenge coming against Miami at home.

Injuries and other circumstances could affect some of these teams this year and there are a handful of other teams ready to take their spot. Look for Michigan, LSU, Alabama, UNLV, Oregon State, Mississippi State, and Washington to add a little excitement to the college football season. There could be another 2000 Oklahoma in that bunch or we may see a start to finish favorite run away with the nation.

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