Urban renewal works in Gainesville

Aug 19, 2008 7:04 PM

By David Stratton | The wait has been excruciating, but the college football season is finally at hand.

Next week, most of the 120 Division 1A teams will be in action (okay, the NCAA now calls them Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS schools, but old habits die hard).

Here’s a quick look at the best teams in the country.

1. Florida: Urban Meyer brooded all spring after his first-ever bowl loss (to Michigan) and the team’s disappointing season. His disposition will improve with Heisman winner Tim Tebow triggering the nation’s most prolific offense. Team speed is ridiculous and you can expect them to top last year’s 42.5 points/game. With a more experienced defense, the team will be virtually unbeatable.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes backed into the BCS title game last season, but with 19 returning starters, they are stronger and more experienced. Their defense is among the nation’s elite, and running back "Beanie" Wells is a legitimate Heisman candidate.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs sneaked up on everyone last year, and were playing best at the end of the season. Knowshon Moreno is a bruising runner and the offense returns practically intact. But they have a brutal schedule, one of the toughest in the country.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners have played for the championship three times in the past seven years, and this squad is one of Bob Stoops’ best. The offense is triggered by Sam Bradford, who led the country in passing efficiency last season. They should dominate the Big 12 with a shot at going undefeated.

5. Missouri: Gary Pinkel has done wonders since coming over from Toledo – his only two losses last year were to Oklahoma. This season he has his best offensive, led by Chase Daniel, who last season threw 33 TD passes with only 11 interceptions. He’s a mobile quarterback and can run when he has to.

6. USC: The Trojans probably should have been in the title game last season, but they’ll have a tough route this year – they sent 10 players to the NFL, seven in the first two rounds. Can anyone say "reload?" The offense won’t be as dominating, but the defense is solid. It will have its hands full when Ohio State comes calling in September.

7. Auburn: This could be Tommy Tuberville’s year to make a huge splash nationally. They lost on the last play to eventual champ LSU last season and knocked off Clemson in their bowl game. With 16 returning starters, the Tigers should be improved and among the SEC elite.

8. LSU: The Tigers had some key losses to the NFL (remember Glenn Dorsey?) and through graduation, so they won’t be as dominant, especially on defense. But coach Les Miles has done a great job compiling talent and LSU should vie for the SEC title.

9. West Virginia: The big question mark is the new coaching staff (Rich Rodriguez made an awkward move to Michigan), but new coach Bill Stewart has Pat White back at quarterback. White is a true dual threat, much like ex-Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, and he has a solid backfield behind him. If White can adapt to a new system and improve his passing, this team could move up.

10. Clemson: This could be Tommy Bowden’s best team, especially on offense with quarterback Cullen Harper (27 TDs versus 6 intercepts last year), and a pair of quality running backs. With a manageable schedule, the Tigers could make some BCS noise.

11. Texas Tech: Mike Leach fields another prolific offense that could easily top last season’s 40 points/game. Graham Harrell will probably lead the nation in passing, and if the Red Raiders’ defense improves, they could be a sleeper for national title consideration.

12. Texas: With only 11 returning starters (second fewest in the Big 12, this is one of Mack Brown’s least experienced teams. But how can you argue with seven straight years of double- digit wins?

13. South Florida: The Bulls won’t surprise anyone this year; they rose as high as No. 2 in the polls last season. Nonetheless, with 17 returning starters, including a solid QB in Matt Grothe, USF should be stronger in 2008.

14. Penn State: We saw glimpses last year of the Penn State of old – a dominating defense and blue collar offense. The Nittany Lions should improve with 18 starters back and a return to a more wide-open offense.

15. Wisconsin: Now in his third season, coach Bret Bielema is ready to contend for the Big 10 title. And he’ll do it like Badger teams of old, with a dominating ground game led by P.J. Hill, another in a long line of 1,000-yard runners.

16. Virginia Tech: You would expect the Hokies to be rebuilding this year with just 10 returning starters, and serious holes to fill at running back, wide receiver and defense. But Frank Beamer is a master at fielding a team, and they should contend for the ACC crown.

17. Tennessee: Replacing QB Eric Ainge will be a problem for Phil Fulmer, but he has the luxury of a solid running game led by 1,000-yard rusher Arian Foster to help ease the transition.

18. California: The Bears underachieved last year, despite one of the most talented squads in the Pac 10. They’ll need to mature quickly with so many losses on offense, but Jeff Tedford – twice the Pac 10 coach of the year – has a knack for putting the right players on the field.

19. BYU: The Cougars have been the best in the MWC (16-0 the last two years) and they could be better this year, at least on offense with improving QB Max Hall and a pounding running game.

20. Arizona State: Despite some key losses on defense and the offensive line, the Sun Devils welcome back a veteran quarterback, quality receiving corps and the nation’s best kicker (hitting 24-of-25 FG attempts). They’ll get a good test against Georgia on Sept. 20.

21. Oregon: If Dixon weren’t injured last year, the Ducks could have played for the BCS title. There should be enough talent to replace him, and the defensive backfield is one of the country’s best.

22. South Carolina: Despite a fast start last season, the Gamecocks collapsed the last half as injuries ravaged the defensive unit. They should improve this season, and if Steve Spurrier can find a quarterback, the team will quiet the nay-sayers, at least for the season.

23. Pittsburgh: Knocking off West Virginia to close the season helped ease the frustration of a disappointing year. But, now in his fourth season, Dave Wannstedt fields his best team yet, with double-digit victories a possible reward.

24. Wake Forest: Coach Jim Grobe continues to work miracles in Winston-Salem as the Demon Deacons have won 20 games the last two seasons. They have some holes to fill, but return an experienced quarterback and quality tailback.

25. Utah: This could be the year the Utes finally wrestle the MWC crown from BYU. They have an athletic quarterback, 1,000-yard rusher and a defense that allowed only 16 points/game last season. If everything breaks right, they could run the table.