AP Top Ten Capsules

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

VULNERABILITIES AMONGST POWERS COULD CREATE BIZZARE COLLEGE SEASON

It's been a few weeks now since we ran our conference previews for the 2010 college football season. Please check the archives if you were travelling this summer, or otherwise missed those reports because you weren't in "football mode" yet.

With the season now about a week away, we want to work our way back into preparedness with some more college talk. The Associated Press Top 25 came out a few days ago. There weren't any surprises. There rarely are in Preseason rankings because everyone plays it so close to the vest. If you're a pollster, you don't want to draw attention to yourself with anything creative. If it backfires, everyone will remember you're the idiot who picked the 8th best team in the ACC to finish in the top 10 or something.

We thought it would be a good refresher to run through returning starters and stat rankings for the ten biggest names in the sport right now. These are the teams you'll be paying the most attention to in the next couple of weeks before the season starts defining its own terms for us. These are the teams that ESPN, ABC, and CBS will be harping on right off the bat…and conceivably nonstop until mid January.

That being said, there's SO MUCH turnover amongst the big name teams, or vulnerability with some returning stars that we really could be in for a wild and wooly season. There are no sure things amongst the usual suspects. Many of the current top ten could fall way off the pace if new starters don't get things figured out, or old strugglers don't take a step forward (like the Ohio State quarterback).

That sets up the following:

  • Somebody from off the radar could charge into the BCS picture and conceivably go the distance.
  • Somebody like Boise State or TCU could win their few tough games, then coast to the final two because so many other "favorites" keep hitting road blocks.

Are you going to stick Alabama in the BCS championship game NOW when they only return one defensive starter and have a tough schedule? Are you ready to put the new starting quarterbacks of Florida or Texas in the title tilt? Do you trust Terrelle Prior to avoid a couple of bad weeks? That's your top five right there along with Boise State.

Let's review the 2009 stat rankings for each of the AP's top ten teams…and the number of returning starters as listed in the summer magazines (injuries or late summer personnel moves may lead to slight alterations in those numbers once the teams actually take the field.).

#1 ALABAMA (54 of 60 first place votes)
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 42nd on offense, 2nd on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 1 on defense

You just can't know for sure what's going to happen on defense for Alabama. You have to assume quality because of the coaching staff, the schematics, and recruiting consistency. But, can you assume superpower status that would be enough to carry the team to the title game for a second straight year? The schedule could turn out to be brutal, or manageable depending on how things shape up in the rest of the SEC. We understand the preseason nod because the Ric Flair mindset has taken over college sports. To be the team, you've got to beat the team…and Alabama is the team that hasn't been beaten yet. Still, the vulnerability is clear with an inexperienced defense.

#2 OHIO STATE (3 first place votes)
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 68 on offense, 5 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 6 on defense

It's easy to get excited about this team because of the way they crushed Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Just remember that the Pac 10 looked awful in most bowls last year…and that Ohio State was far from a superpower most of the season. The offense moves in fits and starts, and has trouble getting distance from quality opposition. They're going to have some good battles in league play. Miami of Florida will present a challenge in a few weeks in Columbus. We're not ready to stick a Big Ten team in the top two just yet ourselves. They certainly showed signs of meaningful improvement in last year's bowls. We're not forgetting how much worse they were than the SEC in national championship play in the middle of the decade.

#3 BOISE STATE (1 first place vote)
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 10 on offense, 14 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense

If Boise State had to play in the SEC, they'd probably be a 7-4 or 8-3 type team. They don't have the horses to play a physically demanding schedule week after week. They definitely have the horses to squash lousy WAC foes and get up for 1-2 really big games each season. That puts them in the mix even if they'd be about 25-40th nationally if there was a way to measure ACTUAL quality as it pertains to ACTUALLY DEALING WITH THE RIGORS of a big time college season. The season opener vs. Virginia Tech will go a long way toward shaping the 2010 BCS picture right off the bat.

#4 FLORIDA
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 6th on offense, 4th on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense

Florida was truly great the past two seasons. They were the defacto #2 last season but had to play Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Now, they lose more than half their defense, half their offense, and the vaunted Tim Tebow. Are they really a top five team? We wouldn't be surprised if Florida rose to the top of the heap with some impressive SEC wins. We wouldn't be surprised if they fell back to earth with a thud now that defenses have figured out much of Urban Meyer's schematic excellence. Anything could happen here.

#5 TEXAS (1 first place vote)
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 29 on offense, 3 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense

Are you ready for Texas to be a "defense first" team that outscores people in physical battles? That's what 2010 is shaping up as, after several years of trying to throw over and amidst defenses…Texas is trending back toward smash mouth football. They'll be breaking in a new quarterback, and several other new offensive players. A friendly schedule will help. Can they beat Oklahoma again with the new faces? Would they survive a Big 12 championship rematch with Nebraska?

#6 TCU
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 7 on offense, 1 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense

If TCU had defeated Boise State in last year's Fiesta Bowl, they might well rank #2 or #3 in this poll. They have a ton of talent back, and their normally favorable schedule. It's not as easy as Boise State's in league play…but it's manageable for a team this good. Wouldn't it be something if Boise State and TCU were #1 and #2 in October, and there was little hope of somebody taking them down before the end of the season? That is a possibility if the challenge teams on each schedule can't make a breakthrough. Go Virginia Tech!

#7 OKLAHOMA
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 23 on offense, 8 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense

The Sooners didn't play up to those stat rankings last year, struggling far too often for a team so talented. They did have a knack for running up the stats in blowout games though, creating the illusion of superpower status. The good news is that the quarterback comes in more experienced than the guys at Texas or Florida, which might be enough to give the Sooners a leg up once everyone's on the field posting results.

#8 NEBRASKA
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 99 on offense, 7 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 6 on defense

Nebraska closed the season well, but we're still talking about a team that lost to Iowa State last year. And, we're still talking about a team that has to figure out how to win big games with a high school schematic on offense and a coach who wants to punt all day. The defense is amazing. We don't want to suggest otherwise. One dimensional teams have trouble in big games…which makes it hard to ask Nebraska to surge to a national championship this year. Playing in the weak Big 12 North will help their cause.

#9 IOWA
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 89 on offense, 10 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Here we have another team that struggles on offense in big games. You can approach championship form with a great defense and a mediocre offense. Can you go the distance? An experienced quarterback will help. Between Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin, SOMEBODY from the Big Ten is going to be in the mix most likely, unless they all drop non-conference games before beating each other up in league play.

#10 VIRGINIA TECH
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 50 on offense, 12 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense

Maybe one reason last year seemed like "the year of defense" in college football is that so many top teams had senior starters. Virginia Tech joins the list of teams needing to rebuild substantially on that side of the ball. A win over Boise State in the opener would help them climb the rankings quickly. From there, anything goes. A loss to Boise State on a "home-neutral" field, and the whole ACC takes a hit in terms of national respect.

The college season officially gets underway a week from Thursday with this schedule:

  • Southern Miss at South Carolina on ESPN
  • Marshall at #2 Ohio State on the Big 10 Network
  • Northern Illinois at Iowa State
  • Pittsburgh at Utah on Versus
  • Southern Cal at Hawaii on ESPN
  • Minnesota at Middle Tennessee on ESPNU (added game)
  • Florida Atlantic at UAB (added game)

Hey USC didn't make the top 10? That's right. They fizzled badly last season, then saw a coaching overhaul in the offseason. Given all the vulnerability in front of them though, the Trojans could well be in the Top 10 very soon.

Back tomorrow to begin a series of NFL articles that will run through dress rehearsal weekend. We'll drop in on the colleges again soon to make sure you're ready for the start of the 2010 campaign. You can sign up for the full season with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK online. Make a few clicks and you're all set for the BLUE RIBBON or CLOSED CIRCUIT clubs. Don't forget that game day releases can also be purchased here at the website a few hours before kickoff.

For more information on NETWORK offerings (see how you can include baseball in any football package!), call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

The race to determine the 2010 college football champion is going to be interesting indeed. The battle to determine the top football handicapper ended long ago. JIM HURLEY STANDS ALONE AT THE TOP OF THE HEAP!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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