11. Virginia Tech- A lot of people might be surprised to see VT this high, but even though they don’t often come away victorious against the best teams they are incredibly consistent and they are definitely a program that finds a way to reload versus rebuild, and that is exactly what they will be doing in lieu of losing Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and Rashad Carmichael to the NFL draft. David Wilson is ready to be the man at RB now that Williams and Evans have departed, and the word explosive might be an understatement for him. He compiled 619 rushing yards (5 TD’s), 234 receiving yards (4 TD’s) and 584 kickoff return yards (2 TD’s) on only 150 touches! That’s over 1,300 total yards on exactly 150 touches, which is pretty impressive especially in a rotational role. He will be the man now though, and Logan Thomas looked very impressive in spring ball from what I heard, and I am excited to watch him play. He looked good to me when I saw him sling the ball a couple times last year, but this will be his first season as a starter. At a listed height and weight of 6’6”, 242 pounds plus mobility he is going to be one to watch I’m sure. VT always has a fast defense and they have a few guys ready to emerge as quality pass rushers this year. J.R. Collins (a sophomore in 2011) had 5 sacks last year and apparently looked very good this spring, and I expect him to emerge as the best pass rusher on the team. Additionally, Chris Drager has shown some ability but I’m not sure whether or not he will start as a senior. And finally, James Gayle (a sophomore in 2011) had 4 sacks in limited playing time last year and should get more snaps as a part of VT’s rotation. VT also has a talented secondary, led by Jayron Hosley, a cornerback with 1st round NFL draft potential. VT is a team to watch this year, as they should contend with Florida State, Miami and hopefully North Carolina to be the top dog in the ACC.
12. Miami- I have been saying for months that I think Miami is going to be very tough this year and now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is. They just have so much talent! It all comes down to quarterback though. I realize this might feel high, especially considering my very low opinion of Jacory Harris, but I can’t imagine that Al Golden will leave him in there too long unless he plays well. So either he plays bad for a few games, gets yanked, and Morris steps in or Harris recovers his sophomore year form and Miami immediately becomes a contender for the ACC title. But outside of QB they have a load of talent. Headlining that group are guys like Lamar Miller, Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd, Blake Ayles (a transfer from USC), Olivier Vernon, Marcus Forston, Adewale Ojomo, Sam Spence, Vaughn Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong, among others. Their defensive line is going to be incredibly scary if they can all mesh together, because I had three or four of their defensive linemen on my list of potential breakout players this year. Vernon, Forston and Ojomo alone should guarantee a good run defense and a FIERCE pass rush, so I am very excited to see how this team does this year. They have a ton of potential, I just hope they live up to it.
13. Michigan State- Michigan State is coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Crimson Tide in their bowl game and I think they will be hungry after barely missing out on the Big-10 Championship (even though they beat the eventual winner, Wisconsin, handing them their only loss before they lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl). They return a ton of talent such as Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and three quality running backs led by Edwin Baker with Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper providing quality touches when Baker is rotated out. They also have a game breaker in Keshawn Martin, a dangerous slot receiver and kick return man, plus B.J. Cunningham is returning. That means they will have two experienced receivers for Cousins to throw to. If their offensive line holds up they should have another very balanced attack that runs the ball effectively which opens up the play action pass, which makes them very tough to stop. On defense they will have a lot of talent up front as they started three sophomores and a freshman last year (headlined by Jerel Worthy and Tyler Hoover), and they have a huge sophomore William Gholston who is ready to step up for some playing time as well. They all have a lot of experience up front and they are young, and I think they will have no problem stuffing the run like they did last year and they should get after the passer as well. Their DL is the strength of their defensive unit, and it should make things easier for their LB’s (I believe they lost all three of their starting LB’s) and their defensive backs. Michigan State is definitely one of my favorites to win the Big-10, right up there with Wisconsin and Nebraska.
14. Nebraska- Nebraska has officially joined the Big-10 (which now has 12 teams) after leaving the Big-12 (which now has 11 teams… I think. Sometimes I can’t keep up). However, their playing style meshes perfectly with the Big-10 as they play great defense, they are physical and they love to run the ball. They are immediately contenders for the Big-10 title, but they aren’t as familiar with the conference as other teams are, so it’s hard for me to anoint them the front-runners for the conference title over teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State, who are both returning a lot of significant talent. Nebraska will be dangerous though, even without Roy Helu and Niles Paul on offense. They also have a good deal of talent on defense, headlined by Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonso Dennard. They will be a fun team to watch this year, especially if Taylor Martinez can figure out how to throw the ball accurately.
15. Boise State- I have Boise State lower then some people do, but I have my reasons. First, they start out their season with a tough game against Georgia. Georgia may not be a powerhouse, but they are consistently competitive and even without a lot of RB help they still have a good quarterback in Aaron Murray, the best TE in the country in Orson Charles, and like all good SEC teams do they recruit well and have some nice incoming talent. With Boise State losing some of their best weapons on offense (Titus Young and Austin Pettis in particular) along with their offensive coordinator (who went to Texas) it isn’t unrealistic to expect them to be in a dog fight (pun intended) with Georgia in week one. But major props to Boise State for scheduling a legitimate out of conference opponent, because most teams don’t have the cojones to do that, especially teams from non-AQ conferences that are out of the title and elite bowl game race with just one loss. If they can get past Georgia, though, they have a shot to make it to the title game if they win out. But every year there is a scare or two, even for teams with as much experience as Boise, but Boise has the talent and they have done this enough times with Kellen Moore at the helm that I think they have a good shot at ending the season with one or no losses. I can’t wait to see the game against Georgia, I really have no idea what way that will go.
Thanks for reading my third installment of the top 25! The top 10 will be unveiled over the next two days, so check in soon!