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Sunday, January 10, 2010

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Alabama should be favored to repeat as national champion in 2010.


Chatelain: College football's top 10 teams of 2010

By Dirk Chatelain

This is not brain surgery. No, picking the 10 best teams of 2010 — nine months before the season opener — is kind of like predicting weather for Memorial Day weekend.

But there are a few ground rules:

• Returning quarterbacks are a big deal. Of the top-10 finishers in 2009, only Alabama didn't have a returning starter at quarterback.

• Defense is critical. And while it's not easy to name the best defenses, it's bad strategy to pick teams with suspect defenses. Of the top 10 defenses in 2009, seven also finished top 10 in the AP poll.

• Don't put too much stock in bowl games. That's the common mistake when college football experts make preseason predictions. Just because Wisconsin tore apart Miami doesn't mean that Wisconsin is trending up and Miami is trending down. The past five years, only 55 percent of teams who finished in the top 10 won their bowl game the previous season.

• Look at schedules, but don't get inundated with them. Often the games that look tough turn out easy, and vice versa. A year ago, how many Nebraska fans penciled in “W” for the Oklahoma game in Lincoln?

OK, enough stalling. Your top 10 for '10:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Defense. Coach Nick Saban is always known for defense. But count on offense to lead Alabama next year. Mark Ingram (right), Trent Richardson and Julio Jones will light up the SEC. Can Saban retool a defense that loses Javier Arenas and Terrence Cody (and probably Rolando McClain)? Knowing Saban, yes. Absolutely. He'll reignite the fire.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

We know that the defense will be really good. We know that the offensive line will make holes. But has quarterback Terrelle Pryor (right), who sparkled in the Rose Bowl, finally turned the corner? Will he be the Heisman candidate he was supposed to be? If so, Ohio State may be the nation's top team. A showdown against Miami (Fla.) at the horseshoe highlights the schedule.

3. Boise State Broncos

Well, the stars are lining up. The Broncos boast credibility after beating TCU. And 21 of 22 starters come back, most notably quarterback Kellen Moore (right). And top-caliber competition awaits in the nonconference: Oregon State and Virginia Tech. The biggest obstacle? The pressure of knowing that a national title is a realistic proposition.

4. Texas Christian Horned Frogs

The Frogs lost the battle of unbeatens at the Fiesta Bowl, but they're not going away. Not with nearly the entire offense returning. TCU loses Jerry Hughes and its two all-conference cornerbacks, but coach Gary Patterson (right) knows defense. And he won't lack motivation. The biggest game of the season: the opener against Oregon State at Cowboys Stadium.

5. Oregon Ducks

You thought that Oregon was hard to stop this year? Wait 'til the Ducks return 10 starters on offense, including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (right) and tailback LaMichael James. If Chip Kelly can strengthen his defense just a little, the Ducks should win the Pac-10 again. But road games at Tennessee, USC, Cal and Oregon State will test them.

6. Virginia Tech Hokies

Ten wins each of the past six years. Don't expect Frank Beamer to go anywhere. The defense needs to reload, but it always does. And with Tyrod Taylor (right) and two potent running backs returning, the Hokies will be dangerous. The big game, and potential game of the year in college football: Boise State in Washington D.C., on Oct. 2.

7. Texas Longhorns

Nobody in the top 10 loses more firepower. Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Lamarr Houston, Sergio Kindle. But Mack Brown is the nation's best recruiter, and he'll develop talent. Garrett Gilbert (right) gained valuable experience against Alabama. If the Longhorns can get past Oklahoma and Nebraska in consecutive outings, they should run the table. Might not happen, but expect Texas to win at least 11.

8. Miami Hurricanes

Randy Shannon is moving the Canes in the right direction. And 2010, after an inconsistent '09, might be his breakout campaign. Jacory Harris (right) returns at quarterback, along with most of the defense. The ACC should be stronger than usual, with as many as four teams in the preseason top 15. But Miami has the capability to be as good as any.

9. Iowa Hawkeyes

Linebackers A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer leave, but the defense may actually improve with Adrian Clayborn wreaking havoc up front. Bryan Bulaga's departure hurts the offensive line, but Ricky Stanzi (right) and Marvin McNutt return. The three critical showdowns — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State — are at home. But can Iowa recapture the poise it took to win so many close games?

10. Florida Gators

Urban Meyer will likely be on the sideline, and stability should help the Gators recover from Tim Tebow's departure. Like Texas, Florida has plenty of talent in the reserve ranks. The defense should be strong, so attention falls on new quarterback John Brantley. He won't have much time to honeymoon. On Oct. 2, the Gators go to Alabama.

Who missed the cut? Nebraska, of course. Just barely. The Huskers haven't cracked the AP top 10 since October 2003. Their next outing that fall, with Bo Pelini calling the defense, they gave up 27 points to Missouri in the fourth quarter.

Seven years later, NU will be better prepared to rub elbows with the nation's elite. But expect Big Red to begin 2010 just outside the top 10. Voters will be eager to see if NU can fill Ndamukong Suh's spot, and if the maligned offense can make necessary strides. We'll learn a little when Nebraska visits Washington Sept. 18. We'll learn a lot when Texas comes to Lincoln Oct. 16.

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