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Jockeying for position

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the season just over a month away and the preseason polls about to hit the streets, here is our look at what very well may be the best 10 teams in college football.

10. TCU - Right off the bat, we throw a little curveball with the selection of the Horned Frogs. Defense wins games, and TCU has plenty of that. The team will go toe-to-toe with the other two big boys in the Mountain West (BYU and Utah) and should come out of the fray as this year's BCS buster. Both lines are terrific, including a defensive front highlighted by the nation's scariest pass rusher in Jerry Hughes. Keeping the defense fresh will be the key and QB Andy Dalton, RB Joseph Turner and company know how to do just that, as the team led the nation in time of possession a year ago (over 35 minutes per game).

9. OREGON - Sure, the Ducks are under new leadership, as Mike Bellotti has moved upstairs (AD) and has been replaced by former offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. However, little should change in Eugene, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Oregon now has an experienced QB at the helm in Jeremiah Masoli, who was a surprising 10-game starter a year ago. Another JUCO gem returns in the form of tailback LeGarrette Blount, who set an OU record last year for rushing TDs with 17. If the defense can play up to par, the Ducks could be a staple in the top-10 all season long and could bring USC's reign of terror in the Pac-10 to an end.

8. OLE MISS - Houston Nutt has a team that will cause some problems in the SEC again this year. The Rebels, if you recall, were the only team to take down the national champion Gators. The team loses a pair of talented interior performers in OT Mike Oher and DT Peria Jerry, but there is plenty left in the cupboard, including standout rush end Greg Hardy. Getting the ground game going will be instrumental in taking the pressure off QB Jevan Snead and help maximize his potential as one of the SEC's top passers.

7. OHIO STATE - There aren't a whole lot of returning starters on either side of the ball, but that shouldn't prevent another run at the Big Ten crown and subsequent BCS Bowl bid. With budding superstar Terrelle Pryor under center, Ohio State should be in every game. The one player outside of Pryor on offense to keep an eye on is sophomore tailback Daniel Herron, who could emerge as one of the conference's top backs. The week two matchup with USC is one of the most highly anticipated games of the year, considering the way the Trojans handled the Buckeyes last season. A win in Columbus over USC, and one later in the year at Happy Valley, will be more than enough to keep the Buckeyes in the national spotlight.

6. VIRGINIA TECH - Defense has never been a question mark in Blacksburg, and this year is no different. The Hokies return eight starters on that side of the football, including talented defensive end Jason Worilds and star safety Kam Chancellor. The defense will do its part and if QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Darren Evans and company can move the ball more consistently, Tech could be a top- five program. The season-opener against Alabama will speak volumes about this team and what it is made of.

5. OKLAHOMA STATE - If the Cowboys were in any other conference, they would be vying for a league title. However, the Big 12 slate is murderous and it will be awfully hard for OSU to be anything better than the third-best team in the league. Still, this is a squad that will score with anyone in the country. Zac Robinson (QB), Kendall Hunter (RB) and Dez Bryant (WR) are as good as it gets at their respective positions. Scoring points won't be a problem. How well the Cowboys can prevent the opposition from doing the same will tell the tale.

4. USC - This is supposed to be a down year for the Trojans. The defense has been gutted (just three returning starters) and the keys to the sports car have been given to sophomore QB Aaron Corp. Still, there is a revolving door in terms of talent at USC and you know that Pete Carroll has a plan in place to remain among the nation's elite. The ground game could be taken to a new level this year with an overloaded stable of runners and the defense, while limited in terms of starting talent, does return one of the nation's premiere performers in All-American safety Taylor Mays. Road trips to Columbus and South Bend will show a lot in terms of this team's mettle, and it would surprise absolutely no one if the Trojans come out with victories in both.

3. OKLAHOMA - Heisman winner Sam Bradford was a lock as a top-10 pick in the most recent NFL draft, but his decision to return to Norman has the Sooner faithful and Bob Stoops smiling from ear to ear. The offense as a whole returns just five starters, but those include Bradford under center, DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown behind him in the backfield and Jermaine Gresham as the ultimate relief valve downfield. The Sooners may not average 60 points per game as they did over the last half of 2008, but they won't need to if the defense can deliver. One of the best defensive lines in the country resides in Norman, and should be able to make things difficult for opposing offenses.

2. TEXAS - If anyone else in the Big 12 is to claim the Heisman this year, the consensus is it will be Colt McCoy. The veteran gunslinger is poised for another tremendous season in Austin, and once again has plenty of weapons at his disposal including standout WR Jordan Shipley. The Longhorn defense takes a hit with the departure of All-American end Brian Orakpo, but talented LB Sergio Kindle will move up to fill the void, terrorizing QBs from the end position. McCoy's command of the huddle is what will define the Longhorn season, along with the October 17th showdown with Sam Bradford and the Sooners.

1. FLORIDA - The Gators have won two of the last three national titles, and with All-World QB Tim Tebow back for yet another season, is there any reason to think they won't win a third? This is a team with very few weaknesses. Florida has unproven talent at both RB and WR, but someone will emerge as Tebow's partner-in-crime. The defense was as good as any in the country last year and returns all 11 starters, including All-Americans Brandon Spikes (LB), Carlos Dunlap (DE) and Ahmad Black (S). That thought has to have other SEC offensive coordinators losing sleep.

JUST MISSING THE CUT: Alabama, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Penn State, LSU.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes

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