In writing my inaugural series for ITB I poured over plenty of preseason guides and analysis before cutting my list of Conference Champion Dark Horse Candidates to the six teams I selected; Clemson, South Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, UCLA and Georgia. However there were several teams that didn’t make the cut. Here are the 8 teams that were in the running but did not make that final cut.
The Beavers return the bulk of their offense from a season ago; including the dangerous Rodgers brother tandem. They also return quarterback Lyle Moevao, engineer of the 27-21 defeat of Southern Cal as well as Sean Canfield, the starter from 2007. Mike Riley’s offense is almost wholly intact with the exception of Sammie Stroughter, expect to see another potent offensive attack in Corvallis.
Problems emerge for the Beavers when their defense is examined. There are only three starters returning from a unit that was quite strong a season ago; save for the 65 point implosion in the Civil War. Couple Oregon State’s lack of consistency on defense with trips to Los Angeles, Berkley and Eugene and the Beavers have got tough sledding to have a shot at winning the Pac-10.
Last season’s Golden Gophers jumped out to a 7-1 start and a #20 ranking. The last four games saw Tim Brewster’s team wind up the loser including a 55-0 drubbing at the hands of Iowa. This year Minnesota returns 17 starters and year three under Brewster has the potential for promise. Eric Decker is one of the Big Ten’s most lethal weapons and looks to go for his second straight 1,000 yard receiving season. On defense the Gophers bring back a solid unit that won the turn over battle and sacked the quarterback 34 times.
With the return trip to fellow Dark Horse Candidate Iowa looming at season’s end it is the middle of the season that can halt the Gophers dreams. The back to back of Penn State and Ohio State is bad enough; however the Gophers get the added weight of traveling to both of the Big Ten’s front runners. How Brewster’s teams responds will be the most telling sign of how serious the Gophers are as contenders.
Russell Wilson is back for the Pack, a season removed from being the ACC’s hottest new commodity. A quarterback who didn’t turn the ball over and was capable of beating teams with both his arm and his legs. The Wolfpack were virtually unbeatable with Wilson in the lineup, but, keeping the slight of build Wilson in the lineup was a serious problem as he missed a lot of action in 2008.
Toney Baker returns from knee surgery and although the senior hasn’t played since 2007 he should be a difference maker in the backfield. On defense Willie Young and Alan Michael Cash anchor a front seven that is going to be among the leagues most physical units.
The injury bug has bitten the Wolfpack hard in recent years and this season is no different as they’ve lost one of the league’s best linebackers for an undisclosed time period. Nate Irving, an honorable mention All-ACC candidate was injured in a car accident and suffered a broken leg and collapsed lung over the summer. This is a major blow as the linebacker was truly the heart and soul of the defensive unit and replacing his tackles will be possible but his leadership will be a tall task for Tom O’Brien.
The Canes are a very talented team with a ton of depth on both sides of the ball. They’re young but due to Shannon’s emphasis on playing freshman the Miami youth is heavily experienced. Couple the youthful experience on the perimeter with aged experience on the offensive line and new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has got plenty of talent to work with in Coral Gables.
On defense the Canes poached John Lovett from UNC and he looks to return the team to an aggressive “speed kills” defensive mentality. Sean Spence, the reigning ACC Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, will set the tone for a talented starting eleven defenders.
The Cane’s biggest problem will be their division. The Coastal is a bear of a division with VT, GT and UNC all starting the season in the top twenty. Miami has trips to Blacksburg and Chapel Hill that will make the journey to Tampa quite difficult. However, it is the Canes first four games that will likely derail their ACC title dreams. They open up with four ranked opponents; #19 FSU, #15 Georgia Tech, #7 Virginia Tech and #3 Oklahoma.
If the Canes’ psyche can survive this stretch of three conference games and possible beat down by OU they’ve got a shot at reaching the ACC Title game.
It’s hard to imagine that the tenth ranked team in the nation can be thought of as a “Dark Horse” for their conference title but that’s what the Rebels are relegated to. They’re just the fourth highest ranked team in the SEC behind the king of the thing Florida as well as SEC West stalwarts Alabama and LSU. Jevan Snead returns as the Rebels quarterback and with weapons like Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge at his disposal Houston Nutt’s team has a shot at making some noise in the West. On defense the eight starters back will have to build on the success of last season without Peria Jerry their stud defensive tackle.
No Florida on the schedule so the Rebels dodge that obvious regular season bullet. Their biggest roadblock will be a combination of the novelty wearing off and the tape showing flaws. Last season the Rebels came out of nowhere after a 3-4 start including losses to Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
This season the Rebels will not sneak up on teams; they’ve got a bulls eye on their back from the beginning of the season and as more tape of Nutt’s “Wild Rebel” is stockpiled Les Miles, Nick Saban and co will be well prepared to shut down the attack.
A few more candidates in fast break fashion:
Iowa – The Hawkeyes have had a tumultuous year, Kirk Ferentz banned the players from the nightlife and when the ban was lifted several players, including his own son were right back on the police blotter. Replacing Shonn Greene won’t be easy but the Hawkeyes do have enough talent and a shot at unseating Penn State and Ohio State to win a Big 10 title.
Kansas – The Jayhawks have Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe returning to their potent offensive attack while the defense returns seven starters off last seasons 8-5 team. The draw of OU and Texas in the same season has the potential to get ugly but if they can survive the North they’ve got an outside shot at the Big XII showdown in Dallas.
Arizona – Mike Stoops is coming off a ten point win over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl and although the Wildcats lose career passing leader Willie Tuitama they do return plenty of offensive fire power. The defense should be better than a season ago as they are gaining some much needed depth. Finishing with Southern Cal in December is a brutal task but the ‘Cats can build up a head of steam heading into the last month of the season.