Top 25 countdown

Top 25 countdown

Top 25 countdown: No. 25 BYU
Randy Holtz
For Sporting News

Few teams that finished last season in the top 25 have as much to replace as the Cougars, but don't be surprised if BYU has another fine season. Bronco Mendenhall practically has BYU back to yearly reloading rather than rebuilding.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
BYU's scarily efficient short passing game is predicated on excellent blocking, skill people with burst, a complementary rushing game and a heady quarterback.

OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL
The team has to replace four starting skill players, but the line could be among the best in school history. Max Hall, an inexperienced transfer from Arizona State, will try to add his name to the school's remarkable quarterbacks legacy. The coaches believe Hall's intelligence and savvy will get him through the pressure. The leading candidate to replace Curtis Brown, BYU's career rushing leader, is fan favorite Fui Vakapuna, who had 92 carries for 445 yards last season. Hall's targets will include 2004 star wideout Austin Collie, who is coming off a church mission. Capably replacing second-leading receiver Jonny Harline will be key to the offense. Dennis Pitta, an inexperienced but big pass-catching target, is the likely candidate. The line lost one starter, but there are as many as 13 players who are ready to compete for playing time.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
BYU's aggressive 3-4 defense is keyed by its athletic and deep linebackers, and it thrives on forcing turnovers.

DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL

Seven starters return to a unit that ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense. David Nixon and Bryan Kehl are active, experienced outside linebackers, and Nixon is healthy after toughing through most of last season with a groin injury. Kelly Poppinga, who filled in at both outside spots last fall, will be in the middle. BYU is less experienced along the line and will depend on emerging talents Jan Jorgensen, Ian Dulan and Russell Tialavea. Free safety Quinn Gooch is an all- American candidate, and strong safety Dustin Gabriel also returns. At cornerback, Ben Criddle was one of BYU's most pleasant surprises last year and appears poised for a nice senior season. Kayle Buchanan, Brandon Bradley and Brandon Howard will compete to replace Justin Robinson at the other corner.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Jared McLaughlin and punter Derek McLaughlin are gone, and the Cougars are keeping their fingers crossed Mitch Payne can get the job done at both positions. Brown will be difficult to replace as a kick returner.

COACHING STAFF
Only offensive line coach Mark Weber, a veteran line guru, is new. Mendenhall is big on staff togetherness, and it's hard to argue with the results.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 24 Southern Miss
Michael Murphy
For Sporting News

Southern Miss should be the class of the East Division of Conference USA because of its solid offense and deep, talented defense. The non-conference schedule has tough trips to Tennessee and Boise State, but the conference slate is navigable. A 10-victory season is not out of the question.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Jeff Bower, using a multiple set, will try to ram the ball down opponents' throats with exceptional back Damion Fletcher eating up most of the ground. The Golden Eagles can throw when they have to, but they much prefer controlling the clock with their running game.

OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL
It all starts with Fletcher, the elusive sophomore who ran for 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Fletcher runs behind fullback Marcus Raines, a converted linebacker who also clears running room for backup Tory Harrison. Inconsistent Jeremy Young returns at quarterback and needs only to pass often enough to divert attention away from Fletcher. Tight end Shawn Nelson is the top playmaker among receivers, though Chris Johnson has potential. Opening holes for Fletcher could be problematic. The Golden Eagles lose three starters off a line that will rebuild around two strong tackles, Chris Clark and Ryan McKee. Rick Thompson is projected to start at center.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Golden Eagles employ a 4-3 built around speed. Southern Miss surrendered only 18.6 points and 308 yards per game last season, numbers that should be mirrored this year.

DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL
The conference's deepest linebacker unit returns intact with Gerald McRath, Tokumbo Abanikanda and James Denley wreaking havoc behind an equally fortified front wall that features tackles Martavius Prince and Sean Merrill and end Robert Henderson. The weakness figures to be on the corners, where Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee are promising but inexperienced. Not so with LeVance Richmond and Brandon Sumrall, who form one of the most explosive safety duos in the conference.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The job of replacing Darren McCaleb, the school's all-time field goal, extra points and scoring leader, could go to Britt Barefoot, who also will handle punting for a second straight year. Look for Sumrall or Ralph Turner to return kickoffs though a new punt return man must be found.

COACHING STAFF
Bower, who has strung together 13 straight winning seasons and taken the Golden Eagles to bowls in nine of the last 10 years, had to patch up the staff when running backs coach Derrick Nix took a job with the Atlanta Falcons. Courtney Messingham moved into that vacancy, and Mike Grant was hired from Iowa State to replace Messingham as receivers coach.

SN PROJECTION: 1st in C-USA East, 9-3, Liberty Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 23 Nebraska
Tom Shatel
For Sporting News

It took Bill Callahan three seasons to get the Huskers back into the Big 12 championship game. The next step is winning the school's first league title since 1999 and returning to a BCS bowl. The task won't be easy; there are important lineup spots to fill and the schedule includes Wake Forest, USC, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Missouri.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Huskers got back to running the ball with authority last season. With an improving line and two capable backs, Callahan can stay with that approach. New coordinator Shawn Watson was elevated from tight ends coach to replace Jay Norvell (UCLA), but Callahan will continue to call the plays.


SKILL POSITIONS
All eyes are on Arizona State transfer Sam Keller, who was a Heisman candidate with the Sun Devils. He's 6-4, 230 pounds and has an NFL arm. He also is a fifth-year player, so he brings savvy to the position. Keller can make every kind of throw and, unlike Zac Taylor -- the Big 12 offensive player of the year last season -- is mobile enough to make plays outside the pocket. Running back Marlon Lucky is a multipurpose threat who can make people miss, but can his body take every-down pounding? If Cody Glenn can shake a nagging foot injury, his power could give the Huskers a tough 1-2 punch. Maurice Purify made a splash as a physical big-play receiver last year, but he has been suspended indefinitely. He, Terrence Nunn and Todd Peterson all can run, catch and score. Look for Will Henry to join that group. Tight ends J.B. Phillips, Josh Mueller and Hunter Teafatiller are solid, but they're primarily blockers, and they don't approach the receiving level of predecessor Matt Herian.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Nebraska finally might have a dominant line again. The revolving door at left tackle stopped last season with the emergence of Carl Nicks, an all-league candidate. Matt Slauson should dominate at right guard. He's a mauler. Center Brett Byford and right guards Mike Huff and Andy Christensen fill the middle. Right tackle could be a weakness; Lydon Murtha is battling redshirt freshmen D.J. Jones and Keith Williams.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
With an improved backfield and veteran linebackers, will coordinator Kevin Cosgrove take more chances this season? He has blitzed and laid back in his time with the Huskers, and he can be unpredictable: He used a safety at linebacker to spy Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel last season, then didn't show that alignment again.

Big 12 schedule strength: 2nd

The Series: (Texas 4-7)
The Longhorns have had a ruinous impact on Nebraska a few times. Remember 1996? How about 1999? It could happen again if the Huskers' rebuilt defensive front hasn't developed.

The Showdown: at Missouri
Let's call this a de facto Big 12 North title game. The Tigers' offense will stretch the Huskers every direction. Nebraska has lost its last two times in Columbia.
The Smack: Sticker shock
There's Wake Forest, USC and Texas. Don't forget about Texas A&M. Nix those national title dreams and focus on winning the Big 12. That means going 4-0 in league play at home and splitting on the road. It's possible and should be enough to win the North.

FRONT SEVEN
Last year's front four is gone, but the replacements offer promise. End Barry Turner is a potential allleague candidate. He has a great burst and a quick first step. He also is very powerful. The coaches are confident tackles Ndamukong Suh (19 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Ty Steinkuhler, the son of former Huskers guard Dean Steinkuhler, will be forces. Like his father, Ty is athletic and powerful. The other end, Zach Potter, is a question mark. He hasn't shown a lot of progress and has been limited mainly to special teams. The starting linebackers -- Bo Ruud, Corey McKeon and Steve Octavien -- are among the Big 12's best. They're fast and experienced. Ruud is moving from weak side to strong side to make room for Octavien, a big hitter who also can cover backs and receivers. Behind them are Lance Brandenburgh and Phillip Dillard, who showed great promise before a season-ending knee injury in last year's opener.

SECONDARY
This unit could become settled in a hurry if Zackary Bowman and Larry Asante can deliver. Bowman was a shutdown corner in 2005 but had his senior year derailed with an ACL injury on the first day of fall practice last August. A return to form by Bowman can make life easier for Cortney Grixby, who was a target last season. Asante is expected to bring a hard-hitting attitude to strong safety. Tierre Green moves to free safety, where his speed can be better utilized.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Huskers might have to depend on true freshman Adi Kunalic to kick field goals. Nebraska hasn't returned a kick for a touchdown under Callahan. The staff is hopeful Marcus Mendoza, a speedy freshman running back, can change that.

COACHING STAFF
For a group that was put together in a hurry four years ago, Callahan's staff has been stable and solid. In the offseason, Joe Rudolph was hired to handle Watson's tight end duties, and Buddy Wyatt replaced John Blake (North Carolina) as defensive line coach.

SN PREDICTION: 1st in Big 12 North, 9-3, Holiday Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 22 Boise State
July 17, 2007

The Broncos enter 2007 after a classic nowhere-to-go-but-down moment: They beat Oklahoma in an unforgettable Fiesta Bowl to finish No. 5 in the final AP poll. But a powerful running game and a home-heavy schedule could put them right back into the BCS picture. The Broncos play only one '06 bowl team on the road -- the season finale at Hawaii.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY

The offense is like a goody bag -- you never know what you'll get, but it's usually a treat. The Broncos use numerous formations, from five wide receivers to four tight ends, and are known for their creativity.

OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL
One starter returns at an offensive skill position: tailback Ian Johnson, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. At quarterback, Taylor Tharp and Bush Hamdan led a four-way spring battle that might not be resolved until August. Vinny Perretta, a multi-position threat, and Jeremy Childs will be asked to step up with the loss of three NFL-bound wideouts, and Ryan Putnam tops a deep rotation at tight end. The line, already the best in school history, should improve with four returning starters. The star is left tackle Ryan Clady, who is a top NFL prospect. Center Jeff Cavender and left guard Tad Miller both have started 38 straight games. Andrew Woodruff can play either guard or tackle.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Broncos tweaked their scheme last year under first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox. They switched from man-heavy to zone-heavy coverage, which confused quarterbacks and allowed them to retain their stuff-the-run priority.

DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL

Kyle Gingg and David Shields, who shared the weakside linebacker job last year, will start at the two outside spots in '07 with freshman Derrell Acrey expected to fill Korey Hall's big shoes in the middle. Nick Schlekeway, a grinder, and Mike T. Williams, a dynamic pass rusher, form a nice duo at end, but tackles Joe Bozikovich and Phillip Edwards will need to fill a major void. Cornerback Kyle Wilson, whose emergence late last year boosted the defense from stingy to dominant, again will pair with third-year starter Orlando Scandrick. Look for safety Marty Tadman, who has 12 career interceptions, to be joined by freshman Jason Robinson.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Freshman Kyle Brotzman could win the punting and kicking jobs. The Broncos are traditionally sound on special teams, though they were mistake prone last year.

COACHING STAFF

Coach Chris Petersen begins his second season after losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler to the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Scott Huff will switch from tight ends to the offensive line, and Chris Strausser returns to Boise State to coach tight ends.

SN PREDICTION: 1st in WAC, 10-2, MPC Computers Bowl.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 21 South Florida
July 18, 2007

Conventional wisdom suggests three teams, Rutgers, West Virginia and Louisville, will compete for the Big East title. That's probably true, but anyone who limits the discussion to that trio has not been paying attention. South Florida steadily has improved and suddenly is primed to join the conference elite. South Florida has a rising star in quarterback Matt Grothe, 16 of 22 starters returning and, as usual, a stingy defense built on speed and athleticism. The Bulls, who are coming off a 9-4 season, make an early trip to Auburn that will provide a gauge of their title-contending readiness. Two years ago, the Bulls beat Louisville; last year they beat West Virginia. If the Bulls can beat them both in one season, they -- and not one of the big three -- could be headed to a BCS game.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY

South Florida is a no-huddle, spread formation team that tries to create mismatches by getting its fast and athletic players into open spaces. The Bulls' skill positions are filled with playmakers and game-breaking athletes.

SKILL POSITIONS
The offense will revolve around Grothe, a sophomore who threw for 2,576 yards and completed 63.7 percent of his passes to win conference newcomer of the year honors last season. He also led the Bulls in rushing with 622 yards on 178 carries and ran for nine touchdowns. He must improve his decision-making; last year he threw 14 interceptions, one fewer than his TD-pass total. With the quarterback job secure and the arrival of former prep superstar Mike Ford to give a lift to a struggling running game, this offense could be downright scary. Benjamin Williams, last year's starting tailback, also returns and the Bulls have three of their four leading receivers back, including 6-5 Amarri Jackson, who averaged 15.1 yards per catch.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Bulls aren't dominant up front, but they are mobile and savvy. Center Nick Capogna, who was named the team's offensive lineman of the year by coaches, is the leader of the group and could merit postseason honors. So, too, could tackles Marc Dile and Walter Walker. Dile is versatile enough to play both tackle spots. Left guard Matt Huners, who also is capable of stepping in at guard, is a question mark after suffering a spring knee injury. If Huners is not available, Jake Griffin will take over for him opposite Ryan Schmidt.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Bulls play a basic 4-3 and rely on speed and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. South Florida generally does not have great size, but the Bulls always are fast and quick enough to bring pressure. Their ends are capable of creating havoc in the backfield.

The Series: UCF (0-2)
It's this simple: These Interstate 4 rivals don't like each other. And it's a great matchup when astute coaches Jim Leavitt and UCF's George O'Leary match wits.

The Showdown: vs. West Virginia
If this really is the Bulls' season, they need to slay the Mountaineers at home. USF likely will have to outscore West Virginia to win. Don't think it can't happen.

The Smack: Think big.
The early game at Auburn screams "opportunity." Win there, and the possibilities for a magical season blossom. Also in USF's favor is the fact West Virginia and Louisville both come to Tampa. That means there's only one scary Big East road game: at Rutgers.

FRONT SEVEN
Three starters return to a line that features Woody George, Aaron Harris and George Selvie. Jarriett Buie also is one to watch. Selvie (84 tackles) and multitalented end/linebacker Chris Robinson (seven sacks) made big impacts as redshirt freshmen last season and figure only to get better. Standout middle linebacker Ben Moffitt, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, returns and should be flanked by either Robinson and Iowa State transfer Tyrone McKenzie or McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier, depending on how Robinson is used. No matter how they line up, this will be a formidable unit.

SECONDARY
Speed and athleticism; the mantra continues. The Bulls have the best cornerback duo in the conference in seniors Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins. Williams is an outstanding cover corner, a physical run-support guy and a ballhawk who made seven interceptions last season. Jenkins is faster, bigger and capable of playing safety. Both are being billed as All-American candidates. Carlton Williams is big, strong and experienced and should pair with Danny Verpaele at the safety positions.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Delbert Alvarado has a big leg -- he kicked a Big East-record 56-yard field goal against Syracuse -- but struggled with consistency as a freshman last season. Alvarado, who was 5-for-9 on field-goal attempts, also will compete with rugby-style punter Justin Teachey for that job. Taurus Johnson is dangerous on kickoff returns.

COACHING STAFF
Jim Leavitt had to do some reshuffling of his staff after losing four assistant coaches, including two to conference rival West Virginia. Greg Gregory was promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. He'll have some help, as Leavitt hired former South Florida offensive coordinator Mike Canales as passing game coordinator/receivers coach. USF scored big by landing former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney as assistant head coach/defensive line.

SN PROJECTION: 4th in Big East, 8-4, Meineke Car Care Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 20 TCU
July 19, 2007

Gary Patterson has built the Horned Frogs for the long haul, and it's a shock a more prestigious program hasn't swooped in and stolen him by now. Athletic, driven and experienced, the Horned Frogs are the favorite to win the conference title and might be strong enough to wind up in a BCS bowl. All eyes will be on an early September game against Texas.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Frogs like to run and have the horses to do it. They're also good at sprinkling in the occasional down-the-field pass. The balance makes them tough to stop consistently.

OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL
Jeff Ballard (.905 career winning percentage) had a wonderful run as the Frogs' reliable quarterback, but he's gone. Marcus Jackson and redshirt freshman Andy Dalton are battling to win the job. Jackson has more experience, but Dalton was the more decorated high school player. Aaron Brown again should be the Horned Frogs' lead running back after averaging 5.2 yards per carry last fall. Donald Massey is the best of a fine group of pass-catchers. TCU usually has a salty group of guys up front, and this year should be no different. Three starters return: center Blake Schlueter, guard Matty Lindner and tackle Wade Sisk. Much will depend on the play of two new starters.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Coordinator Dick Bumpas, one of the best in the business, uses a hyperactive, all-to-the-ball, 4-2-5 scheme that usually stymies and confuses opposing offenses.

DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL
Only two starters were lost from a defense that finished second in the nation in both rushing defense and total defense. Conference quarterbacks have been seeing end Tommy Blake in their nightmares seemingly for forever, and the quick 252- pounder is poised for another stellar season as a senior. End Chase Ortiz also is coming off an all-Mountain West season. There's more: Both starting linebackers return, including playmaker Jason Phillips. Four of the five secondary starters return. Bumpas' three-safety attack will be led by Brian Bonner and David Roach. Cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders return after excellent seasons as redshirt freshmen.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Chris Manfredini is a remarkable 25-of-27 on field goals in his two years at TCU. Bonner could be the best punt returner in the conference. Derek Wash and David Porter will fight for the punting job.

COACHING STAFF
With Patterson and Bumpas leading the way, TCU is one of the most well-coached teams in the Mountain West, if not the nation. The Horned Frogs come to play every Saturday and seldom beat themselves with mistakes.

SN PROJECTION:
1st in Mountain West, 10-2, Armed Forced Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 19 Rutgers
July 20, 2007

Don't expect Rutgers to be a one-year wonder. With 14 starters returning -- including three players who received All-American honors -- and the addition of an excellent recruiting class, there is no reason the Scarlet Knights won't be in the mix for the Big East championship that eluded them last year. A schedule that features eight home games -- including the first five of the season -- will help. Rutgers must play at Louisville to close out the season, but its other three road trips -- Syracuse, UConn and Army -- aren't heavy lifting. Matching last year's 11 wins will be difficult, but the Scarlet Knights will be a solid Top 20 team and play in a decent bowl.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Scarlet Knights have a blue-collar attitude, and it is evident in their offense. They run a pro set, but it is predicated on a power-rushing attack. They are willing to pound and grind out yards the old-fashioned way.

SKILL POSITIONS
Running back Ray Rice was part of the Heisman Trophy talk last season and is a legitimate candidate for the award again this season. Rice possesses a great combination of power and speed -- he can run over you or around you. Rice also makes the most of his numerous opportunities to carry the ball -- he had a Division I-A-leading 335 attempts last season, rushed for 1,794 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. A big part of Rice's success last year is gone -- All-American fullback Brian Leonard was a terrific lead blocker and ran some at tailback when Rice needed a rest. Finding one or more players to fill that role is critical. The staff is excited about Jack Corcoran's development, and incoming freshman Mason Robinson might be a factor. Because the team runs the ball so well, quarterback Mike Teel isn't asked to do much more than manage the game, but he has developed into a reliable and efficient passer. Kenny Britt, Tim Brown and Tiquan Underwood comprise a talented and deep stable of receivers. There is a wide-open race after the graduation of three-time All-Big East tight end Clark Harris. Kevin Brock is the only tight end with experience in the system. He is competing with Michigan State transfer Craig McGovern and two redshirt freshmen for the job.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Three starters return to a unit that allowed only eight sacks -- best in the nation -- last season and should be among the best in the league this year. Two of those three, tackles Pedro Sosa and Jeremy Zuttah, were All-Big East performers. The team won't name a starting center or right guard until the fall. Ryan Blaszczyk and Mike Gilmartin will get long looks.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The base defense is a 4-3, but Rutgers gives plenty of different looks -- all of which are designed to disguise a seemingly endless stream of pressure and blitz packages. The team always is on the attack, and its defense is loaded with speed and athleticism.

FRONT SEVEN
Tackle Eric Foster, a first-team All-American last season, is a disruptive force in the middle and the unit's emotional leader. He had 51 tackles and six sacks last season. Also returning is end Jamaal Westerman, who tied for the team lead with eight sacks. The team will ask end George Johnson and tackle Pete Tverdov to take on larger roles to replace tackle Ramel Meekins and end William Beckford. Brandon Renkart is the lone starting linebacker returning, but Greg Schiano has recruited talented linebackers, and there are plenty of young players ready to step in and play.

SECONDARY
Safeties Courtney Greene and Ron Girault are the best duo in the league and the backbone of the defense. Both were all-conference performers last year, and Greene is a Jim Thorpe award candidate. There is depth at the position, too. Starting cornerback Jason McCourty is back, and several experienced players, including McCourty's twin brother Devin, will compete for the other corner spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Jeremy Ito is coming off a season in which he scored 107 points to become the school's career scoring leader. The team must replace all-Big East punter Joe Radigan and speedy return man Willie Foster. Three players will vie for the punting duties through the fall, and the team will look to a trio of experienced players to handle returns.

COACHING STAFF
Continuity among Schiano's staff has been a key to the Scarlet Knights' revival. Schiano kept his staff intact again for this season but made minor adjustments to the duties of some assistants.

SN PROJECTION: 3rd in Big East, 9-3, Gator Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 18 Tennessee
July 23, 2007

Big Orange country has its share of impatient fans who are quick to point out that Phillip Fulmer hasn't won an SEC title since 1998. That streak has little chance of ending in 2007 unless playmakers emerge at receiver and on the defensive line. There are many challenges but perhaps none bigger than surviving September. The Vols open at California and two weeks later are at Florida.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Vols seek balance in a scheme that has remained basically unchanged since the early 1980s. But the failure to run the ball with authority the past several years has put undue emphasis on the passing game. Tennessee hit a low by rushing for only 108 yards per game last year. The fullback position essentially has been abandoned in favor of a tight end/H-Back alignment. The Vols might be more serious about going no-huddle in some situations; they devoted a decent amount of time to it during the spring.

SKILL POSITIONS
Erik Ainge can be as good as any quarterback in the SEC. His arm is terrific and his confidence was restored by the return of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe last year. Ainge missed most of the spring after surgery on his right knee, but he is expected to be fine. The bad news is that his top three receivers are gone and their replacements do not inspire accolades. Lucas Taylor, Quintin Hancock and Austin Rogers will have to fend off touted newcomers Kenny O'Neal, Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige. Which means this could be a banner year for the tight ends -- reliable Chris Brown and bookend 6-8 brothers Brad and Jeff Cottam. The running game should be a strength. LaMarcus Coker, Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty are competing to get the most carries, and each has produced at times. Coker (6.4 yards per carry) is the one who can go the distance.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Line play has been disappointing for several years, and the loss of star tackle Arron Sears only complicates matters. Josh McNeil, who started as a redshirt freshman at center, could be a future star when he gets stronger. Eric Young figures to start at right tackle or replace Sears on the left side. The other jobs will be decided among Jacques McClendon, Chris Scott, Ramon Foster, Ramone Johnson, Anthony Parker and Vladimir Richard. That's the group Fulmer hopes can return some muscle to a stagnant running game.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Tennessee has played a 4-3 for the past two decades, but coordinator John Chavis looked at a 3-4 in the spring, which speaks to concerns about the lack of quality tackles. Whether the Vols actually use the 3-4 could depend on development of the tackles, but there's plenty of depth and quality at linebacker if they choose to do so.

FRONT SEVEN
Linebackers Jerod Mayo, Rico McCoy and Ryan Karl form the backbone of the defense, and Ellix Wilson could start in a 3-4 alignment. Mayo has all-conference skills and will play inside. McCoy, a future star, and the hard-nosed Karl flank Mayo on the outside. Up front is where the Vols have to get better -- they recorded only 17 sacks last year. Xavier Mitchell is a top-shelf end, but the other end figures to be Antonio Reynolds or Robert Ayers, and neither is a difference-maker. Demonte' Bolden has yet to fulfill his vast promise at tackle, and J.T. Mapu, who wasn't much of a factor last season after a two-year Mormon mission, hopes to return to form. Several true freshman tackles have a chance to avoid redshirts.

SECONDARY
Jonathan Hefney, an all-conference performer last season at free safety, also can play corner. Too bad he can't play both positions at once because the Vols have to replace three other starters. Marsalous Johnson had a strong spring to win one of the corner spots. Safety Jarod Parrish and corner Antonio Gaines also have a chance to win starting jobs. Don't count out true freshman corners Eric Berry and Art Evans or junior college transfer DeAngelo Willingham. This unit could be a strength in time.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The legacy lives on with Britton Colquitt, who follows dad Craig, cousin Jimmy and brother Dustin as great Tennessee punters. Britton has a special leg and improved his average to 44.9 yards last year as a sophomore. Coaches hope he won't have to wear his leg out by adding kicking duties. James Wilhoit is gone, and redshirt freshman Daniel Lincoln has yet to inspire confidence. Hefney is an excellent punt return threat, but don't expect much out of a kickoff return unit that has been dormant for years.

COACHING STAFF
After making changes a year ago, the Vols stood pat for 2007. Fulmer's career numbers are impressive, but fans are becoming increasingly disenchanted with recent results. An eight- or nine-win season would only fuel talk about a coaching change.

SN projection: 3rd in SEC East, 9-3, Cotton Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 17 Ohio State
July 24, 2007

No one denies there's enough talent to win the Big Ten. But is there enough leadership? Probably not, especially on an offense that has been gutted. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith is gone, as are running back Antonio Pittman, receivers Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez and two linemen. Don't expect a return to the BCS title game, even though the schedule is forgiving and the defense is loaded. A mid-level bowl seems more likely for a program that will suffer a brief hiccup.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
With a new quarterback, coordinator Jim Bollman figures to rein in the attack and rebuild it around the running game. The Buckeyes still need to take play-action shots downfield to keep defenses honest.

SKILL POSITIONS
Who's the quarterback? That's the million-dollar question in Columbus. Todd Boeckman and Rob Schoenhoft will continue to battle in camp. Both are big, strong-armed and traditional. Also in the mix is Antonio Henton, the only candidate who might be able to match Smith's knack for improvisation. But he's also the youngest competitor and the longest shot. If Boeckman or Schoenhoft wins the job, it figures that the offense will have to scale back some of its spread-option principles. Attrition also has hit the receiving corps hard. There's talent, but it's mostly unproven. Veterans Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are rangy, try-hard guys with underrated athletic ability. Speedy Ray Small could be a difference-maker in the mold of Ginn. Newcomers will get a chance to impact the unit.

Now would be a good time for running back Chris Wells to show off the strength and speed that made him a prized recruit. Wells, who must be over fumbling woes and show durability, should get help from speedy Maurice Wells.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Mammoth right tackle Kirk Barton is the cornerstone of the offense's most experienced unit. Pencil him in for all-conference honors. Left tackle Alex Boone is even bigger -- and maybe even better -- than Barton. With the flanks fortified, the interior has to replace the center and right guard. Insiders say Jim Cordle could develop into a special center.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Veteran coordinator Jim Heacock doesn't gamble much, relying instead on his team's outstanding athleticism to make plays. But Heacock will show a variety of coverages and blitz schemes that keep quarterbacks guessing without compromising what should be the conference's best defense.

FRONT SEVEN
All eyes will focus on a retooled line. Vernon Gholston provides an answer at one end spot. He's a monster playmaker who can be unblockable at times. Lawrence Wilson must show he can be a capable bookend. Tackle is the area of concern. Heacock is hoping 6-7 Doug Worthington can fill the role of run-stuffer and anchor the middle so that an active and athletic linebacking corps can operate with abandon. Middle man James Laurinaitis is the unquestioned leader of a big-play unit that also includes Marcus Freeman on the weak side and Larry Grant on the strong side.

SECONDARY
This unit will be built around cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who has the size, speed and experience to rank among the best at his position nationally. The other corner slot is up for grabs. Donald Washington has limitations. Auditions also are being conducted at free safety. Nick Patterson could be that guy but not without being pushed. Jamario O'Neal, the strong safety, needs to mature and take fewer risks for a secondary that's seeking stability. Anderson Russell, who must show he's over a knee injury, also could fit into the picture.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The coaches, who will miss Ginn's game-breaking return skills, will sort through a list of speedy options well into August. The kicking game should be strong. A.J. Trapasso ranks among the Big Ten's best punters, and kicker Aaron Pettrey displayed consistency -- and plenty of oomph -- in his debut last season.

COACHING STAFF
Jim Tressel, the unquestioned king of Big Ten coaches, also is the school's most beloved coach since Woody Hayes. That's because of his knack for turning huge expectations into huge results. Tressel's accomplishments have come amid staff turnover, a product of success. This year, he hired Taver Johnson to replace cornerbacks coach Tim Beckman, who became defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. The newest rising star on this staff is linebackers coach Luke Fickell.

SN prediction: 4th in Big Ten, 9-3, Outback Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 16 Auburn

No team in the SEC has been more difficult to figure out. The Tigers have as much talent as anyone but are hit and miss in big games. And two very big ones -- at Florida and at LSU -- will dictate their season.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Injuries and ineffective play by receivers limited Auburn's offense the past two seasons. Coordinator Al Borges wants strong, bruising runners to set up a downfield passing game. Circumstances, however, have forced the Tigers to use more of a West Coast, short-passing attack.

SKILL POSITIONS
The top priority this fall is to rebuild quarterback Brandon Cox's confidence. He took a beating last season when an experienced line couldn't pass protect and a shaky receiving corps couldn't get open. Not surprisingly, his performance regressed. Rodgeriqus Smith and Montez Billings are legitimate threats and the team's most consistent receivers. But Robert Dunn and redshirt freshmen Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachery have the most talent of the group. As long as Cox has confidence in his protection and gets time to throw, the receivers will perform at a high level. The passing game, however, isn't what drives this offense. The Tigers want to get physical and use as many as four tailbacks. Brad Lester, who shared time last season, is this year's starter. Ben Tate and Mario Fannin are bigger, faster and harder runners, but they're shaky in pass protection. Tight ends Cole Bennett and Tommy Trott are solid receivers who allow Borges to stretch the middle of the field.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Four starters are gone, and the hope is that their replacements will bring more athleticism. Tackle King Dunlap has the size and wingspan to dominate in pass blocking but still has problems against quick rush ends. The four others have six combined career starts -- undersized Andrew McCain, a former tight end and defensive tackle, guards Tyronne Green and Leon Hart and center Jason Bosley, who could be challenged in the fall by more physical redshirt freshman Mike Berry. No matter the starting five, this number must be decreased: 35 -- the sack total given up last year.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Coordinator Will Muschamp is a disciple of Nick Saban, which means he will apply a ton of pressure. Coach Tommy Tuberville prefers speed over size, although the Tigers have been beefing up on the interior after getting pushed around in big games the past two seasons.

FRONT SEVEN
The move of Sen'Derrick Marks from tackle to end was made easier by the emergence of tackles Pat Sims and Mike Blanc in the spring. Sims is a space eater, and Blanc, who has more speed than size, was unblockable. Josh Thompson plays the important nose tackle spot and is vastly underrated. Quentin Groves, an All-American candidate, could have a huge season if Marks can become a force on the other side. Groves has a lightning-quick move to the quarterback and excels in big-game atmospheres. The linebacker corps is not as settled. Merrill Johnson missed most of the spring because of injury, and Patrick Trahan and Craig Stevens have more potential than experience. Then there's the curious case of linebacker Tray Blackmon, a potential All-SEC player who has as many suspensions as big plays. He is expected to return in the fall -- and if he does, he'll probably start.

SECONDARY
The secondary was torched in the spring and is full of uncertainty. The only lock is cornerback Patrick Lee, a physical, active player who allows Muschamp to play more man coverage. Free safety Aairon Savage, a big hitter with good cover skills, played well as a freshman and is on the verge of a breakout, and senior Erick Brock will compete with freshman Zac Etheridge for the strong safety spot. Jonathan Wilhite has the edge on Jerraud Powers for the other corner job.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Tigers have little experience in the kicking game and probably will use a redshirt freshman kicker (Ross Gornall) and punter (Ryan Shoemaker). The return game will be strong with speedy tailback Tristan Davis as the lead kick returner and Fannin handling punts.

COACHING STAFF
Tuberville got Muschamp to leave the NFL -- and Saban -- last season, and he showed why he's a prime head coaching candidate with the way he managed the No. 7 scoring defense in the nation. Borges, likewise, is one of the most respected offensive minds in the game and also gets approached about coaching vacancies.

SN PROJECTION: 2nd in SEC West, 9-3, Outback Bowl.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 15 Penn State
July 26, 2007

Tom Dienhart

Now that Joe Paterno has re-established Penn State as a legitimate program, the buzz in Happy Valley is all about winning the Big Ten championship. The offense will be the key; if the Nittany Lions find big-play capability, they could be the league's dark-horse candidate.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The days of "three yards and a cloud of dust" ended when Galen Hall arrived as coordinator in 2004. The Nittany Lions run multiple sets that feature three and four receivers, an empty backfield and the option. They've even been known to snap the ball directly to a receiver.

SKILL POSITIONS
Quarterback Anthony Morelli showed signs late last season that he might shed his underachiever label. He showed savvy in the pocket, and now he's poised for a big senior sendoff. Led by Deon Butler, the receiving corps may be the best in the Big Ten. The group, as a whole, lacks size, though, and it took a step back last season because defensive backs could focus on coverage -- Morelli wasn't a threat to tuck and run. The Nittany Lions hope big wideout Chris Bell will help solve their struggles in the red zone. Andrew Quarles is an athletic tight end and an emerging star. He may be the school's best at the position since Kyle Brady, a 1995 first-round draft pick. With versatile Tony Hunt gone, all eyes will be on running back. Austin Scott, who redshirted last season with an injury, is expected to carry much of the load, but he lacks flash. Ditto for Evan Royster.

OFFENSIVE LINE
This has been a trouble spot for years. Until departed tackle Levi Brown was selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, Penn State hadn't had an offensive lineman picked in Round 1 since 1996. How worried are the coaches about their Big Uglies? Penn State signed two junior college transfers, the first of any sort since 1985. Coaches hope Ako Poti is an instant hit at a troubling left guard slot. The staff will build around a veteran center, short but powerful A.Q. Shipley.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Coordinator Tom Bradley has made a concerted effort to move from a size-oriented defense to one built on speed. That has made it difficult for opponents to beat Penn State on the edge or with deep passes. It also means Bradley rarely has to gamble with gimmick coverages or fronts, which allows Penn State to chase the ball from its base 4-3 set.

FRONT SEVEN
Penn State has reclaimed its title of Linebacker U. All-American Paul Posluszny is gone, but the Nittany Lions are loaded at the position. Dan Connor, also an All-American, moves inside to Posluszny's spot, and Sean Lee has great speed on the outside. There are concerns on the line. With underrated tackles Jay Alford and Ed Johnson gone, the team needs massive Phillip Taylor to step up and be the anchor on the inside. The end spots are up in the air; someone will have to provide a pass rush.

SECONDARY
Everything begins with Justin King, one of the nation's best cornerbacks. He needs to improve against the run, but he is unparalleled in coverage. The status of star safety Anthony Scirrotto is iffy following a spring incident that resulted in arrest. If he misses significant time, the unit will be hampered. Scirrotto isn't incredibly athletic, but he's a ballhawk who led the Big Ten in interceptions last season and makes plays. At the other corner spot, emerging A.J. Wallace could unseat Lydell Sargeant. Wallace is big and has an extra gear.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The kicking game could be a source of trouble. The departure of punter Jeremy Kapinos hurts tremendously; his combination of touch and power often eliminated opponents' return games. Kicker Kevin Kelly showed promise in his debut in 2005, but he has been shaky since. The return game is solid. Wallace provides a nice combination of speed and instincts on kickoff returns, and on punt returns, Derrick Williams can make the first man miss and reach top speed in a few steps.

COACHING STAFF
Last season Paterno had to dash off the field at Ohio State with stomach problems, got plowed into at a practice and was run over on the sideline at Wisconsin and broke his leg. But JoePa, 80, always comes back. Staff stability has been a secret to Paterno's success. Credit Hall for dragging the offense into the 21st century. Bradley, Paterno's righthand man, is an unmatched tactician. Mike McQueary, a rising star, has been credited with reviving Penn State's recruiting machine. Few defensive line coaches have put as many players in the NFL as Larry Johnson.

SN PROJECTION: 3nd in Big Ten, 9-3, Capital One Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 14 Georgia
July 27, 2007

Matt Hayes

Georgia took a step back last year -- losing to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season is blasphemous -- but won't stay there. This team is too talented and Mark Richt is too good of a coach to not be competing for the SEC East and the league championship.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Richt hasn't veered much from the offense he constructed as coordinator at Florida State: a multiple scheme that includes I-formation sets and power isolation plays for big tailbacks, and shotgun sets to throw it downfield. The only difference from previous seasons: Coordinator Mike Bobo now is the play-caller.

SKILL POSITIONS
Here's all you need to know about Matthew Stafford: He's the most talented quarterback Richt ever has coached. That includes Heisman winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. The staff didn't give Stafford too much of the offense last season to keep him from overthinking. Now that Stafford has a complete grasp of the offense, it's not a stretch to say he will be the SEC's best quarterback by season's end. The emergence of speedy wide receiver Mikey Henderson gives the team a legitimate deep threat, and if Mohamed Massaquoi gets over a case of the drops, the team will have a dangerous three-receiver set with Sean Bailey. Tight end Tripp Chandler no longer is a liability blocking, and that means his terrific hands can be featured more. Richt loves to pound away with a rotation of bruising tailbacks, and Kregg Lumpkin and Knowshon Moreno fit the description. The staff still has hope that Thomas Brown can make it back this fall from a serious knee injury.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Going into spring drills, nothing was more cause for concern than the revamped line. Going out, nothing was more solid. Five midyear enrollees from a top 10 recruiting class created stiff competition, and five clear starters resulted. One of those is freshman Trinton Sturdivant, who took the line's most important position (left tackle) and didn't relinquish it. JC transfer Scott Haverkamp will start at guard. The starting five -- including tackle Chester Adams, guard Chris Davis and center Fernando Velasco -- played every snap together for the final 11 practices (of an NCAA-allowed 15) and dominated the spring game.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
No matter the coordinator, Georgia's defense always has revolved around consistent pressure from the front four. Everything starts on the interior because it allows the unit to do more in the back seven with blitz and zone packages.

FRONT SEVEN
Big, beefy, runstuffing tackles have been the norm in Athens for years. Starters Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens are more on the agile/undersized side, but both are tough at the point of attack. The key to the interior is Kade Weston, a big-time talent whose weight issues have kept him from progressing. If he gets in shape and wins a starting job, the Dawgs have a strong four-man rotation with JC transfer Corvey Irvin. End Marcus Howard is quick off the edge but will be outmatched by big tackles with good feet (there are plenty in the SEC). Roderick Battle played well in the spring, but he, too, is undersized. Hence, the need for big JC transfer Jarius Wynn to become an every-down player. The linebackers are solid. Brandon Miller will play in the middle, and a group of young players -- led by redshirt freshman Akeem Dent -- will compete for the starting spots in the fall.

SECONDARY
The situation in the defensive backfield is dicey. The Bulldogs lost Paul Oliver, one of the league's top cover corners, after he was declared ineligible and then was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the supplemental draft. Bryan Evans and Ramarcus Brown will have to step up. Strong safety Kelin Johnson and free safety CJ Byrd appear to have won starting spots, but neither are big-hitting, gamechanging safeties. The staff loves free safety Reshad Jones. He redshirted last season and was beginning to grasp nuances of the position by the end of spring drills.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Brando Coutu is the SEC's best. Punter Brian Mimbs replaces the consistent Gordon Ely- Kelso.Henderson is one of the nation's top punt returners. Corner Asher Allen -- the fastest player on the defense -- will handle kickoff returns.

COACHING STAFF
Richt promises he'll leave the play-calling to Bobo, who is more apt to call gadget plays but also knows the value of controlling the clock with a big tailback. Richt likes the results of new offensive line coach Stacy Searels' teaching. Searels' coaching was a key factor in LSU's running game the past four years.

SN PROJECTION: 2nd in SEC East, 9-3, Capital One Bowl.

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Top 25 Countdown: No. 13 Oklahoma
July 30, 2007

Oklahoma battened down the hatches and closed spring practices after last year's stunning Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State -- the Sooners' Big 12-leading fifth BCS bowl appearance.

The Sooners will play seven home games this season and figure to contend for a national championship if they find stability at quarterback, get by Miami (Fla.) early and snap a two-game losing streak to Texas. The Sooners have the makings of an explosive offense and the league's best secondary.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
An unproven quarterback could cause the Sooners to pass less and hand off more to their stable of strong running backs. They will pound away behind an experienced line and rely on high-percentage throws to a solid cast of wide receivers and tight ends.

SKILL POSITIONS
For the third year in a row, the offense will break in a new quarterback. Sam Bradford opened eyes with his scout team work last fall and has a good understanding of the offense. He will battle junior Joey Halzle, who threw two passes last year, and Keith Nichol, a true freshman. Nichol is a dual-threat quarterback who switched his commitment from Michigan State.

Allen Patrick eases concerns over the loss of big-play back Adrian Peterson, who left early for the NFL. Patrick was outstanding when he replaced the injured Peterson last season, and the Sooners won all five games he started. Patrick, a straight-ahead runner with excellent burst and breakaway speed, figures to be one of the Big 12's top running backs.

Tough, strong sophomore Chris Brown will get his carries, too, and redshirt freshmen Mossis Madu and DeMarco Murray will push for playing time. Murray had a sensational spring, so expect him to get plenty of touches.

The team's best player might be Malcolm Kelly, a strong 6-4 wideout who caught 62 passes last season and 10 in the Big 12 title game against Nebraska. Kelly has the ability to become the conference's premier receiver, but he must get more physical.

Juaquin Iglesias also will be a star if he improves his routes and consistency, and Murray and Madu could be dangerous working out of the slot. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley are big, reliable targets.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Center Jon Cooper anchors the conference's biggest and best front wall, and mammoth guard George Robinson has All-America potential if his pass protection reaches the level of his run-blocking. Tackle Branndon Braxton should be ready after sitting out spring practice with a broken leg. Look for junior-college tackle Phil Loadholt to make good use of quick feet and 360 pounds in his pursuit of the only starting job available.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Few teams attack like the Sooners. Fiery coordinator Brent Venables has defensive backs who can tackle and cover, and he will emphasize speed and send blitzers any time and in any situation.

FRONT SEVEN
An inexperienced defensive front will depend on tackle DeMarcus Granger, who has playmaker potential despite an inconsistent 2006 performance. Redshirt freshman tackles Gerald McCoy and Adrian Taylor, both big-time recruits, eventually will make plays, too. Alonzo Dotson showed potential late last season at the otherwise depleted end position.

The Sooners always seem to come up with tough, active linebackers. They're hoping junior college All-American Mike Reed fills a void in a unit missing two starters, and that promising Ryan Reynolds picks up where he left off before a knee injury sidelined him for the 2006 season. Curtis Lofton might be the Big 12's hardest hitter, and Lewis Baker and Demarrio Pleasant bring plenty of experience. True freshman Austin Box also has opened some eyes.

SECONDARY
No team has a more seasoned secondary. The Sooners have 10 players with experience, but they must be more physical and tackle better in space. The centerpiece figures to be Reggie Smith, who will line up at either strong safety or cornerback, where he worked in the spring. Marcus Walker and Lendy Holmes have become solid cover corners, and coaches have high hopes for Quinton Carter, who can deliver a blow. If anyone slips, free safeties Nic Harris and Darien Williams both have starting experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Garrett Hartley is one of the nation's best kickers. He missed one of his 20 field-goal tries last season -- a block by Oregon that cost the Sooners a win. Hartley had 31 touchbacks on kickoffs. Michael Cohen and Mike Knall will compete for the punting job. Punt returner Smith and kick returner Iglesias are always threats to score.

COACHING STAFF
Bob Stoops' halo has slipped a bit. But it's hard to find fault with the way the hard-driving, aggressive-minded coach and his staff brought the Sooners back from last season's 2-3 start: eight straight wins and the Big 12 championship.

SN projection: 2nd in Big 12 South, 10-2, Cotton Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 12 California
July 31, 2007

Four consecutive bowl appearances under Jeff Tedford have changed the football equation at Cal: Fans no longer wonder if the Golden Bears will qualify for a bowl; now they wonder which one. With a solid core of returning starters and a schedule that brings most of their toughest opponents to Memorial Stadium, the Bears should easily stretch the bowl streak to five. A BCS bowl isn't out of the question.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Jim Michalczik takes over as coordinator, but make no mistake: This is Tedford's offense. The Bears deploy an impressive repertoire of plays out of their multiple pro set and rotate players often to keep execution sharp.

SKILL POSITIONS
There's not much intrigue about the starters, most of whom return. Nate Longshore is a lock at quarterback after finishing second in the conference in passing efficiency and throwing for 3,021 yards. His decision- making has improved and Tedford believes his mobility will, too; Longshore trimmed 10-15 pounds off his Holiday Bowl weight of 240. Behind Longshore will be Kyle Reed, a strong and quick sophomore, or freshman Kevin Riley, who showed good presence and a quick learning curve as a redshirt last year. Sturdy Justin Forsett is expected to transition smoothly into Marshawn Lynch's tailback spot, having already run for 1,674 yards in three years as a backup. Two redshirt freshmen, James Montgomery and Tracy Slocum, are competing for Forsett's backup job. The Bears also return one of the nation's top receiving trios: DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins. Sean Young and Daniel Lofton, son of former NFL star James Lofton, are the key backup receivers. Cal also returns versatile tight end Craig Stevens.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Cal toyed with the idea of moving allconference center Alex Mack to tackle, but that might be risky. Such a move would get talented redshirt freshman Chris Guarnero into the lineup, which might improve the unit overall. Spring competition was wide open but mostly because guard Noris Malele and tackle Mike Gibson were out with injuries. Whether Mack moves or not, the unit's success might depend more on health than anything else.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Golden Bears run a standard 4-3 set and typically rely on their linebackers to make most of the stops.

FRONT SEVEN
Tackle Matt Malele is the only returning starter on the line, where the competition is wide open. Two redshirt freshmen, tackles Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo, show promise and could find immediate roles. Cody Jones and Tyson Alualu, both of whom played frequently last year, are likely starters at the ends. Backup Rulon Davis has eye-opening athleticism but must continue to learn the game. Junior Phillip Mbakogu has the talent to make a difference but needs to stay healthy. Look for linebacker Zack Follett to move to the middle after alternating between the middle and weak side last year. Worrell Williams is the returning starter on the weak side but could move inside. Outside man Justin Moye will be pushed by Eddie Young.

SECONDARY
The competition is stiff to replace cornerback Daymeion Hughes opposite Syd'Quan Thompson. Darian Hagan's athleticism makes him an early favorite ahead of Charles Amadi and Brandon Jones. Robert Peele, a highly regarded sophomore, can move over from rover if needed. Cal has three potential starters for two safety spots: Bernard Hicks, Brandon Hampton and Thomas DeCoud. One of them will have to sit at times, but that's a nice problem to have.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The big problem will be to get opponents to punt the ball to Jackson, who ran four kicks back for touchdowns last year. The Bears also bring back steady kicker Tom Schneider, who is on track to become Cal's alltime leading scorer, and punter Andrew Larson, who averaged 42.6 yards. The only open competition seems to be for kick return duties, a job that Forsett, Montgomery or Hawkins will handle if a newcomer doesn't emerge.

COACHING STAFF
The most significant offseason move was a regents' decision to hand a lucrative extension to Tedford, who will make at least $1.8 million this season and as much as $4.2 million by 2011. The offensive staff changes should not threaten cohesion. Michalczik already has spent five years as the Bears' line coach, and Kevin Daft, who takes over as quarterbacks coach, worked with Longshore as a graduate assistant last season. Former San Jose State assistant Kenwick Thompson takes over for Bob Foster, who retired as linebackers coach.

SN PROJECTION: 3rd in Pac-10, 10-2, Holiday Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 11 Florida State
August 1, 2007

The Seminoles really haven't been the Seminoles lately. FSU has lost 22 times the past five seasons, including last year's 7-6 debacle; that was their third five-loss season in that span. There has been an overhaul of the coaching staff, which should help. But a tough schedule and holes everywhere likely mean a return to glory is another season away.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY Like most teams, FSU wants a balanced offense. But new coordinator Jimbo Fisher's main emphasis will be restoring the Seminoles' big-play ability. The Seminoles suffered with Jeff Bowden as the coordinator. We'll see if all the problems were his fault.

SKILL POSITIONS Tailback Antone Smith shared time the past two seasons, but the job is his now. Smith is a burner who can score from anywhere. He's an OK receiver, too. Greg Carr and De'Cody Fagg will start at wide receiver. Each has shown he can be the guy at times but inconsistency has plagued both, and Carr has been called out by the coaches for his lack of interest in blocking and practicing. There appears to be good talent behind that duo, but no other receiver has done anything on the college level. Quarterback Drew Weatherford started the past two seasons, but he regressed last year. He still makes way too many mistakes: throws too high, throws too low, throws into coverage, makes bad reads. Xavier Lee likely will battle Weatherford for the starting job right up to the opener. Lee has a ton of physical skills but struggled running the old offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE The unit has been a mess. Are the linemen not that good or has the coaching -- and the offensive scheme -- been the problem? New line coach Rick Trickett, who came from West Virginia, is expected to change things. He wants a leaner, meaner, more mobile group. Center John Frady has all-conference potential, but the rest of the group is a mixed bag. Left tackle is a huge concern. Guard Jacky Claude and tackle Shannon Boatman are the other returning starters, and one or two true freshmen likely will play.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY Coordinator Mickey Andrews likes to keep it simple: See the guys in the other jerseys? Run as fast as you can toward the guy with the ball and punish him when you get there. Of late, he hasn't had his usual front seven talent, which has put a damper on the 'Noles' performance.

FRONT SEVEN Tackle Andre Fluellen is the best player up front, and he has All-ACC potential. The return of tackle Paul Griffin from knee surgery should help, as will the continued development of tackles Letroy Guion and Budd Thacker. FSU had 27 sacks last season, but 15 of those came from linebackers. It's vital that an end (Kevin McNeil? Alex Boston? Everette Brown? Junior college transfer Brian Coulter?) step up to provide a pass rush. Geno Hayes is moving from weakside linebacker to the middle; he has big-play ability. The outside spots are a concern because of inexperience. Marcus Ball and Dekoda Watson are the frontrunners.

SECONDARY All four starters are back. Strong safety Myron Rolle lived up to the hype as a freshman last season. He's instinctive, can run, has good ball skills and packs a wallop. Free safety Roger Williams makes a lot of tackles, but he's nothing special. Cornerback is the strongest position on the team with Tony Carter and Jamie Robinson as the starters. Speedy Michael Ray Garvin is a solid nickel guy.

SPECIAL TEAMS Kicker Gary Cismesia has been adequate, nothing more. He started off hot last season (going 9-of- 10) before fading (finishing 14-of-20). Punter Graham Gano has a nice leg and knows how to place his kicks (17 inside the 20). He's also the kickoff man. Averages put up by the kick returners last season: 9.1 yards on punt returns and 18.7 on kick returns. Those are numbers for Duke, not FSU. Garvin should be the lead kick returner again, but the punt-return job won't be decided until fall drills.

COACHING STAFF This is Bobby Bowden's 32nd season at FSU, and last season was the second-worst of his tenure. He cleaned house with his offensive staff, bringing in four new coaches. Fisher and Trickett have a ton of pressure on them to produce now. The defensive staff added former N.C. State coach Chuck Amato as linebackers coach -- that was the job he held at FSU before being hired at N.C. State.

SN PROJECTION: 1st in ACC Atlantic, 10-2 Gator Bowl.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 10 UCLA
August 2, 2007

The Bruins left a mixed message on the field late last season when they beat USC and then lost to Florida State in the Emerald Bowl. This year, 20 starters return, and new offensive coordinator Jay Norvell hopes to push the momentum forward.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Norvell, who worked last season at Nebraska, is the fourth offensive coordinator toride the Bruins' coaching carousel in the last five seasons. Under him, there will be more shotgun, more complex terminology and a faster tempo with multiple options.

SKILL POSITIONS
Almost everybody returns, including two starting quarterbacks. Ben Olson won the job last spring but gave way to Patrick Cowan after suffering a midseason knee injury. The strong-armed Olson was better statistically than the more mobile Cowan. Olson also was slightly better in the spring and won the job -- for now.

There's plenty of veteran talent at receiver, but only Brandon Breazell has breakaway speed. Marcus Everett started eight games last season and showed consistency and good hands. The unit will get a boost if Joe Cowan, a big target, can stay healthy after missing last season with a knee injury and the spring with hamstring issues. Logan Paulsen is big target at tight end. Tailback Chris Markey is dependable, if not explosive. He ran for 1,107 yards in 2006. Behind Markey is Derrick Williams, a capable inside runner, and Kahlil Bell, a good run/pass option. Big, physical Chase Moline is a good shortyardage specialist who can be used in one-back formations.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Chris Joseph, who started all 13 games at guard last season, is expected to move to center to fill the one line vacancy. Joseph's move allows Noah Sutherland to move from tackle to guard and big, aggressive Micah Kia to move into the lineup at tackle. Kia's physical skills impressed coaches last season when the freshman played mostly on special teams. Now he projects as a three-year starter. The right side of the line will be manned by guard Shannon Tevaga and tackle Brian Abraham.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Bruins will remain aggressive out of their 4-3, asking corners to handle man-to-man coverage so more pressure can be generated on the quarterback from different positions.

The Series: Southern Cal (28-41-7)
Not only did last season's win end a seven-game losing skid to USC, it killed the Trojans' national title dreams. This year's showdown again could have national ramifications. Is the Bruins' offense up to the task?

The Showdown: vs. California
This is a matchup between what figures to be two future NFL head coaches. Win here, and the Bruins will reclaim their throne as one of the top two teams in the Pac-10.

The Smack: Think big
Five of nine league games are on the road, but only two are scary: Oregon State and USC. UCLA is aching to pay back Notre Dame. A win in that game would set up a November in which the Bruins could determine their bowl quality.

FRONT SEVEN
The pass-rushing ability of end Bruce Davis highlights a veteran defense that loses only one starter. The other end spot is a question mark, with Nikola Dragovic the top candidate to replace All-American playmaker Justin Hickman. Brigham Harwell and Kevin Brown bring consistency to the tackle positions, and Kenneth Lombard has the versatility to play end or tackle.

Middle linebacker Christian Taylor leads a unit that returns all three starters and plenty of depth. Hard-hitting Reggie Carter can be dynamic at times on the weak side, and rugged Kyle Bosworth figures to challenge returning starter Aaron Whittington on the strong side. Bosworth, who doubles as a versatile special teams star, also could see time in the middle.

SECONDARY
Talented cover corner Trey Brown anchors a secondary that also includes corner Rodney Van, hard-hitting strong safety Chris Horton and free safety Dennis Keyes. Van will be pushed at right corner by aggressive Al Verner, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season and is a proven choice in nickel back sets.

SPECIAL TEAMS
UCLA often wins its field-position battles, thanks to punter Aaron Perez, who is adept at kicking for length or pinning opponents near the goal line. But field goal kicking could be an adventure with the loss of All- American Justin Medlock. Kai Forbath has a better leg than Jimmy Rotstein, who will be waiting in the wings if Forbath stumbles. Sure-handed Ryan Graves is the Bruins' most reliable punt returner, though Terrence Austin showed flashes last season. There are plenty of kick re-turn options with Williams, Bell, Verner and McGee.

COACHING STAFF
Continuity has been an annual concern for Karl Dorrell, who replaced three assistants in the offseason. Only secondary coach Gary DeLoach remains from Dorrell's original UCLA staff in 2003. Norvell replaces Jim Svoboda as offensive coordinator, Bob Connelly replaces Jim Colletto as offensive line coach and Eric Scott takes over for D.J. McCarthy as receivers coach. UCLA gave Dorrell another year on the new deal he signed a year ago, guaranteeing him through 2011. But that doesn't mean his seat won't warm up if the Bruins sputter.

SN PROJECTION: 2nd in Pac-10, 10-2, Rose Bowl

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Top 25 countdown: No. 9 Louisville
August 3, 2007

A new coaching staff takes over at Louisville, but that doesn't spell relief for the rest of the conference. The defending champs return plenty of talent, and anything less than another 10-win season and second straight title will be a disappointment. The Cardinals probably won't even be challenged in their first nine games. But to repeat as champs, they'll have to navigate through a brutal season-ending stretch that includes trips to West Virginia and South Florida and a home game against Rutgers. The Cardinals have some rebuilding to do on defense, but the offense should rank among the best in the nation. Senior quarterback Brian Brohm returns, as do his favorite targets, Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
One thing is not going to change under Steve Kragthorpe, an offensive-minded coach whose teams pile up passing yards and points. The offense will spread things out with multiple sets built around Brohm and his receivers. But it also will utilize a talented stable of running backs. The Cardinals averaged a whopping 475 yards and 37.8 points per game last year, but don't be surprised if they increase both numbers.

SKILL POSITIONS
Brohm, who could have been a high NFL draft pick, chose to return and instead will be a Heisman Trophy contender. The MVP in the Orange Bowl, Brohm threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and completed 63.6 percent of his passes.

The Cardinals still are searching for a feature back but have experience in George Stripling and Anthony Allen as well as two highly recruited freshmen. A strong argument can be made that the Cardinals' receiving corps, led by Douglas and Urrutia, is the best in the nation. Douglas and Urrutia combined to catch 128 passes for 2,238 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. And there is depth at this position, too.

OFFENSIVE LINE
All-conference center Eric Wood anchors what might be the best line in the Big East. Wood will be flanked by George Bussey, an all-conference left tackle, and seniors Marcel Benson at right guard and Breno Giacomini at right tackle. Benson and Giacomini both saw significant action last season. Another veteran, Danny Barlowe, will reclaim his left guard position.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The team's defense is a lot like its offense -- aggressive, relentless and predicated on speed at every position. The Cardinals' base is the 4-3, but they show a lot of different looks and like to attack and pressure. The Cardinals led the Big East with 44 sacks last season and also forced 25 turnovers.

FRONT SEVEN
The loss of run-stuffing tackle Amobi Okoye to the NFL left a big hole, but there is plenty of talent to fill it. Start with talented pass rush specialist Peanut Whitehead, who started 10 games at end as a true freshman. Junior tackle Adrian Grady started two games last year and likely will step into Okoye's role. The Cardinals have two returning linebackers, senior Malik Jackson, and Preston Smith. Each is a good athlete with speed to defend the edges of the field. Lamar Myles probably will man the middle.

SECONDARY
Only one starter, returns to this unit, but that doesn't mean it won't be experienced. Free safety Latarrius Thomas is the veteran, but cornerback Rod Council has 14 career starts and corner Bobby Buchanan was the top reserve last season. Newcomer Woodny Turenne, considered by some the top-ranked junior college prospect in the nation, also could step in and claim a corner job. The secondary might take a few games to develop chemistry, but there is enough talent for it to be very good.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Art Carmody won the Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in the nation after converting 21-of-25 field goal attempts and going 60- of-60 on extra points. Wide receiver Trent Guy returns as the primary punt returner, and receiver JaJuan Spillman is another option to handle kick returns.

COACHING STAFF
The easygoing personality of Kragthorpe, who resurrected the Tulsa program before his arrival at Louisville, will be a breath of fresh air for many players who had grown tired of the always high-strung Bobby Petrino. Kragthorpe no doubt will put his own touches on the offense, but the transition should be fairly smooth on both sides of the ball. Kragthorpe kept quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jeff Brohm and defensive coordinator Mike Cassity, a rising star, on the staff.

SN PROJECTION: 2nd in Big East, 10-2, Fiesta Bowl.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 8 Wisconsin
August 6, 2007

So what does Bret Bielema do for an encore? He capped his debut season by winning Big Ten coach of the year honors after leading Wisconsin to its highest single-season win total (12) in school history. What's next? The Badgers are primed to win a Big Ten title with a veteran roster and an accommodating schedule. They need only for a steady quarterback to emerge.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Although many elements remain from the Barry Alvarez regime, it's safe to say Bielema has juiced up the offense. Credit coordinator Paul Chryst, who has dressed things up with myriad personnel groupings and formations. The Badgers will even morph into spread sets occasionally. It's all about confusing opponents. But make no mistake: Everything is based on having a strong running game.

SKILL POSITIONS
The only question here is a big one. Tyler Donovan and Allan Evridge will continue to battle for the quarterback job in training camp. Donovan was impressive in limited action last year while subbing for injured John Stocco. Bielema calls Donovan a "gamer," a guy who can make something out of nothing, which is good and bad. Evridge arrived last fall after transferring from Kansas State. Like Donovan, he is a good athlete who is taking to the offense. P.J. Hill led the Big Ten in rushing last season -- as a freshman -- but some question Hill's durability. The staff thinks another megafreshman, John Clay, could work his way into the rotation. The headliner of the receiving corps is tight end Travis Beckum, a converted linebacker. Once his blocking catches up to his receiving, he'll be one of the nation's best at his position. The sleeper of this unit could be wideout Paul Hubbard, a big target with speed and hops. Luke Swan is another burner who has the best hands on the team and has drawn the attention of NFL scouts. And Bielema can't wait to take the wraps off true freshman David Gilreath.

OFFENSIVE LINE
This unit has been the backbone of the program for years. That won't change, even with the loss of Outland Trophy winner Joe Thomas. Four starters return. Bielema loves talking about center Marcus Coleman, a late-comer to the position who is savvy at making calls and directing traffic. Eric Vanden Heuvel is a classic Wisconsin tackle -- a wall of flesh who will help power the ground game.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
The Badgers stay vanilla in a 4-3 scheme on first and second downs. On third downs, they often switch to a "30" package that features an extra player in the back seven. That's when the Badgers turn up the heat with a variety of pressure packages.

FRONT SEVEN
There's no shortage of experienced options up front. The headliner is tackle Jason Chapman, whose quick first step creates the illusion he's offside. Rangy end Matt Shaughnessy is poised to become a terror now that he's finally filling out. Bielema's linebackers are burners. Check out Jonathan Casillas, the second-fastest player on the team. DeAndre Levy also is strong and speedy, as is Elijah Hodge, whom Bielema thinks has more athletic ability and better instincts than brother Abdul, who was a star at Iowa.

SECONDARY
If Bielema has a worry, it's the prospect of playing two inexperienced safeties. One will be Shane Carter, the brother of former NFL great Cris Carter. Jack Ikegwuonu might be the best cornerback in the nation, and his uncommon blend of size and speed has the attention of pro scouts. Allen Langford is a capable counterpart, but he'll be pushed for his job.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Badgers have the best kicking duo in the Big Ten. Taylor Mehlhaff, who connected on 15 of 20 field goal tries last season, has a nice combination of power, accuracy and nerve. Ken DeBauche took a step back last year but still averaged 41.8 yards per punt. He is adept at placement and power. Bielema, looking for big improvement, will oversee all phases of the return and coverage teams.

COACHING STAFF
This fast is becoming one of the best staffs in the Big Ten. Everyone returns, including Chryst. Credit Alvarez for giving Chryst a sweeter deal than any offensive coordinator in the Big Ten to keep him from taking a quarterbacks coaching job with the Dallas Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz also is a keeper. There's nothing this war horse hasn't seen. Linebackers coach Dave Doeren, defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, tight ends coach Bob Bostad and defensive line coach Randall McCray are rising stars.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 7 Virginia Tech
August 7, 2007

Tech's toughest schedule in recent memory coincides with its most talented team since the Michael Vick era. If the defense -- statistically the nation's best for two years running -- stays steady with eight returning starters, Tech will be in the ACC title hunt. If the offense, abysmal at times in 2006, takes even a single step forward, there will be national championship chatter.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Coordinator Bryan Stinespring should be able to use much more of his playbook after a 2006 season in which a patchwork line, freshman tight ends and a first-year starting quarterback made for careful calls. Don't be surprised to see more deep balls and trick plays.

SKILL POSITIONS
Fans wanted quarterback Sean Glennon out of the picture after his Chick-fil-A Bowl collapse. They figured that once Ike Whitaker, the more mobile, Vick-like choice, completed his alcohol rehab, the starting job soon would be his. Whitaker does seem to have his life back on track, but he's no closer to the top spot. Glennon, a junior, simply won't surrender. He set team records in the weight room and looked in complete control of the offense during spring drills. That bodes well for the Hokies, who boast a sterling senior receiving corps just waiting to show off. Eddie Royal is a game-breaking speedster. Justin Harper is a high-flier, specializing in spectacular catches. And few receivers are tougher to tackle than Josh Morgan. If the passing game becomes a real threat, all-ACC tailback Branden Ore could put up monster numbers.

OFFENSIVE LINE
This group, which struggled a lot in 2006, figures to improve. Duane Brown has moved from right to left tackle, where the potential All- American will protect Glennon's blindside. Right guard Sergio Render, a brutally strong blocker who started all last season as a true freshman, and center Ryan Shuman should be solid at their spots. Ed Wang's move from tight end to tackle gives Tech a viable option there and leaves only two questions:Who will start at left guard, and will the Hokies have enough quality depth? The answers could come from a strong crop of incoming freshmen.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Bud Foster's bunch will blitz from every position and force a lot of mental mistakes.With no apparent weak links in this year's unit, Foster has the luxury of being even more aggressive than usual.

FRONT SEVEN
Few fronts will be better. Vince Hall, a vicious tackler, and Xavier Adibi, who is fast enough to run with receivers, form one of the best linebacker duos in the country. End Chris Ellis should return to his sack-happy form after offseason shoulder surgery, and tackles Carlton Powell and Barry Booker are bulldozers in the middle. The Hokies do have to replace one end and their "whip" linebacker, but there are quality candidates. Former walk-on Orion Martin was one of the team's spring standouts at end. Corey Gordon finally will get his chance to shine at whip. Always an imposing physical presence, Gordon suddenly seems to have grasped Tech's scheme and become a tackling terror in practice. Depth will be a question across the board, but several talented youngsters have shown flashes.

SECONDARY
The Hokies are set at corner. Brandon Flowers was a model of consistency as a sophomore last season, and former super-recruit Victor "Macho" Harris had a breakout spring on the other side. Roland Minor, who started every game in 2005, now is the leading backup. Free safety D.J. Parker has played in every game but one since 2004, and rover Kam Chancellor, only a sophomore, might be the most athletic player on Tech's defense. Passing yards won't be easy to come by against the Hokies.

SPECIAL TEAMS
This might be Tech's biggest concern after losing starters at kicker, punter and long snapper. For Beamerball to get back to speed, a field goal kicker will have to emerge from a pack that includes last year's kickoff specialist, Jared Develli. Punting duties should be handled by Brent Bowden, the team's No. 2 man for two years. On returns, the trio of Royal, Morgan and Harris could produce some breathtaking moments.

COACHING STAFF
Ever-steady head man Frank Beamer and his two coordinators have all been in Blacksburg at least 15 years. They've managed to maintain a winning tradition -- which includes 14 consecutive bowl appearances -- while tweaking where necessary to keep the program among the nation's elite.

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Top 25 countdown: No. 6 Texas

After six consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins, another talented Longhorns team will be gunning for its second national title in three years. There are no powerhouse opponents on the nonconference schedule, and Texas should be among the favorites to reach the BCS championship game unless a suspect secondary and rebuilt offensive line become obstacles it can't overcome.

OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
After winning big with the I-formation power running game, a hybrid of the I and last year's shotgun, coach Mack Brown is searching for a new identity. Texas lacks the fullback and tackle-breaking tailback to pound opponents between the tackles and instead will rely on a strong passing game to balance an attack that produced only four runs longer than 27 yards last season.

SKILL POSITIONS
Colt McCoy emerged from obscurity to throw 29 touchdown passes -- tying a national freshman record -- with only seven interceptions, even though a pinched nerve in his neck limited his effectiveness in the final two regular-season games (both losses).A healthy McCoy might be the most savvy decision- maker among all quarterbacks in college football. McCoy has good running skills and must become a greater threat on the ground to keep defenses from keying on Jamaal Charles, who is coming off a subpar season. Texas needs a big year from Charles, who has to combine toughness with his sprinter's speed. Chris Ogbonnaya and Vondrell McGee are reliable backups. Limas Sweed, a physical playmaker, headlines a deep cast of receivers that includes ultra-consistent Quan Cosby and sure-handed Jordan Shipley. Look for a breakout year from tight end Jermichael Finley, who makes acrobatic catches but needs to improve his blocking.

OFFENSIVE LINE
The interior loses three starters who combined for 115 career starts. The key will be Tony Hills, who must become dominant at left tackle. The Longhorns also need a healthy return by right guard Cedric Dockery, who played well for six games last season before being sidelined by a knee injury. Right tackle Adam Ulatoski is big, strong and versatile, and sophomores Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner will battle for the left guard spot. Veteran backup Dallas Griffin could get the call at center.

DEFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
With the aggressive Duane Akina entrusted to top billing as cocoordinator alongside former San Francisco 49ers assistant Larry Mac Duff, look for more risk-taking and blitzes than under Gene Chizik, who was too concerned with stopping the run last year. Under Akina and Mac Duff, the Longhorns probably won't be victimized by as many trick plays and deep passes.

FRONT SEVEN
The defense suffered over the second half of last season after tackle Derek Lokey broke his leg. Lokey, an inspirational leader and one of the strongest players in college football, has few equals at holding the point of attack. Frank Okam and Roy Miller are run stuffers and part of a terrific three-man inside rotation. Texas loses experience but will get more pass rush out of new ends Brian Orakpo and Aaron Lewis. Look for Sergio Kindle, Jared Norton and Rod Muckelroy to provide the athleticism that has been missing at linebacker.Muckelroy would have been dominant last year, but he tore a tendon in his finger and missed 10 games. Add to the mix Rashad Bobino, a small but active playmaker who is coming off a great Alamo Bowl performance, Scott Derry and Robert Killebrew.

SECONDARY
A pass defense that rated 99th nationally loses three starters in its secondary. Only reckless free safety Marcus Griffin, the twin brother of departing free safety Michael Griffin, returns after a hot-and-cold season. Speedy Drew Kelson moves from linebacker to strong safety, and Erick Jackson is a safety possibility if he can stay healthy. Deon Beasley was burned in his rare appearances at cornerback last year, but he has talent, as do Chykie Brown and Brandon Foster.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Walk-on Ryan Bailey is a reliable field goal kicker, Hunter Lawrence has a big leg for kickoffs and Trevor Gerland averaged 50.3 yards per punt in high school. Look for the explosive Cosby and Shipley to return kicks.

COACHING STAFF
Mac Duff, a high-energy coach who plays lots of people to keep them fresh, bolsters the best staff in the Big 12. Akina will get the chance to prove his stuff, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis returns after almost taking the head coaching job at Minnesota.

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