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Early look at '08

Georgia holds top spot with maturing offense, feisty D

Posted: Thursday January 17, 2008 9:56AM; Updated: Thursday January 17, 2008 3:23PM
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Now that college football's most talented juniors (and third-year sophomores) have answered that weightiest of questions -- Should I Stay or Should I Go? -- we have a clearer sense of the national pecking order heading into 2008.

Ohio State fans, for instance, received a much-needed infusion of good news with the announcements that stars James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins (among others) are returning for their senior seasons, meaning the Buckeyes will return a staggering 39 of the 44 players on their season-ending two deep.

For Oklahoma followers, however, the indignity of a Fiesta Bowl rout by West Virginia was followed by news that the Sooners' three brightest stars -- receiver Malcolm Kelly, linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive back Reggie Smith -- are all opting to take their skills to the next level.

These decisions will significantly impact those teams' fall prospects, as will those of such other standouts as Texas RB Jamaal Charles (gone), Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall (ditto), LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson (back), Kansas tackle Anthony Collins and cornerback Aqib Talib (both gone) and USC linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga (both back).

It's time to update and expand on the preseason top 10 that I filed last week, so here's an absurdly early stab at the top 25 teams for next season.

Note: * Indicates underclassmen who have declared for the draft.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 1
Georgia Bulldogs (11-2 in 2007)
Who's back: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, DT Geno Atkins, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB Asher Allen.
Who's not: RB Thomas Brown, WR Sean Bailey, DE Marcus Howard, S Kelin Johnson.
Skinny: Eight starters return for an offense that will be far more experienced, led by Moreno. The same defense that shut down Hawaii QB Colt Brennan will be loaded again.
2 2 Who's back: RB Beanie Wells, WRs Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, LB James Laurinaitis, CB Malcolm Jenkins.
Who's not: T Kirk Barton, DE Vernon Gholston*, LB Larry Grant.
Skinny: OSU was the unquestioned winner of the NFL derby, with likely first-rounders Laurinaitis and Jenkins opting to return. Wells is a potential Heisman winner.
3 4 Who's back: RBs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, LBs Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, S Taylor Mays.
Who's not: QB John David Booty, T Sam Baker, G Chilo Rachal*, DT Sedrick Ellis, LB Keith Rivers.
Skinny: Johnson and McKnight will form USC's most potent rushing tandem since Bush-White. Mark Sanchez will battle Mitch Mustain for the quarterback job.
4 7 Who's back: QB Tim Tebow, WRs Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, LB Brandon Spikes, S Major Wright.
Who's not: WR Andre Caldwell, DE Derrick Harvey*, S Tony Joiner.
Skinny: Tebow, Harvin and USC transfer RB Emmanuel Moody help form a scary offense, but last year's young defense will need to make strides.
5 5 Who's back: QB Chase Daniel, WR/KR Jeremy Maclin, TE Chase Coffman, LB Sean Weatherspoon, S William Moore.
Who's not: RB Tony Temple, WR William Franklin, TE Martin Rucker, DT Lorenzo Williams.
Skinny: Heisman finalist Daniel and the speedy Maclin will be the core of what should be another explosive spread attack. The defense will be far more experienced.
6 9
LSU Tigers (12-2)
Who's back: QB Ryan Perrilloux, WRs Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Darry Beckwith.
Who's not: QB Matt Flynn, RB Jacob Hester, DT Glenn Dorsey, LB Ali Highsmith, CB Chevis Jackson.
Skinny: Perrilloux should have no problem stepping in, but the Tigers' defense was laden with seniors and several young players will have to step up.
7 3 Who's back: QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, G Duke Robinson, DE Auston English, DT DeMarcus Granger.
Who's not: RB Allen Patrick, WR Malcolm Kelly*, LB Curtis Lofton*, DB Reggie Smith*.
Skinny: No team was hit harder by NFL defections than OU, which lost its three best players. The offense is still stacked, but the defense now has several holes.
8 -- Who's back: QB Kodi Burns, RBs Ben Tate and Brad Lester, DE Antonio Coleman, CB Jerraud Powers.
Who's not: QB Brandon Cox, T King Dunlap, DE Quentin Groves, DT Pat Sims*.
Skinny: Burns provided a glimpse of Auburn's new spread-option look in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Groves will be missed, but the defense should be tough as always.
9 10 Who's back: RBs P.J. Hill and Zach Brown, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaunghessy, S Shane Carter.
Who's not: QB Tyler Donovan, DT Nick Haden, CB Jack Ikegwuonu*.
Skinny: The Badgers return nine starters on both sides of the ball. Much will depend on whether QB Allan Evridge can perform as consistently as Donovan.
10 -- Who's back: QB Graham Harrell, WR Michael Crabtree, G Louis Vasquez, CB Jamar Wall.
Who's not: WR Danny Amendola, LB Paul Williams.
Skinny: After closing the season with wins over Oklahoma and Virginia, the Raiders' second-ranked offense returns 10 starters, including All-America WR Crabtree. Scary.

Click below for teams 11-20

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