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Gators exit spring as No. 1 team

College Football Top 25
Much like the Snuggie, the Sport-Elec Shapentone System and the Slap Chop, we here at SI.com are about to give you something you didn't even know you wanted. For the low, low price of absolutely nothing, it's the post-spring practice Top 25. As SI.com's resident college football Nostradamus -- at least until Stewart Mandel returns from sabbatical and I go back to mopping the floors -- I personally guarantee each and every one of my picks. In fact, if this Top 25 doesn't match the final Associated Press poll in January right down to the others receiving votes, we'll refund* 100 percent of your purchase price.

How can I make this guarantee? Don't I know that the experts picked Georgia to win the 2008 national title, USC to win the 2007 title, Ohio State to win the 2006 title, USC to win the 2005 title (with Iowa finishing in the top five) and LSU to win the 2004 title? I'm aware of that, but my patented system relies on maximum absorbency and solid Amish craftsmanship. Oh wait, it appears I've just described the ShamWow and the Heat Surge fireplace. As for the picks, you're just going to have to trust me.

* Refund requires $5.99 processing and handling fee.
 
1
Florida Gators
2008 Record: 13-1
Returning Starters: 17 (6 offense, 11 defense)
Key returnees: QB Tim Tebow, OG Maurkice Pouncey, OG Mike Pouncey, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Ahmad Black.

Spring star: C Sam Robey. The son of former Kentucky basketball star Rick Robey came on strong this spring, so strong he could enter preseason practice as the starting center. That would allow junior Maurkice Pouncey to move back to guard, where he started as a freshman. It also would give the Gators an all-Pouncey guard combo. Maurkice's twin brother, Mike, is a returning starter at the other guard spot.

Spring Recap: With the starting lineup pretty much set except at receiver and tailback, the defending national champs spent the entire spring building depth, which should absolutely terrify the rest of the SEC. The biggest question remains: Can sophomore Deonte Thompson, redshirt freshman Frankie Hammond Jr. and incoming freshman Andre Debose -- who arrives in June -- replace most of the production the Gators lost when WR Percy Harvin turned pro?
 
2
Texas Longhorns
2008 Record: 12-1
Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, T Adam Ulatoski, DE Sergio Kindle and LB Roddrick Muckelroy.

Spring star: Kindle. The senior made the switch from linebacker to defensive end, where the Longhorns hope he will replace the sacks they lost when Brian Orakpo exhausted his eligibility. Kindle already knows how to attack a quarterback; he notched 10 sacks last season.

Spring Recap: The Longhorns know what they're going to get from McCoy, Shipley and the passing game. WR Quan Cosby is gone, but Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll should catch plenty of balls. On defense, DE Sam Acho and LB Keenan Robinson have waited their turns and should get their chance to start.
 
3
Oklahoma Sooners
2008 Record: 12-2
Returning Starters: 14 (5 offense, 9 defense)
Key returnees: QB Sam Bradford, RBs DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown and Mossis Madu, TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Gerald McCoy.

Spring star: DE Frank Alexander. Auston English and Jeremy Beal should start, but opposing offensive tackles won't get a break when Alexander rotates into the lineup.

Spring recap: Unlike last year, the Sooners knew plenty about their defense heading into spring. This year, they needed to find four new offensive line starters to play in front of Heisman Trophy-winner Bradford and the three-headed monster of Murray, Brown and Madu. Williams has moved to left tackle, and he'll have to lead a group that includes redshirt freshman C Ben Habern, OG Stephen Good, OG Brian Simmons and OT Cory Brandon.
 
4
USC Trojans
2008 Record: 12-1
Returning Starters: 12 (9 offense, 3 defense)
Key returnees: RBs C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, WR Damian Williams, OG Jeff Byers, OT Charles Brown, S Taylor Mays.

Spring star: QB Matt Barkley. The freshman early enrollee leapfrogged junior Mitch Mustain and still might push sophomore Aaron Corp for the starting job. Not bad for a guy who should have been in fourth-period English.

Spring recap: The Trojans had an astounding four linebackers chosen in last weekend's NFL draft, but USC coach Pete Carroll doesn't seem worried about replacing that group. In fact, he believes Michael Morgan (strongside), Chris Galippo (middle) and Malcolm Smith (weakside) may be faster as a trio than Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing were.
 
5
Virginia Tech
2008 Record: 10-4
Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Darren Evans, OT Ed Wang, DE Jason Worilds, CB Stephan Virgil, S Kam Chancellor.

Spring star: LB Jake Johnson. The sophomore, who might be the Hokies' strongest player, should replace Purnell Sturdivant at the Backer position in defensive coordinator Bud Foster's scheme.

Spring recap: The Hokies found a backup for Taylor in redshirt freshman Ju-Ju Clayton, which is important given Taylor's injury history. Junior Beau Warren won the right to snap to the quarterbacks -- or to senior TE Greg Boone if the Hokies line up in the "Wild Turkey" formation.
 
6
Oklahoma State
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Dez Bryant, T Russell Okung, LB Andre Sexton, CB Perrish Cox.

Spring star: DE Richetti Jones. When Jones broke his hip as a high school senior in 2006, it appeared his career might be over. Now a redshirt sophomore, Jones has worked his way into the defensive end rotation, and the 6-foot-3, 253-pound speed rusher could wind up a starter if he keeps improving.

Spring recap: The Cowboys know they'll be able to score points, but will they be able to stop anyone in a conference loaded with high-scoring offenses? First-year defensive coordinator Bill Young, who came from Miami, will benefit from a bunch of experienced returnees: all three linebackers and two linemen. CB Terrance Anderson, S Victor Johnson and S Johnny Thomas should join lone returning starter Cox in the secondary.
 
7
Ole Miss Rebels
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jevan Snead, RB/WR Dexter McCluster, DE Greg Hardy, CB Marshay Green, S Kendrick Lewis, DT Ted Laurent.

Spring star: OT Bradley Sowell. The 6-7, 310-pound sophomore from Hernando, Miss., will take over for first-round draft pick Michael Oher at left tackle.

Spring recap: Sophomore RB Brandon Bolden's improvement should help keep defenses honest and allow Snead to use all his weapons at receiver. LB Patrick Trahan could wind up leading the SEC in tackles.
 
8
Oregon Ducks
2008 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jeremiah Masoli, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Ed Dickson, LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Walter Thurmond.

Spring star: C Jordan Holmes. Holmes will draw the unenviable assignment of replacing Max Unger, a first-round draft pick.

Spring recap: There should be little dropoff now that Chip Kelly has replaced Mike Bellotti as head coach. Despite a somewhat inexperienced line, Kelly will have plenty of talent on offense. Defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti has an excellent group of linebackers at his disposal in Paysinger, Casey Matthews and Eddie Pleasant.
 
9
Ohio State Buckeyes
2008 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: QB Terrelle Pryor, DE Lawrence Wilson, DT Cameron Heyward, S Kurt Coleman.

Spring star: RB Dan "Boom" Herron. Herron should step out of Beanie Wells' shadow and keep the Buckeyes rolling on the ground.

Spring recap: Pryor's improvement as a passer and as a leader means, in almost every game, the Buckeyes will have the best player on the field. On defense, second-year starter Ross Homan will have to lead a young linebacker corps that will play behind a solid defensive line.
 
10
Alabama Crimson Tide
2008 Record: 12-2
Returning Starters: 13 (4 offense, 9 defense)
Key returnees: RB Mark Ingram, WR Julio Jones, NT Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain, CB Javier Arenas.

Spring star: QB Greg McElroy. Chase Daniel's former understudy at Carroll (Southlake, Texas) High won the starting job handily this spring.

Spring recap: With Cody, McClain and Arenas leading a stacked defense, the Crimson Tide probably won't have to score many points. That should allow McElroy, who will play behind an inexperienced line, some room for error. But should McElroy have trouble, he need only remember one thing: Throw it to Jones.
 
11
TCU Horned Frogs
2008 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)
Key returnees: QB Andy Dalton, RB Joseph Turner, WR Jimmy Young, OT Marshall Newhouse, DE Jerry Hughes, K Ross Evans.

Spring star: QB Casey Pachall. The early enrollee from Brownwood, Texas, won't unseat incumbent starter Dalton, but through no fault of his own, Pachall already has caused a mini-controversy.

Spring recap: The Horned Frogs will enter the season as potential BCS busters. Hughes should continue to terrorize quarterbacks, and Newhouse should anchor a line that will help TCU hog the ball and keep its defense fresh. Last year, the Frogs led the nation in time of possession (35 minutes, 10 seconds per game).
 
12
Boise State Broncos
2008 Record: 12-1
Returning Starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kellen Moore, RB Jeremy Avery, DE Ryan Winterswyk, CB Kyle Wilson, S Jeron Johnson.

Spring star: WR Titus Young. Young earned a 10-game suspension last season, but he seemed to have his head screwed on straight this spring. If his improvement continues, he'll give the Broncos a home-run threat.

Spring recap: If Boise State can beat Oregon in the season opener, the Broncos should be able to repeat last year's undefeated regular season. Moore is one year better, and the Broncos secondary might be one of the nation's best.
 
13
LSU Tigers
2008 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Jefferson, RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, OT Ciron Black, DE Rahim Alem.

Spring star: QB Russell Shepard. The early enrollee from Houston may not beat out Jefferson for the starting job, but the Tigers will find a way to get the ball in his hands in the fall.

Spring recap: New coordinator John Chavis, formerly of Tennessee, shook up the defense this spring. He moved Harry Coleman, a starter at strong safety in 2008, to linebacker, and replaced Coleman with sophomore Ron Brooks. If the Tigers can get production from a defensive line that includes Alem, DE Pep Levingston and DT Charles Alexander, they can contend for the SEC West title.
 
14
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Josh Nesbitt, RBs Jonathan Dwyer, Lucas Cox and Roddy Jones, S Morgan Burnett.

Spring star:DT T.J. Barnes. The beefy Barnes dropped 22 pounds to get to 346 and hopes to slim down to 330 by preseason practice. The Yellow Jackets will need the 6-7 redshirt freshman to help ease the loss of tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard.

Spring recap: Tech coach Paul Johnson said his option offense will be even better than the one that finished fourth in the nation in rushing (273.3 yards per game) last season. Dwyer, the defending ACC Player of the Year, has to like the sound of that.
 
15
Georgia Bulldogs
2008 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: WR A.J. Green, DT Geno Atkins, LB Rennie Curran, S Reshad Jones, CB Prince Miller.

Spring star: RB Carlton Thomas. Thomas isn't big (5-7, 174), but he can fly. His play this spring put him in the mix for carries along with Caleb King, Richard Samuel and Dontavius Jackson.

Spring recap: Senior Joe Cox won the derby to replace No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford at quarterback. If this seems an awful lot like 2005, when D.J. Shockley replaced David Greene and led the Bulldogs to an SEC title, it should. After a year marred by season-ending injuries to key players (DT Jeff Owens, OT Trinton Sturdivant, among many others), the Bulldogs could be much better than expected in 2009.
 
16
Penn State Nittany Lions
2008 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)
Key returnees: QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick.

Spring star: WR Chaz Powell. The junior, who came to Penn State as a defensive back, will fill the role Derrick Williams occupied last year.

Spring recap: At receiver, offensive line, defensive end and in the secondary, it's time for the big-time recruits to turn into big-time players. The poster child: CB A.J. Wallace, a former five-star recruit and projected starter at cornerback who struggled with a hamstring injury this spring.
 
17
East Carolina Pirates
2008 Record: 9-5
Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Patrick Pinkney, C Sean Allen, G Cory Dowless, S Van Eskridge, LB Nick Johnson, DT Linval Joseph.

Spring star: RB Brandon Jackson. The Kentucky transfer had a breakout spring, and coach Skip Holtz said Jackson can be an every-down back for the Pirates.

Spring recap: The Pirates have the tools to be the first Conference USA team to bust the BCS, but they'll have to contend with a tough schedule that includes a Sept. 12 game at West Virginia and a visit from Virginia Tech on Nov. 5. WR Patrick Bowman, who caught two touchdowns in the spring game, could give Pinkney another target in an already crowded receiving corps.
 
18
Oregon State Beavers
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 13 (10 offense, 3 defense)
Key returnees: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers, DT Stephen Paea, LB Keaton Kristick.

Spring star: QB Sean Canfield. The senior has had a fantastic spring, so fantastic Beavers coach Mike Riley doesn't yet know what he'll do if incumbent Lyle Moevao recovers completely from his offseason shoulder surgery and stakes his claim on his old job in preseason practice.

Spring recap: No matter who starts at quarterback, the Rodgers brothers and a veteran line will ensure the Beavers score points. Defense will be the issue, but if the rest of the new starters can improve the way defensive ends Ben Terry and Kevin Frahm -- who replace Victor Butler and Slade Norris -- did this spring, Oregon State should be fine.
 
19
Utah Utes
2008 Record: 13-0
Returning Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: RB Matt Asiata, T Zane Beadles, DE Koa Misi, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Spring star: QB Jordan Wynn. The race to replace Brian Johnson was supposed to be between juniors Corbin Louks and Terrance Cain. Wynn, an early enrollee from Oceanside, Calif., made it a three-man race heading into preseason camp.

Spring recap: The only undefeated team in 2008 faces a lot of uncertainty even after spring practice. Along with quarterback, center remains unsettled. The good news is the Utes boast plenty of depth at running back and defensive line, and cornerbacks Brandon Burton and R.J. Stanford should make fine replacements for Sean Smith and Brice McCain.
 
20
Cal Golden Bears
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kevin Riley, RB Jahvid Best, DE Cameron Jordan, CB Syd'Quan Thompson.

Spring star: QB Brock Mansion. The sophomore from Dallas closed spring practice strong, but he still remains locked in a competition with junior Riley and redshirt freshman Beau Sweeney for the starting job. Coach Jeff Tedford will pick a winner during preseason camp.

Spring recap: The Bears' Best player missed spring practice after foot and elbow surgeries in January, but the nation's top returning rusher should be ready for camp. Senior Chris Guarnero, healthy after an injury-shortened 2008, should replace Alex Mack at center. Meanwhile, Mychal Kendricks and Devin Bishop should fill the vacant linebacker spots.
 
21
Cincinnati Bearcats
2008 Record: 11-3
Returning Starters: 9 (8 offense, 1 defense)
Key returnees: QB Tony Pike, WR Mardy Gilyard, S Aaron Webster.

Spring star: WR/K Danny Milligan. You read that correctly. Milligan caught three passes for 83 yards and a touchdown and kicked field goals of 32 and 42 yards in the spring game.

Spring recap: Because the Bearcats open against Big East rival Rutgers, coach Brian Kelly kept first-year coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme under wraps in the spring game. Cincinnati will rely on several converted offensive players on defense, including WR-turned-CB Marcus Barnett, FB-turned-LB Marcus Waugh and QB-turned-LB Demetrius Jones. Jones was the opening-day starter at Notre Dame in 2007.
 
22
Florida State Seminoles
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 13 (8 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: QB Christian Ponder, RB Jermaine Thomas, G Rodney Hudson, LB Dekoda Watson.

Spring star: OT Andrew Datko, who started 11 games as a 270-pound true freshman in 2008, has bulked up and could be one of the ACC's best tackles in 2009.

Spring recap: The running game should be better with Thomas as the starter at tailback, but receiver remains a question mark. The Seminoles' biggest disappointment this spring might have been an injury to redshirt freshman QB E.J. Manuel, who had been expected to push Ponder but wound up missing all but one practice. The defense remains a work-in-progress; freshman DT Jacobbi McDaniel and CB Greg Reid -- who arrive in June -- could contribute immediately.
 
23
Texas Tech Red Raiders
2008 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 12 (4 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: WRs Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, DT Colby Whitlock, CB Jamar Wall.

Spring star: QB Taylor Potts. The junior from Abilene, Texas, looks ready to succeed 5,000-yard passer Graham Harrell. Coach Mike Leach usually waits until preseason camp to name a new starting quarterback, but he seems ready to anoint Potts.

Spring recap: Despite the loss of Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree, the Red Raiders shouldn't fall too far. They bring back most of their defense, and Leach's offenses always put up points. Sophomore Cody Davis, one of the new first-teamers at safety, turned heads with a 100-yard interception return in the spring game.
 
24
Nebraska Cornhuskers
2008 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: DT Ndamukong Suh, S Larry Asante, G Jacob Hickman, OT Mike Smith.

Spring star: QB Zac Lee. The junior probably will still have to fight off competition for the starting job in August -- including a possible challenge from former Duke point guard Greg Paulus, who is scheduled to visit Nebraska this week -- but Lee took the biggest step this spring.

Spring recap: LB Matthew May continued Nebraska's excellent walk-on tradition by making his case to start on the weak side. Prince Amukamara and Anthony West finished spring as the favorites to start at cornerback. Junior RB Roy Helu has bulked up to 215 pounds and should replace the departed Marlon Lucky.
 
25
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2008 Record: 7-6
Returning Starters: 16 (10 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Michael Floyd, WR Golden Tate, G Eric Olsen, DT Ian Williams.

Spring star: DE Ethan Johnson. The sophomore is fast enough to play defensive end and strong enough to play defensive tackle, which is why he shifts down when Notre Dame switches to a nickel package. Johnson should surprise opposing linemen who have grown accustomed to less athletic Fighting Irish linemen.

Spring recap: The Fighting Irish have no excuses for mediocrity this season. RB Armando Allen had a great spring; now he has to duplicate that when the games count. Ditto for Clausen and the veteran line. On defense, Williams and LB Brian Smith have emerged as leaders. Expect incoming freshman Manti Te'o to get a shot at earning a starting linebacker spot.
 
Just missed the cut: Kansas, Miami, Pitt, BYU, Michigan State, Boston College, NC State.
 
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