By Andy Staples
May 04, 2010
College Football Top 25
When colleague Stewart Mandel bequeathed's Associated Press poll vote and attendant Power Rankings duties to me prior to last season, I couldn't understand why he kept cackling maniacally into the phone.

I understood after my first set of rankings were published, and Stewart asked -- with just the slightest tinge of mischief in his voice -- if I'd checked my e-mail. Oh, I had. Waves upon waves of missives poured in from every corner of college football fandom, but they all agreed on one fact: I was an idiot.

That was just the warm-up, though. My first way-too-early Top 25 for 2010 was published in January, and two particular fan bases tried their best to make my BlackBerry explode. USC and Arkansas fans simply couldn't believe their teams hadn't made the poll. But I had good reasons for leaving out both.

USC's omission came with the program in a fragile state. When that poll was published, the Trojans had no coach, most of their 2010 recruits were threatening to jump ship and no one knew exactly what kind of dirt the NCAA had on the athletic department. Since then, Lane Kiffin has been hired, the Trojans signed one of the nation's best recruiting classes and Reggie Bush paid off Lloyd Lake, whose lawsuit was the NCAA's only chance to get under-oath testimony from Bush. Now stable, USC looks like a Top 25 team again. Trojans fans still won't appreciate the ranking, but remember, this is the team that got crushed by Stanford and Oregon and closed the regular season with a home loss to Arizona. Baby steps.

As for Arkansas, I had proper reverence for the Razorbacks' offense back in January, but I doubted their defense. The Hogs bring back quarterback Ryan Mallett and eight other starters from an offense that averaged 555.5 yards per game last year. Unfortunately, Arkansas also returns seven starters from a defense that gave up 521.5 yards per game last year. The numbers look worse against SEC opponents. Arkansas gained an average of 383.3 yards and allowed an average of 419.5 yards in conference play. But this spring proved Arkansas has more depth in the secondary and on the line. The Hogs remain thin at linebacker, but the improvement is enough to justify calling Arkansas into the Top 25.

Of course, now Razorbacks fans will complain that their team is ranked too low. They'll have to wait until September for an update. After two warm-ups, the Hogs play at Georgia and then face Alabama in Fayetteville. If they win those two, they'll probably crack the top 10. Until then, Arkansas fans can keep pelting me with angry e-mails.

If you don't feel like e-mailing, though, feel free to express your displeasure on Facebook or Twitter.
Alabama Crimson Tide
2009 Record: 14-0
Returning Starters: 10 (eight offense, two defense)
Key returnees: RB Mark Ingram, WR Julio Jones, QB Greg McElroy, OG Barrett Jones, S Mark Barron, LB Dont'a Hightower.

Spring star: DE Marcell Dareus, RB Trent Richardson (tie).

Spring Recap: We knew the Crimson Tide would bring back a loaded offense featuring 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Ingram and his backup (Richardson), who might be even better. The question was how Alabama would replace nine defensive starters from a unit that led the Tide to the national title. Dareus, Hightower, cornerback Dre' Kirkpatrick and company answered that question emphatically this spring and won a steak dinner in the process.
Boise State Broncos
2009 Record: 14-0
Returning Starters: 19 (nine offense, 10 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kellen Moore, WR Titus Young, WR Austin Pettis, CB Brandyn Thompson, DE Ryan Winterswyk, S Jeron Johnson.

Spring star: LB Derrell Acrey.

Spring Recap: Moore struggled a bit during spring practice. Does that mean the Broncos are overrated? Absolutely not. Few defenses have been able to stop Moore. If Boise State's can, that's great news for the Broncos, who probably will begin this season ranked high enough to bust the BCS title game if they go undefeated.
Ohio State Buckeyes
2009 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 16 (10 offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Terrelle Pryor, C Mike Brewster, WR DeVier Posey, DE Cameron Heyward, LB Ross Homan, CB Chimdi Chekwa.

Spring star: DT John Simon.

Spring recap: The Buckeyes are deep at almost every position -- especially tailback, where Boom Herron and Brandon Saine will get the bulk of the carries -- and the development of young players such as man-beast Simon will only make them deeper. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel gave the world a taste of Pryor unleashed in a Rose Bowl win over Oregon. If that continues in September, the Buckeyes could be the class of a deep Big Ten.
Texas Longhorns
2009 Record: 13-1
Returning Starters: 13 (six offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: RB Tre' Newton, WR Malcolm Williams, OT Kyle Hix, DE Sam Acho, LB Keenan Robinson.

Spring star: QB Garrett Gilbert.

Spring recap: Gilbert's performance as a true freshman thrust into the national title game should give everyone in Austin confidence that the Longhorns aren't going to drop off much after losing Colt McCoy, the winningest quarterback in FBS history. Gilbert's performance this spring did nothing but reinforce that confidence.
Iowa Hawkeyes
2009 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 14 (six offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: DE Adrian Clayborn, S Tyler Sash, WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, QB Ricky Stanzi.

Spring star: DT Karl Klug.

Spring recap: The Hawkeyes know they have a special group coming back, so coach Kirk Ferentz played things close to the vest this spring. For example, tailback Jewel Hampton, who missed all of 2009 because of an offseason knee injury, was held out of contact drills despite being physically fine.
TCU Horned Frogs
2009 Record: 12-1
Returning Starters: 16 (nine offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Andy Dalton, S Tejay Johnson, LB Tank Carder, C Jake Kirkpatrick, WR Jeremy Kerley.

Spring star: DE Stansly Maponga.

Spring recap: The Horned Frogs probably would have started the season in everyone's top five had they stopped that fake punt against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. That doesn't mean TCU will sneak up on anyone this season. Dalton, Johnson and Carder are known commodities, and youngsters such as Maponga -- a potential replacement for Jerry Hughes at defensive end -- will try to keep the Horned Frogs in the national title conversation.
Virginia Tech Hokies
2009 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 13 (eight offense, five defense)
Key returnees: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Ryan Williams, OT Blake DeChristopher, DT John Graves, LB Barquell Rivers.

Spring star: QB Logan Thomas.

Spring recap: Sure, the Hokies have to replace a lot on defense. But when has coordinator Bud Foster not had a talented group waiting in the wings? Take fifth-year senior Steven Friday. Friday made just 11 tackles as a junior, but he's the type of rusher the Hokies need to replace Jason Worilds. Virginia Tech should be fine on offense with Taylor pulling the trigger and Williams and back-from-injury Darren Evans carrying the ball.
Oregon Ducks
2009 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, nine defense)
Key returnees: RB LaMichael James, OT Bo Thran, LB Spencer Paysinger, LB Casey Matthews, CB Cliff Harris.

Spring star: RB Kenjon Barner.

Spring recap: The Ducks' difficult offseason reached a climax when coach Chip Kelly suspended starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for the season. The turmoil caused me to drop Oregon a few spots, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Ducks wind up winning the Pac-10 or competing for the national title this season with either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas at quarterback. They return most of their defense, and all five offensive linemen are back to open holes for James and Barner.
Wisconsin Badgers
2009 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 16 (10 offense, six defense)
Key returnees: RB John Clay, OT Gabe Carimi, QB Scott Tolzien, LB Culmer St. Jean, S Jay Valai, DE J.J. Watt.

Spring star: TE Lance Kendricks.

Spring recap: Clay missed spring practice after ankle surgery, but he and backup Montee Ball should be running plenty come September. Kendricks, who dominated against Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl last season, gives Tolzien another weapon. Meanwhile, Watt, who began his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan, could emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers.
Florida Gators
2009 Record: 13-1
Returning Starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key returnees: C Mike Pouncey, OT Carl Johnson, S Ahmad Black, CB Janoris Jenkins.

Spring star: QB John Brantley.

Spring recap: Tim Tebow is gone, but Florida's offense is in good hands with redshirt junior Brantley. The question is: To whom will Brantley throw? Redshirt freshman Andre Debose looked an awful lot like former Gator Percy Harvin at Sanford (Fla.) Seminole High, but Debose missed last season after tearing his hamstring in preseason camp. Debose returned to action this spring, and he joins Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson and Frankie Hammond to form a relatively inexperienced group seeking to become reliable targets for Brantley.
Oklahoma Sooners
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 14 (nine offense, five defense)
Key returnees: RB DeMarco Murray, WR Ryan Broyles, QB Landry Jones, DE Jeremy Beal, S Quinton Carter.

Spring star: DT Jamarkus McFarland.

Spring recap: Everything that could have gone wrong for the Sooners last season, did. How wrong? Two of their four first-round draft picks played zero (TE Jermaine Gresham) and two (QB Sam Bradford) games last season. A third (OT Trent Williams) played out of position because of a rash of offensive line injuries. Oklahoma finished strong, though, and Jones will return having started 11 games. On defense, look for Ronnell Lewis -- one of the stars of the Sun Bowl win against Stanford -- to fill in well for Keenan Clayton at strongside linebacker and Tom Wort to replace Ryan Reynolds at middle linebacker.
Miami Hurricanes
2009 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 16 (seven offense, nine defense)
Key returnees: QB Jacory Harris, OG Orlando Franklin, WR Travis Benjamin, DE Allen Bailey, CB Brandon Harris.

Spring star: C Tyler Horn.

Spring recap: If Horn and the rest of Miami's inexperienced offensive linemen come to play this fall, the Hurricanes could be something special. Miami is deeper on defense, and a line led by Bailey and 300-pounders Micanor Regis and Curtis Porter could make opposing quarterbacks and running backs miserable. On offense, Harris has plenty of athletic receivers. If the line can keep Harris upright, he'll complete a ton of passes.
Nebraska Cornhuskers
2009 Record: 10-4
Returning Starters: 17 (10 offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: DT Jared Crick, CB Prince Amukamara, P/K Alex Henery, RB Roy Helu Jr., TE Mike McNeill.

Spring star: S Rickey Thenarse.

Spring recap: If you believe Ndamukong Suh -- and would you really dare argue with him? -- Nebraska's defense will be even better in 2010. If the Huskers' offense contributes anything at all, Nebraska could be a top 10 team. That remains the key question. Quarterback Zac Lee didn't throw during spring practice after surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right arm, allowing sophomore Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez a chance to stake a claim to the job. All three should compete in preseason camp.
Penn State Nittany Lions
2009 Record: 11-2
Returning Starters: 13 (eight offense, five defense)
Key returnees: RB Evan Royster, OL Stefen Wisniewski, DT Ollie Ogbu, DE Jack Crawford.

Spring star: QB Paul Jones.

Spring recap: The young offensive line and young quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin seemed shaky during the spring, and coach Joe Paterno called his team "average." I always get nervous that I'm ranking the Nittany Lions too low when JoePa starts sandbagging, but he's correct: They are pretty raw in some key spots. But will they get even younger? Freshman quarterback Jones, an early enrollee, shined at times, and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno hasn't shut the door on the idea of Jones competing with Newsome and McGloin for the starting job.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2009 Record: 11-3
Returning Starters: 15 (seven offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: QB Josh Nesbitt, C Sean Bedford, RB Roddy Jones, LB Brad Jefferson.

Spring star: RB Anthony Allen.

Spring recap: Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has never had trouble replacing a B-back (fullback), so don't expect a ton of dropoff from Jonathan Dwyer to Allen. Nesbitt remains at the helm, and Tevin Washington proved this spring that the offense is in capable hands if Nesbitt gets hurt. On defense, the Yellow Jackets have switched to a 3-4 under new coordinator Al Groh. One player who should return to the first-team defense is safety Cooper Taylor, who missed 11 games last year after he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, which has since been treated.
Pittsburgh Panthers
2009 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: Nine (five offense, four defense)
Key returnees: RB Dion Lewis, WR Jonathan Baldwin, OT Jason Pinkston, DE Greg Romeus, S Dom DeCicco.

Spring star: LB Dan Mason.

Spring recap: Mason, who started two games at middle linebacker last year in place of injured Adam Gunn, could be the next star on a team loaded with them. The Panthers don't bring back a ton of starters, but some of the players they do return are elite. Romeus was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, and Lewis and Baldwin might be the nation's best back/receiver tandem.
Oregon State Beavers
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 15 (eight offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: TB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers, DT Stephen Paea, LB Dwight Roberson.

Spring star: DE Taylor Henry.

Spring recap: The Beavers' defense took a hit earlier this spring when starting defensive end Matt LaGrone left the team to spend more time with his wife and children, but the emergence of Henry, who had four sacks in the spring game, should help soften the blow. On offense, sophomore Ryan Katz is the favorite to replace Sean Canfield at quarterback.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, nine defense)
Key returnees: DT Marvin Austin, DE Robert Quinn, LB Quan Sturdivant, CB Kendric Burney, QB T.J. Yates.

Spring star: QB Bryn Renner.

Spring recap: The Tar Heels are a more extreme version of Nebraska. Last year, they were No. 6 in the nation in total defense and No. 108 in total offense. If the offense ever makes a consistent contribution, North Carolina could win the ACC title. So who will play quarterback? Yates, a senior, has started for three seasons. Renner, a redshirt freshman, played well enough this spring to force Heels coaches to make a choice. That choice won't come for a while, but Renner has left North Carolina's baseball team to concentrate on football.
Cincinnati Bearcats
2009 Record: 12-1
Returning Starters: 13 (eight offense, five defense)
Key returnees: WR Armon Binns, RB Isaiah Pead, OG Alex Hoffman, LB J.K. Schaffer, DT Derek Wolfe.

Spring star: QB Zach Collaros.

Spring recap: Butch Jones has already replaced Brian Kelly once (at Central Michigan) with great success. Now, Jones takes over a program that has won two consecutive Big East titles. Collaros proved last season he is more than capable of running the Bearcats' offense when he went 4-0 in place of injured Tony Pike, and Binns and Pead are proven playmakers. On defense, the Bearcats will return to a 4-3 after one season in a 3-4. Since most of the Bearcats were recruited for a 4-3, the adjustment should be easy.
USC Trojans
2009 Record: 9-4
Returning Starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Matt Barkley, WR Ronald Johnson, DT Christian Tupou, LB Devon Kennard, LB Chris Galippo.

Spring star: RB Dillon Baxter.

Spring recap: Baxter was one of the players who seemed unsure when we published that January Top 25, but he stuck with his commitment to USC and now appears ready to make an immediate impact. Check out this run by Baxter during a USC practice. (The run comes after a jaw-dropping strip of quarterback Mitch Mustain by defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, who isn't even listed as a starter at the moment.)
Houston Cougars
2009 Record: 10-4
Returning Starters: 16 (nine offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Case Keenum, RB Charles Sims, WR Tyron Carrier, WR James Cleveland.

Spring star: DE Matangi Tonga.

Spring recap: Everyone knows the Cougars can score, which is what makes the defense's performance during the spring game that much more impressive. First-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 held Keenum -- one of the nation's best quarterbacks -- to 18 yards passing on 14 attempts. The Cougars badly needed an upgrade on defense. Maybe this unit will finally put them over the hump in Conference USA in Keenum's senior season.
Florida State Seminoles
2009 Record: 7-6
Returning Starters: 17 (11 offense, six defense)
Key returnees: QB Christian Ponder, OT Andrew Datko, OG Rodney Hudson, LB Nigel Bradham.

Spring star: CB Greg Reid.

Spring recap: If the Seminoles don't have one of the nation's best offenses, it's because some Oklahoma-in-2009-style calamity has befallen them. The surgically repaired Ponder, a darkhorse Heisman contender, will play behind a line that enters the season with 142 career starts. The real issue in Jimbo Fisher's first season since taking over for Bobby Bowden will be defense. FSU's defense was awful last season, and first-year coordinator Mark Stoops will have to find a way to get a lot more out of many of the same players. One wacky idea Stoops brought to the Seminoles: Play your best players. Sophomore Reid, who led the nation in punt return average last season, was a situational player on defense last season. Not anymore.
Arkansas Razorbacks
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 17 (10 offense, seven defense)
Key returnees: QB Ryan Mallett, TE D.J. Williams, WR Joe Adams, LB Jerry Franklin.

Spring star: RB Ronnie Wingo Jr.

Spring recap: Mallett was sidelined this spring by a broken foot, but the Razorbacks know what he can do. The spring was about finding some depth in the secondary -- having junior cornerback Isaac Madison back after he missed 2009 with a knee injury certainly helps -- and figuring out which of four talented backs (Wingo, Dennis Johnson, Knile Davis, Broderick Green) deserves the lion's share of the carries.
Connecticut Huskies
2009 Record: 8-5
Returning Starters: 17 (nine offense, eight defense)
Key returnees: QB Zach Frazer, RB Jordan Todman, LB Greg Lloyd, LB Lawrence Wilson.

Spring star: WR Michael Smith.

Spring recap: It's a testament to coach Randy Edsall that the Huskies have so much depth that they had position battles all over the field this spring. The secondary is still raw, but UConn is solid everywhere else.
Utah Utes
2009 Record: 10-3
Returning Starters: 12 (eight offense, four defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Wynn, RB Eddie Wide, C Zane Taylor, CB Brandon Burton.

Spring star: WR Fatu Moala.

Spring recap: Wide may be established as the starter at tailback, but he didn't rest on his school-record six consecutive 100-yard games this spring. This fall, Matt Asiata, whose injury forced Wide into the lineup in 2009, will return thanks to a medical hardship from the NCAA. The presence of two excellent backs should make life easier for Wynn, a sophomore who won the starting job during his freshman season.
Just missed the cut: West Virginia, LSU, Navy, Auburn, Missouri.

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