[su_spacer size=”20″] The Buckeyes are the prohibitive favorite to earn one of the four coveted playoff slots this season. The PAC-12 South and SEC are loaded, and any team getting out of the conference championship game will be a lock to get a spot. This first weekend of the season has several intriguing match-ups; unfortunately almost all of them are at dreaded neutral sites. There are a few changes from the top 25 we released online at Bulldawg Illustrated. com, a “Diamond” Joe Quimby flip flop or two.
1. Ohio State – The defending national champions are loaded, especially at quarterback. The schedule is relative cake, but that Monday night opener at Virginia Tech could be a test. Urban Meyer has built a monster in Columbus and when Jim Harbaugh gets Michigan rolling, it could be shades of Woody vs. Bo.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 2. LSU – The Fightin’ Tigers biggest question mark is at quarterback once again. The talent is outstanding everywhere else, led by stellar sophomore tailback Leonard Fournette. The schedule is of course mighty tough, but the games space out as nicely as possible. LSU has the best shot of any SEC team to get to seven or more league wins.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 3. Baylor – If Seth Russell keeps things rolling at quarterback the Bears are right in the hunt for the Big XII title and one of those four spots. It has been a noisy and ugly summer in Waco.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 4. Alabama – It is impressive what Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa, firmly establishing himself as the second best coach in Crimson Tide history – despite a third Sugar Bowl loss in seven seasons a year ago. Bama has a question mark at quarterback, but the Tide has recruited so well, there is talent and depth to have them right in the t hick of the SEC race again.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 5 . FSU – The last two seasons were off the charts for the Seminoles. The criminal report has hit all-time sickening lows. The ACC has a slew of talented quarterbacks, and Everett Golston figures to be good enough to have the Seminoles right in the thick of things.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 6. Oregon – The PAC-12 was the second best conference in the country a year ago, and will be strong again. But most of the strength is in the PAC-12 South. There are question marks for the Ducks, but they appear to be the class of the PAC-12 North. There is an intimidation factor there for Oregon. Who would’ve predicted that 30 or 40 years ago?
[su_spacer size=”40″] 7. TCU – How will the Horned Frogs handle being the hunted? Gary Patterson has done amazing work in Fort Worth, and this team w .Il have sky high expectations. The game with Baylor has the promise of being one of the most important in the county this year. Everyone saw that coming a decade ago, right?
[su_spacer size=”40″] 8. Michigan State – Replacing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the biggest key for the Spartans sustained success. Connor Cook is a standout quarterback. The schedule sets up for Michigan State to play itself into playoff contention. Oregon comes to East Lansing, and Sparty makes a late season visit to the Horseshoe.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 9. Tech – The Yellow Jackets had one of their most successful seasons in the last 60 years, breaking Georgia’s hearts in Athens, topping Clemson and then winning Ate Orange Bowl over Mississippi State following a near miss vs. the ‘Noles in the ACC Championship Game. Justin Thomas is a difference-maker at quarterback, the Jackets top skill player of the 2010’s. The schedule is tougher this year, but Tech is the favorite on their side of the ACC.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 10. Texas A & M – The Aggies have been recruiting well and rediscovered their mojo with the ‘win at Auburn last November. The SEC West is tremendously tough, but the Aggies figure to be right in the mix. The Aggies sales pitch is good too, stay home in Texas, still play in the SEC. They will have a good shot against Bama in October.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 11. Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has done incredible things in Norman, but too often the last couple of years, his attention has probably turned a bit too much into knocking the SEC. Last season, Oklahoma disappointed and got pounded by Clemson to close things out. OU bounces back this year and is a top challenger to Baylor and then TCU for the Big XII title.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 12. Southern Cal – The schedule is mighty challenging for the Trojans and the Steve Sarkisian outburst has been a big distraction for Southern Cal. Those last two games at Oregon and with UCLA will dictate whether it’s a good or great year for the Trojans.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 13. Wisconsin – Yes. Melvin Gordon is gone and so is Gary Anderson. But Paul Chryst should do just fine at the helm in Madison. Even if the Badgers lose to Alabama in Arlington to start the season, there is no need to fret. The October 10 game in Madison will be their toughest Big Ten date. Wisconsin doesn’t play Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State or Michigan.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 14. Tennessee – We will know a lot more about Tennessee after their early season Knoxville showdown with Oklahoma. The Vols are a big threat in the SEC East, but that schedule is front-loaded again. Tennessee is in great shape on offense, if Josh Dobbs can consistently play well. Their must-wins are Georgia and Florida. 7-6 had the Vols faithful excited last season, that won’t cut it in 2015.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 15. Auburn – No program – maybe ever – has had the incredible ups and downs that Auburn has had in the 2010’s. The Tigers should be good and in the midst of things once again in the rugged SEC West. But the schedule is brutal, and that late October through November stretch is ripe with pitfalls. Gus Malzone’s offense should again be good; the question is what kind of impact Will Muschamp will have on the defense.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 16. Arizona State – The Sun Devils are aiming for a third straight Top 25 season under Todd Graham’s watch, and with 16 starters returning, they have the juice to make it to the PAC-12 Championship Game. The first five games will tell the story. ASU plays Texas A&M in Houston, then after a couple of easy wins, its USC in Tempe then a trip to UCLA. Oregon comes to Sun Devil Stadium for an October 29 Thursday night showdown following at open date.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 17. Georgia – The Bulldogs should have the most returning talent in the SEC East, but there are question marks at quarterback and center. If the defense and kicking game can make the strides they did a year ago, Georgia should be in the thick of things. The October schedule is absolutely brutal, and the Bulldogs have to go to both Auburn and Tech in November.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 18. UCLA – Jim Mora Jr. has 18 starters returning and figures to be right in the thick of the grinder of the PAC-12 South. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the last two games of the regular season are away from the Rose Bowl, at Utah and Southern Cal. The October 3 show down with Arizona State in Pasadena is a huge one. UCLA opens at home with Virginia, goes to UNLV, hosts BYU then its nine straight PAC-12 showdowns.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 19. Missouri – Nobody could have foreseen Missouri making it to back-to-back SEC Championship Games in back-to-back years in the program’s second and third seasons in the league. They will be right in the mix again in the East, despite the loss of standout defensive end Shane Ray. These guys flat out win on the road. Consistency from Maty Mauck at quarterback is a must for the Tigers to make it back to Atlanta again.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 20. Notre Dame – despite the loss of Everett Golston to Florida State, the Fighting Irish bring back a lot of talent on offense and defense. The first half of the schedule is tough, but from Halloween on, Notre Dame could be favored in every game and have a chance to close out hot. Brian Kelly is an excellent coach, the best in South Bend since Lou Holtz.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 21. BYU – The Cougars bring back a lot of talent in 2015, but the schedule is brutal coming out of the gates. BYU opens at Nebraska, host Boise State, then goes to UCLA and Michigan. If BYU could swing a 2-2 out of that, the Cougars should feel pretty good. Bronco Mendenhall is an excellent coach, and if they did something special in September, then who knows?
[su_spacer size=”40″] 22. Clemson – DeShaun Watson gives the Tigers the potential to have a great season. Clemson lost a lot on defense, but if Watson stays healthy, there is a shot at getting to the ACC Championship Game. In their last three bowl games, the Tigers have slayed LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 23. Arkansas – Losing tailback Johnathan Williams is a big blow. The Razorbacks are the “hot” team in the SEC West, a program on the move. That is all well and good, but that schedule is a bear. The Hogs have three home SEC games, and had lost 17 straight in the league. They will do what they do well, but will that be enough to be a legitimate contender.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 24. Virginia Tech – The Hokies have slipped from their usual place of prominence in the ACC, but could be on the way back this season. Frank Beamer has done great things in Blacksburg and would love one more run at glory. The division title is attainable, with a win on the flats a must.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 25. Ole Miss – The Rebels are loaded with three potential first round picks – although a legal matter is floating out there for one of them. The schedule is absolutely brutal though, and there are major questions at quarterback. Getting more the eight wins would be extremely impressive.
[su_spacer size=”40″] For more articles like this, including player and fan photos as well as videos, check out Bulldawg Illustrated’s 2015 Season Opener digital issue:
[su_spacer size=”40″] Bulldawg Illustrated
[su_spacer size=”40″] For more on Jeff Dantzler, be sure to visit About Jeff at Jeff Dantzler TV.