2009 college football spring predictions: Florida No. 1

As spring practices wrap up across the country, Andy Staples of SI.com ranked the top 25 college football teams entering the 2009 season. You can see Staples’ rankings by clicking the link above.

I’m intrigued by a couple of teams on his top 25, most notably Ole’ Miss (No. 7), Ohio State (No. 9) and TCU (No. 11).

Ole’ Miss is going to give a lot of SEC teams trouble this year with 16 total starters (8 on offense, 8 on defense) returning from last year, including quarterback Jevan Snead, who enters his second full season as a starter after throwing 26 touchdowns last season. They lost key components in offensive tackle Michael Oher and defensive tackle Peria Jerry, but they essentially return the same team that beat Florida, LSU and stomped Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl last year. (Not to mention also gave Alabama a game in Tuscaloosa.)

Out of the teams Staples ranks in his top 10, Ohio State has the fewest returning starters at nine. But quarterback Terrelle Pryor will only continue to improve with more playing time and running back Dan “Boom” Herron will ease the loss of Beanie Wells to the NFL. The Buckeyes should also have one of the best defensive fronts in the Big Ten, with end Lawrence Wilson and tackle Cameron Heyward set to return.

TCU turned a lot of heads last year after compiling an 11-2 record, including impressive wins over BYU and Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. They had one of the fastest defenses in the nation last year and they held opponents to a staggering 11.3 points per game. But they lost seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, which was obviously their strength, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll stack up with Utah again in the Mountain West.

Another team to keep an eye on is Oregon State, who returns two explosive playmakers in running back Jacquizz Rodgers and wide receiver James Rodgers. But as Staples writes in his top 25 rankings, quarterback Lyle Moevano is coming off offseason shoulder surgery and will battle senior Sean Canfield in preseason practice.

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2009 college football ranking predictions: Florida No. 1

Stewart Mandel of SI.com takes a crack at predicting how the top 25 will look in college football next season.

Tim Tebow1. Florida (13-1 in 2008)

Who’s back: QB Tim Tebow, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Ahmad Black.

Who’s not: WRs Percy Harvin* and Louis Murphy, T Phil Trautwein, G Jim Tartt.

Skinny: The defending champs return a former Heisman winner at quarterback, their top three tailbacks and, remarkably, their entire starting defense.

2. Texas (12-1)

Who’s back: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, T Adam Ulatoski, LBs Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy.

Who’s not: WR Quan Cosby, DE Brian Orakpo, DT Roy Miller, CB Ryan Palmer.

Skinny: McCoy and the offense should be potent again, and last year’s young secondary should improve with another year under Will Muschamp.

3. Oklahoma (12-2)

Who’s back: QB Sam Bradford, RBs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, TE Jermaine Gresham, DT Gerald McCoy.

Who’s not: WRs Jauquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, S Nic Harris.

Skinny: Bradford’s return is huge for an offense that must retool its line and receiving corps. The defense has nine starters back from the BCS title game.

4. USC (12-1)
Who’s back: RBs C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, WR Damian Williams, S Taylor Mays.

Who’s not: QB Mark Sanchez*, DT Fili Moala, LBs Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, S Kevin Ellison.

Skinny: New QB Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain will have a solid supporting cast. The defense loses a boatload of staples but should be able to reload.

5. Ole Miss (9-4)
Who’s back: QB Jevan Snead, RB/WR Dexter McCluster, DE Greg Hardy, CB Marshay Green, S Kendrick Lewis.

Who’s not: T Michael Oher, DT Peria Jerry, LBs Tony Fein and Ashlee Palmer.

Skinny: After knocking off Florida, LSU and Texas Tech, the Rebels are ready to take the next step behind star QB Snead. Hardy’s return is a huge boost.

The 2008 season isn’t even a month dead yet and already I miss college football. (Although not the constant playoff debate, which shouldn’t even be a debate at all if BCS-supporters could ever get their heads out of their asses and realize they ruin college football every year.)

I like seeing Ole’ Miss that high. As Mandel points out, the Rebs knocked off Florida, LSU and Texas Tech last year, and also gave Alabama a run for its money, too. Snead is the real deal and that’s a team that will be fun to watch next season.

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