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CFN: Pre-Preseason Top 25 and beyond

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The CollegeFootballNews.com does their rankings differently than most. They're based on how good we think the teams are right now and not necessarily how CFN thinks they'll end up. If you put the all the teams on a neutral field at the beginning of the season, this is how CFN thinks it would shake out. Schedules, timing (some teams should get stronger as the season goes on) and other factors go into the preseason predictions, so that's why CFN has a team like winning the SEC, but have the Gamecocks ranked behind other SEC teams in the rankings. Last year, won the SEC title, but CFN would have still have ranked the Tigers behind . 1. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 12-0
Oh sure, the Sooners averaged over 32 points per game last year and it's hard to tell a team not to pull back the reins on offense and let the wonderful defense carry the load, but the Sooners had too much talent on offense not be more aggressive. This year, OU is loaded again with 15 returning starters with talented JUCO players coming in on D to ease the loss of and .

2. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
It's time for the program to make that next step up under Mack Brown and prove that he can actually win with all that talent. While the Longhorns might have the league's, and possibly the nation's, best team and best offense, until this group proves it can win the big games it's hard to think they can solve 's defense and get through the rest of the schedule without a blemish.

3. Miami: CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
The offensive line and secondary, the two strongest units on the national title team, need a near complete overhaul while other parts of the team (defensive line, linebackers, kickers and running backs) rank among the best in the nation. Last year's team was more talented and still needed everything in its bag to pull out road wins at and Tech. If Miami can find the we're-better-than-everyone attitude, the talent on this team could carry the Hurricanes into the Fiesta Bowl.

4. State: CFN 2002 Prediction: 12-1
After a year of regrouping, State returns with a team with enough talent to rival the national title contenders of the past. With all the starters returning on both lines, a quarterback who appears to have put his freshman mistakes behind him, a receiving corps that could become the nation's best, a bruising running back, a strong-legged accurate kicker and a defensive back seven as fast as any in college football, the Noles are going to be back in a big way this season. Now if the Noles could only find a steady pass rusher.

5. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
You hate to use the word flaky, but that's what this program is as it looks like the nation's best team against , (in the Big 12 title) and others then looking horrible against , and State. As the defending Big 12 champs, everyone will be gunning for the Buffs this year, but CU might just have the team to beat back the contenders.

6. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
is still one of the nation's best teams even with all the setbacks and personnel losses and with an offense that has the potential to be one of the nation's best, the only question is if the defense can be close to what it was last year.

7. A&M: CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
The Aggie faithful can hardly contain their excitement and for good reason as all the pieces are in place for a run at the Big 12 title. The defense is loaded after only giving up 20 touchdowns last year and while the offense had it's problems last year, the young players appear ready to step up. The Aggies have the perfect leader, veteran quarterback , to bring it all together.

8. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 9-3
While the loss of Steve Spurrier and superstars , , and would normally cripple a program, don't be surprised if doesn't slip too much if at all. Remember, with all that talent and with Spurrier coaching, the team still lost two games last year and three the year before. The cupboard isn't totally bare with players like , and returning.

9. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 9-3
The defense has some questions and concerns, but the offense has the potential to be among the nation's most explosive with a great receiving corps and outstanding line. If the O gets rolling and stays healthy, no one on the schedule, and included, has the firepower to stay with the Dawgs. .

10. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 11-1
It may have taken a few season, but this finally looks like a true Lou Holtz team. With a great defense and a conservative offensive attack, the Gamecocks have been outstanding the last two seasons erasing all the memories of the pre-Holtz years. Now Holtz has the bruising running game, the running quarterback and most of all, the amazing team speed that made his teams so outstanding.

11. State: CFN 2002 Prediction: 11-2
Even after losing several key players, the Buckeyes are loaded with outstanding talent just about everywhere and a defense that should rank among the best in the nation. After coming extremely close to challenging for the Big Ten title last year only losing to and by a total of five points, the team is ready to be in the front-runner in the hunt for the league championship this year.

12. State: CFN 2002 Prediction: 12-1
Under head coach Mike Price, the State program has done a tremendous job of sneaking up on Pac 10 teams when no one's expecting anything out of them, but that won't be the case this season with a Heisman caliber quarterback in , an explosive offense (even by the 2002 Pac 10's high standards) and a decent defense.

13. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
Mike Bellotti has restocked the team with enough talent to strengthen the program for the next few years, but this will be a tough year to maintain the high level set in 2001. needs to prove it can keep the train running without lead conductor Joey Harrington and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. With the rest of the Pac 10, and country, gunning hard for the Ducks now, they'll have to get used to handling every team's "A" game on a weekly basis and won't be able to let down against anyone.

14. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
If you liked last year's version of the Illini, you'll enjoy the sequel as this is virtually the exact same team. Oh sure, there's no , there won't be quite as much speed in the backfield without and the outstanding safeties of last year need to be replaced, but you can expect to see the same production you saw last year.

15. Southern Cal: CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
Consider this, in Pete Carroll's first year as the head coach of the Trojans, he took a mediocre program and a team decimated by injuries in the backfield to a bowl game losing six games by a grand total of 29 points with only the loss to coming by double digits. Now he's got the program, in only his second year, poised to challenge for the Pac 10 title with All-Star talent at the skill positions, a potentially great defensive line and pass defense and, perhaps, the nation's best defensive player in safety .

16. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 9-4
It'll be interesting to see how much respect people give this season following the disastrous end of last year. It'll also be fun to see how the relatively experienced defense has stiffened up and if the offense can adjust to life after Eric. This much is for sure, if the Huskers get to the national title game this season, they'll have really earned it with and coming to Lincoln and the five road trips going to , State, State, A&M and State.

17. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 9-3
The Huskies should be fully rested, fully healthy and ready to roll this season led by, what should be, one of the nation's most explosive offenses. The only concern is the defense which gave up 323 points including 112 in the last two games of the season against Miami and . If the line can shine, the D should be a little better, but expect high-scoring shootouts and one of the nation's more exciting teams.

18. State: CFN 2002 Prediction: 10-2
Gone are three of the team's best players (RB , WR Herb Haygood and LB ), but don't feel too badly for the Spartans with a ton of talent returning. Is the 2002 version of the Spartans good enough to get over the hump and win the Big Ten? Is the offense that throttled and at the end of last year going to be that explosive coming into this year? Yes and yes, but there just can't be any major injuries and a few top prospects have to star.

19. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
The team is more seasoned than last year's group of young guns so the flake factor should decrease as long as the Tigers get more consistent play from the quarterbacks. With the experience and confidence to pull out close games winning every one of its SEC games by a touchdown or less last year, is ready to handle anything that comes its way this year.

20. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
The Wolverines have reloaded with one of the Big Ten's best defenses and a potentially great ground game. There's one big, glaring hurdle must leap over to challenge for the Big Ten title: The passing attack. With no proven playmaking receivers and a kitten fight for the starting quarterback job, the games could be slugfests with 20 points being more than enough for either side to win.

21. State: 2002 CFN Prediction: 9-3
The Wildcats aren't offensive juggernaut of a few years ago without much proven firepower. KSU will win on defense with an outstanding front seven and CB leading the secondary. The passing game has to come around as KSU threw for a mere 1,497 yards and eight touchdowns last year grinding the offense to a halt at times.

22. Tech: CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
The Hokies are loaded with young talent and athletic depth, but as a whole they might be a year away from being Big East and national title contender good. The running game, secondary and, potentially, the offensive line will be awesome. The loss of QB knocks the Hokies down several spots.

23. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
After being snubbed by the bowl games last year, the experienced team is ticked off and focused on making some SEC noise this year and with a superstar quarterback in , a great corps of running backs, receivers and linebackers, Ole Miss can compete with anyone in the SEC. The D line has to jell in a hurry.

24. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 8-4
Can the Tigers actually pull off another SEC title when the conference appears so wide open and strong? Possibly if quarterback can build on the great game he had against and the defensive front seven can replace all the losses. There's still breathtaking speed and athleticism at just about ever position, but it all needs to jell and there can't be a rash of injuries.

25. : CFN 2002 Prediction: 9-3
Why is this team going to be any better considering they're the same group of players that failed to come through in the clutch late last year? RB , WR and QB Zach Mills will lead an exciting offense while DT and the D looks to be much stronger.

Top 25-worthy teams (listed alphabetically)
Don't get too shaken up if your team isn't on our list. Everything changes once the season gets rolling.

: Still waiting to see how the NCAA sanctions shake out and how the team's mindset is.
: Deserves to be in the Top 25. The QB situation needs to be solidified and a passing game must emerge, but the running game should be outstanding.
: It's all there for a big season for the Broncos. If BSU can upset on Sept. 7, watch for the BCS powers to be squirming all season.
: This is an all-around good team, but there's little star power. The Eagles could be really, really good or just a middle of the pack Big East team.
BYU: Wait one more year Cougar fans then your team will shine. We still want to see if the D is any better.
: The receiving corps is the second best in the ACC behind State's. The offensive line is a slight concern.
Tech: Once the offense gets all the kinks worked out and puts all the pieces in the right spots, this will be a very, very strong team.
: This is a very good team, but the overall talent level isn't quite Top 25 material yet. The skill players are too inexperienced.
State: QB is one of the nation's most exciting players. The D line needs to prove it can handle a Big 12 rushing attack.
: The defense should be stellar with ten returning starters, but a very, very green offensive line, changes at receiver and a group of running backs that can't stay healthy, this isn't quite a top 25 team right now.
: The offense is as good as any in America, but we're just not sold that the D could stop anyone in our Top 25.
: Until a quarterback emerges and and show they're 100% against live fire, the Terps don't make the cut.
: No one's going to pay much attention to this team, but the pieces are there for a big year. The front seven has almost no experience.
State: The offense needs to show there are playmakers besides QB . The defense could be among the ACC's strongest.
State: If QB looked a little too shaky this spring for the Beavers to make our initial list of Top 25 teams, but OSU will be there soon.
: If the Panthers can start 2002 as strongly as it ended 2001, they're a top 20 team. The passing game has to prove it can shine without , and .
: QB has to be better than he was last year. If he shines, will be a fixture in the Top 25.
: Only two starters return on offense. This will be a far better team in mid-October than it is now.
Tech: While the offense should be tremendous, the porous D has to prove it's better than last year.
: This could be the last time for years to come that the Cavs aren't in the Top 25. This is a very young, but talented, team.
: The defense has to prove that it's better even without , Nick Griessen and while someone will have to step up in the passing game to replace .

Tagged: Florida State, North Carolina State, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, USC, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, Colorado, Texas, Louisville, Kurt Kittner, Jabar Gaffney, Lito Sheppard, Alex Brown, Roy Williams, T.J. Duckett, Antonio Bryant, Rocky Calmus, Wendell Bryant, Mike Echols

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