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August 2, 2008
Roundtable: After top pair, who's next in line?
At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a current topic in the sport.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Now that we've finished our 1-120 countdown, what school other than Georgia and USC do you think has the best chance to play for the national title?
I'm going to crawl out on a limb here … one that extends all the way to Columbia, Mo.
It's easy to forget the Tigers were ranked No. 1 going into the Big 12 title game last season and finished the season ranked No. 4. The Tigers have a couple of Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Chase Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin, and tight end Chase Coffman has All-American potential.
Defensively, the Tigers obviously got better as the 2007 season progressed. In fact, Mizzou held Arkansas to seven points in the Cotton Bowl. Nine starters are back on defense, led by All-American free safety William Moore.
Missouri's schedule is also advantageous. After a season-opener against Illinois, their most challenging games figure to be at Nebraska (Oct. 4), at Texas (Oct. 18) and vs. Kansas (Nov. 29) in Kansas City. Missouri has an open date the week before the games against Nebraska and Kansas, and faces Texas the week after the Longhorns play Oklahoma. The Big 12 championship game is also scheduled for Kansas City.
How is this for going out on a limb? I'll take the Rivals.com No. 3 team that reached the last two national title games. No team has been more maligned than Ohio State for playing at a high level. Two Big Ten titles and two trips to the national championship game and suddenly Columbus is the home of The Overrated State University. Please.
In any other season, it seems a team returning 18 starters (including the quarterback) from the national runner-up would be preseason No. 1. This is a team with one of the top two running backs in the country, a senior quarterback and nine returning starters on a superb defense, including a Nagurski Award winner. Yet the coaches voted the Buckeyes third - as did our panel.
Ohio State has as good a chance to reach the national championship game this year as it did the last two. The Buckeyes are the clear favorite in the Big Ten, even with road trips to Wisconsin, Illinois and upstart Michigan State.
And unlike last season, there will be no complaints about a soft schedule – especially if Ohio State manages to defeat USC on the road.
I think two teams bear close scrutiny – Florida and Missouri. They have schedules conducive to a national-title run, especially Mizzou. Each team also has enough offensive talent to think it can average at least 40 points per game.
Another similarity: Each has a quarterback-wide receiver duo in which both players have legit Heisman hopes. At Florida, it's quarterback Tim Tebow - the reigning trophy holder - and wide receiver Percy Harvin, who's the most talented player on the Gators' roster.
At Mizzou, it's quarterback Chase Daniel (a Heisman finalist last season) and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin - who trumps Harvin in a way by being dangerous as a receiver, runner and return man.
Missouri's defense got better as last season progressed, and there's no reason the Tigers can't rank in the top third of the Big 12 in defense.
Florida's defense is much iffier than Missouri's. But if the Gators can solve their woes at defensive tackle, their chances of playing for a national title look good.
Don't be surprised if Ohio State makes a third consecutive appearance in the BCS championship game.
Ohio State returns most of the top players from the team that lost 38-24 toLSU in last year's championship game. The Buckeyes might have the best defense in the nation this year now that Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins have returned for their senior seasons.
The Buckeyes actually have a better roster than they did a year ago, but their road to the championship game will be a bit tougher this year. They must travel to Southern California on Sept. 13 and must travel to Wisconsin and Illinois later in the season.
Ohio State's losses in the last two championship games also could cause voters to shy away from ranking the Buckeyes among the top two teams at the end of the season unless they go undefeated. Then again, maybe an undefeated season isn't out of the question.
USC will probably be better than Ohio State by the end of the season, but that game takes place so early in the year that the Buckeyes' edge in experience could make a difference. If the Buckeyes can pass that test, they should win all their conference games and earn a ticket to Miami.
Go ahead and groan. But I think Ohio State has a tremendous shot to play for the BCS title — again. In fact, this may be Jim Tressel's best team yet.
The defense is loaded from back to front, headed by linebacker James Laurinaitis — who probably deserves to win the Heisman but won't.
Offensively, the Buckeyes should feature tremendous balance led by the top running back in the nation: Beanie Wells. And you know uber recruit Terrelle Pryor is going to inject a mega dose of playmaking ability into the offense.
Then, there's the schedule, which may be Ohio State's best ally. If OSU can win at USC on September 13, I think the Buckeyes will cruise atop the polls all the way to the title game.
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