Don't get me wrong here. I like Clemson coming into this year as they should easily find their way into another postseason. For many preseason outlets, the Tigers should be on the brink of their top 25s, but with 13 returning and some key players missing, this will be a tiny bit of a transition year. The defensive line, as it is with most ACC teams, is going to be great again. However, I think there are a couple unproven cogs defensively as they break in two new starting CBs (although Byron Maxwell is a senior) and two new LBs. Offensively they'll be okay with a decent offensive line, but no C.J. Spiller will kind of limit the big play ability of this offense. The momentum heading into 2010 should carry a bit, but the biggest drawback about Clemson could be their road schedule. The draw from the Coastal is rough with Miami and Georgia Tech again, not to mention South Carolina and Auburn are in the non-conference slate. North Carolina and FSU are the road teams I'm worried about. This team will be solid, but with this slate, I wouldn't expect more than 8 wins. Those thinking Clemson can get back to the ACC title game may wind up disappointed.
Big East: Rutgers
While Greg Schanio has at least established an above-average football program where there was no success to speak of for around a century, it doesn't change the fact that if there was any year for Rutgers to win the Big East, it was probably 2009. The schedule set up perfectly for them with USF, Pitt, West Virginia, and Cincinnati at home. Rutgers only went 1-3 in those games. While there's a chance the Scarlet Knights may be better than last year, their hopes for a Big East title look diminished based on the fact that all of those games are reversed and now to be played on the road. Pitt, West Virginia, and Cincy look like the favorites and all of these teams come on the road. The offense looks to be okay with Savage and Martinek in the backfield, but without D'Imperio, McCourty, and George Johnson, you can see there are some shoes to fill. If people point out that Rutgers can compete for the Big East this summer, just point out the schedule and you should easily win your case. I'd look for a 7-5 campaign, but 8 wins is the ceiling for this group.
Big 10: Iowa
Iowa was the big overachiever of 2009. Is it inevitable that they come crashing down? Not necessarily so. The Hawkeyes won games they shouldn't have until starting and returning QB Ricky Stanzi went down with injury. This derailed the season, but with that BCS run under their belts, they like their odds of getting back into one of the select five bowl games again. I think it's going to be a difficult road. Penn State may have some issues this year in a couple of areas, but after having their season destroyed by Iowa twice in a row, they're going to be motivated. Ohio State, Michigan State, an improved Michigan, Arizona, and Wisconsin also find themselves on this slate. If Iowa goes 9-3, I think it'll be a successful season. The defense is going to be impenetrable in 2010, but will the offense find any answers? You can only play with fire for so long and I would guess the tide may shift against Iowa's affinity for pulling out games in the clutch. The running game needs addressing and both tackle spots need a replacement. Iowa will be a very good team coming into this season, but I think the depth of the much-improved Big 10 will catch up with them and prevent them from getting into the BCS. They should be a lock for New Year's though.
Big 12: Texas A&M
While Mike Sherman at least found one thing A&M could do well under his regime, it didn't amount to much. The Aggies put points on the board and got involved in their fair share of shootouts, but the defense was horrendous. Well, why do people, a few of them at least, think Sherman's crew has an opportunity to challenge Oklahoma and Texas this year or at least be in the running of a Big 12 South title? 10 of 11 come back on defense. Now, I'm not so sure that's a good thing! The Aggies laid claim to the slowest, most unathletic defense I saw in the nation last year. Maybe it was conditioning or just laziness, but they looked gassed a lot. It didn't help that if one player out of 11 blew an assignment, it was so egregious that the opposing offense would charge down the field for a 30 yard gain, either. When Colt McCoy is as fast your guys in the secondary, you're going to give up a lot of plays. This is a team that, I have to say surprisingly, gave up 40+ points only 5 times last year. It helped balance out the scales since they had to take on New Mexico, UAB, and Utah State last year (although Utah State did hang over 500 yards of offense on this team). I love Jerrod Johnson and this offense has the capability of being very explosive, but the defense will keep them from doing anything special.
Marshall has been a favorite pick to actualy surprise some folks and make a bowl game under Mark Snyder for the last few years. Snyder actually gets the Thundering Herd to a bowl game and--Kerplunk!--He's gone. Doc Holliday has taken the job with a lot of charisma and figures to have Marshall competing in the C-USA East any time soon (and that's not him in the photo). However, I don't think they are going to be good enough to challenge for a division title with the likes of Southern Miss, ECU, or UCF in 2010. Albert McClellan had a pedestrian year in 2009 by his standards due to injury, but even so, he will be missed on the defensive line. The offense banked on the fact that if there was ever trouble, they could hand the football off to Darius Marshall as well. He's going to be drafted this April, forgoing his senior season. This will leave Marshall with a couple holes and I don't like how their schedule sets up. With Ohio State, West Virginia, and a road game against Bowling Green, it's going to be tough to open up the year with a win (although I'm pretty sure that Bowling Green game should be a tossup, just that it's on the road). ECU, Southern Miss, and one of the favorites in the West, SMU, all come away from Huntington.
MAC: Central Michigan
Could it be anybody else? Nobody in the MAC really has any expectations since the conference has been so bad and has seen so much parity over the last few years. Central Michigan has taken advantage of the parity by finding one of the MAC's best players ever in Dan LeFevour. With LeFevour's help, this team won 3 MAC championships within the last 4 seasons. This will be Year One sans LeFevour, and they'll also be without their head coach (who I really, really dislike by the way). If you thought the pain of dropping LeFevour was going to be alleviated by the return of all-purpose man Antonio Brown, think again. Brown is opting for the NFL. Central Michigan can however take solace in the fact that their defense may remain stable. Led by Nick Bellore, this unit was finally good after a noticeable two year disappearance from any bit of relevance. The scoring defense went from 89th to 17th in a matter of one season. Even with this in their corner, I don't think the machine will operate smoothly without LeFevour. Central will find themselves in the hunt for the MAC West, but getting to a bowl game will be a challenge (actually, that's not so with all of the at-large slots bound to be available). Just mark me down as skeptical, but I think a .500 season may be on the horizon since teams like Toledo, Western, and Northern Illinois will jump on this opportunity and that the East is getting slightly better year-by-year.
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