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Early Top 30 Index

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Originally published June 10, updated June 16.

My “official” pre-season predictions will not come out until August but in the interest of fun and speculation, let’s go ahead and release a way-too-early edition of B.E.’s Top 30 Index.

For those scoring at home, here was last season’s pre-season Top 30 that you can compare to the final Top 30 after the bowl games. Here’s what we have – for now – and we’ll do some explaining below.

1-Florida
2-Texas
3-Oklahoma
4-USC
5-Penn St.
6-Alabama
7-Oklahoma St.
8-Ole Miss
9-Boise St.
10-Virginia Tech
11-LSU
12-Ga. Tech
13-Ohio St.
14-Georgia
15-Oregon St.
16-Oregon
17-California
18-North Carolina
19-Iowa
20-Utah
21-TCU
22-Kansas
23-FSU
24-Nebraska
25-East Carolina
26-Clemson
27-Michigan St.
28-West Va.
29-Illinois
30-Texas Tech

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Obviously, I feel like the Gators are the clear-cut favorites to repeat, but things – injuries, suspensions, bad bounces, etc. -- happen during the course of a season. Even if things don’t happen for UF, it will have its hands full at LSU and in the SEC Championship Game, assuming it wins the SEC East.

Florida has one of the most generous schedules for SEC standards that I’ve ever seen. Not only do the Gators miss out on Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn from the West on the regular-season schedule, but they also get an open date prior to their toughest regular-season game – at LSU. In addition, the Bayou Bengals have to play at Georgia the previous week.

Who knows what’s going to happen in the Big 12 between Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St.? There’s not much separation between that trio of squads. The Cowboys get to host Georgia, Texas, Texas Tech and Missouri, but they have to go to Norman for their regular-season finale.

In the SEC West, it will probably be a three-team race between ‘Bama, LSU and Ole Miss. The Rebels get to host both of those squads and my sleeper in the division, Arkansas.

The Crimson Tide probably have the best overall team in the SEC West, but they are breaking in a new QB (Greg McElroy) and have to play in Oxford, not to mention a testy opener versus Va. Tech at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Penn St. is an interesting team to watch in the national-title hunt. The Nittany Lions have four easy home games against non-conference foes and most importantly, they get Ohio St. in Happy Valley. Remember, stud LB Sean Lee returns after missing the 2008 campaign.

As for USC, unlike last season when its toughest games were at home, its toughest games this year are on the road. The Trojans play at Ohio St., at Cal, at Oregon and at ASU. They are likely to trip somewhere and as Big Ten and Pac 10 teams have realized the last few seasons, one loss probably means elimination from the title hunt since both leagues don’t have a championship game (and subsequent win to add to their resume).

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Five new coordinators to watch:

1-Monte Kiffin (Tennessee) – The longtime defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Bucs is an NFL legend, but how much gas is left in the 69-year-old’s tank? Junior All-American safety Eric Berry will probably provide plenty of energy for the master of the cover-2 scheme. Kiffin coached in college as an assistant at Nebraska and Arkansas from 1966-1979 before taking his only head-coaching job at N.C. St. from 1980-1982. He’s been in the NFL ever since until joining his son at UT.

2-John Chavis (LSU) – Phillip Fulmer didn’t take his pink slip in Knoxville because of Chavis’ defense. That unit was just fine in 2008, but Chavis was dismissed nonetheless. That’s LSU’s gain as Les Miles wisely hired Chavis, who was UT’s d-coordinator the last 14 seasons. The loss of Bo Pelini hurt the Tigers last year, but Chavis will get things corrected on that side of the ball.

3-Mark Whipple (Miami) – Randy Shannon’s future might hinge on this hire. Whipple has been in the NFL since 2004, but he has previous head-coaching stints at the collegiate level at New Haven, Brown and UMass. He’ll need to turn an offense around that finished 89th in the country in yardage in 2008.

4-Gus Malzahn (Auburn) – The Arkansas situation in 2006 got ugly, but Malzahn’s offense thrived at Tulsa the last two years. Gene Chizik’s staff will be under the microscope from the get-go. If Malzahn can get this offense going, the heat won’t be so intense. If not, this could be a very similar drama to the one Malzahn experienced in Fayetteville.

5-Bill Young (Oklahoma St.) – The Cowboys gave up 40 or more points in three of their last four games in 2008. If Young can get this defense playing better, OSU could be a threat to win the Big 12 because the offense is absolutely loaded.

--There are a number of important players that were ruled ineligible due to academics for 2008. Here are a few of those that will be back in 2009 and they are ranked in order of the impact I expect them to have:

1-Mitch Petrus (OL, Arkansas)
2-Mike Williams (WR, Syracuse)
3-Jameel Sewell (QB, Virginia)
4-Paul Warford (CB, Kentucky)
5-E.J. Savannah (LB, Washington)

--Likewise, here are five players coming back from injuries:

1-Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
2-Sean Lee (LB, Penn St.)
3-Trinton Sturdivant (OT, Georgia)
4-Jeff Owens (DT, Georgia)
5-Jamar Chaney (LB, Mississippi St.)

--Ranking the jobs done by new coaches in 2008:
1-Houston Nutt (Ole Miss)
2-Paul Johnson (Ga. Tech)
3-David Cutcliffe (Duke)
4-Bo Pelini (Nebraska)
5-Art Briles (Baylor)

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

  
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