Terry's Preseason Sweet 16

Terry's Sweet 16

1. USC
2. Texas
3. Tennessee
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan
6. LSU
7. Virginia Tech
8. Oklahoma
9. Miami (Fla.)
10. Florida
11. Iowa
12. Florida State
13. Georgia
14. Purdue
15. Auburn
16. Louisville

More Season Preview featuring Terry Bowden:
What to watch for | Preseason Sweet 16
ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | More

With a month left until the first game it's time to pick my top 16 preseason football teams. I'm picking just 16 because that would be the number of teams I would like to see in a playoff at the end of the season. So we will start today and continue until the season is over when I will name our final 16 playoff (I wish) teams.

I will be a little more in depth on my top four because I believe our championship game will feature two of those schools. Then I will give a tidbit or two on the other 12 teams.

USC

1. USC Trojans Team page | Schedule | Roster

This is a no-brainer. After back-to-back national championships, the Trojans will be led by an offense that includes Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, the best tailback tandem in the country, three great receivers and an incredible offensive line. There are some holes to fill on defense, but after having three straight great recruiting classes under head coach Pete Carroll there are plenty of able bodies around to fill in the gaps.

The greatest concern for USC is the loss of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and three other assistant coaches. With a Pac-10 that has no other team in my Sweet 16, staff chemistry and a tough road schedule are the only things that stand in the way of a third straight national championship.

Texas

2. Texas Longhorns Team page | Schedule | Roster

After five straight losses to Oklahoma, this is the year the Longhorns finally break through to win the Red River Shootout. Quarterback sensation Vince Young can beat you with his arm or his legs and will be protected by the nation's No. 1 offensive line. And if nine starters back on defense were not enough, head coach Mack Brown hired defensive coordinator Gene Chizik away from Auburn, where he molded the No.1 scoring defense in the land.

If Texas can handle Ohio State in Columbus on Sept. 10 and Texas A&M at the end of the season, there is no one they could meet in the Big 12 Championship that would keep them out of the Rose Bowl.

Tennessee

3. Tennessee Volunteers Team page | Schedule | Roster

In the 13 years Phil Fulmer has been the head coach at Tennessee, the Vols have been the most consistent team in the SEC. Tennessee is the only SEC school that has won at least eight games every year since the league went to divisional play and a conference championship in 1992. More importantly, this looks to be Fulmer's most talented team since their national championship in 1998.

With a 1,000-yard rusher (Gerald Riggs Jr.) and a run-crushing defense, this is a vintage Tennessee football team. If there is one slight weakness it is in the secondary, and the prospects of getting another national title may come down to the Sept. 17 confrontation with the SEC's best passing attack down in the Swamp.

Ohio State

4. Ohio State Buckeyes Team page | Schedule | Roster

I just love what the athleticism of quarterback Troy Smith has done for this Buckeye offense. Because of that I make the Buckeyes the favorites in the Big Ten.

Last year, after Smith took over for Justin Zwick, Ohio State won four of its last five games including a dominant victory over Michigan. Don't expect to see three yards and a cloud of dust as OSU has no real go-to tailback, but it doesn't really matter because Smith will be throwing to two unbelievable wide receivers including the nation's most exciting player, Teddy Ginn.

There are nine starters back on defense, led by A.J. Hawk, and the best linebacker corps in the country. The biggest loss is kicker Mike Nugent, which will make coach Jim Tressel's patented close games a bit scarier. The Buckeyes play Texas and Iowa early, and whether they win one or both of those games will determine which championship (Big Ten or national) will be riding on the regular-season finale at Michigan.

Michigan

5. Michigan Wolverines Team page | Schedule | Roster

With quarterback Chad Henne, running back Michael Hart and wide receiver Steve Breaston, Michigan has enough firepower on its offense to contend for the Big Ten championship. But you have to be somewhat skeptical of the defense after the collapse at the end of last year. Overall, last year's defense gave up the most points (279) in school history. With the loss of a couple of linebackers and two All-Americans in the secondary, I'm not convinced it will get any better.

LSU

6. LSU Tigers Team page | Schedule | Roster

LSU has as much talent as anyone in the country, and new head coach Les Miles should make it to the SEC championship game in his inaugural season. Nick Saban pretty much ran the defense last year so question No. 1 is how they will do under new defensive coordinator Bo Pellini. The bigger question, though, is whether the leadership and intangibles exist at a quarterback position that was much too inconsistent last season.

Virginia Tech

7. Virginia Tech Hokies Team page | Schedule | Roster

The ultimate success of this team will fall squarely on the shoulders of first-year starter Marcus Vick, who hasn't played in an actual game in nearly two years. North Carolina State will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Vick in the very first game, and it won't stop until he proves he can make better decisions on the field than he has made off the field in the past two years. Other than that, the Hokies are loaded with talent, albeit a somewhat youthful secondary, and the schedule looks very accommodating.

Oklahoma

8. Oklahoma Sooners Team page | Schedule | Roster

For the first time since Bob Stoops' first season, it looks like the Sooners may be doing a little rebuilding. They must break in a new quarterback, fill a lot of holes on the offensive line and in the receiving corps, and replace seven starters on defense. It is awful nice, though, to rebuild around the best back in college football, Adrian Peterson.

The biggest concern is that Oklahoma did not appear to fight for 60 minutes when it fell behind USC in the championship game last season. How have they dealt with this in the offseason?

Miami (Fla.)

9. Miami Hurricanes Team page | Schedule | Roster

Miami must break in a new quarterback in Kyle Wright and find a go-to tailback. But if the Hurricanes can beat Florida State in Tallahassee on Labor Day, they should be able to ride their 10 returning starters on defense to an 8-0 record heading into their trip to Blacksburg on Nov. 5.

This defense has enough talent to be as good as any Miami has had in recent years, but there are just enough question marks on offense to make you wonder more about if the Canes will win their first ACC title than their sixth national championship.

Florida

10. Florida Gators Team page | Schedule | Roster

New head coach Urban Meyer has Gator Nation believing that great things are going to be happening in Gainesville, and I think he is exactly right. Chris Leak will be lighting up the scoreboard throwing to all his favorite receivers, and if it weren't for the fact that Florida is playing four of the teams on this list I'd have them in the SEC championship game this year. Just be patient, Gator faithful. It's only a matter of time.

Iowa

11. Iowa Hawkeyes Team page | Schedule | Roster

All-Big Ten quarterback Drew Tate has made a believer out of almost everyone after leading an offense that rushed for only 72.6 yards per game (116th in Division I-A) to a 10-win season and a conference co-championship. The running game should be much healthier this year, and the linebacker group is one of the best in the country. However, the loss of all four starting defensive linemen will keep the Hawkeyes from being as dominant on the defensive side of the ball.

Florida State

12. Florida State Seminoles Team page | Schedule | Roster

Just when it looks like the quarterback woes at FSU have come to an end, Wyatt Sexton gets Lyme disease and is out for the season. Redshirt freshmen Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford are more talented but will be nowhere near ready to open up the year against a defense as strong as Miami's. However, Miami is starting a youngster at quarterback, too, and the Seminoles' defense is pretty sporty. If the 'Noles can find a way to get enough production out of their two sensational tailbacks against the 'Canes, they just might be undefeated going into that final regular-season game against Florida.

Georgia

13. Georgia Bulldogs Team page | Schedule | Roster

With David Greene finally gone at quarterback, Georgia must lean on its running game if it is going to get past Tennessee and Florida and into the SEC championship game. With all five offensive linemen returning along with tight end Leonard Pope, there ought to be some pretty big holes opened up for three very good running backs. I'm just not convinced D.J. Shockley is a good enough decision-maker to have a consistent passing attack. Of course, the reason the Bulldogs will have a chance to have their fourth consecutive season of 10 or more wins is that they are going to reload, as usual, with great defensive talent.

Purdue

14. Purdue Boilermakers Team page | Schedule | Roster

How can you be in the Big Ten and not play Ohio State or Michigan? Well, Purdue is so lucky. Because the Boilermakers have only one Sweet 16 team on their schedule (Iowa), they are going to have a pretty good year. Eleven starters back on defense is a very good thing, too, although they must become more aggressive this year at taking the ball away. The big experiment this year is on offense, where the option will be added to coach Joe Tiller's basketball on grass. I don't know if it is more because of how well new starting quarterback Brandon Kirsch can run or because of how poorly he can throw, but I imagine it is a little of both. But if it works, this could be some kind of year for the Boilermakers.

Auburn

15. Auburn Tigers Team page | Schedule | Roster

You don't lose three first-round draft picks in your backfield and have an offense as good the next year, period. Therefore, the Tigers must hang their hat on their defense, especially the front seven, until they can get some experience at quarterback and running back.

I would be very concerned about the loss of defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to Texas, but head coach Tommy Tuberville's credentials as a defensive guru himself make up for the loss. If LSU doesn't find a quarterback, Auburn could find itself right back in the SEC championship game.

Louisville

16. Louisville Cardinals Team page | Schedule | Roster

Louisville leaves Conference USA to join the Big East and immediately becomes the league favorite. I don't see a team on their schedule that is Sweet 16 material, and the Cardinals will be favorites in every ballgame. However, the Big East is a step up in talent, and the Cardinals will be tested much more often than last season. It's nice that they are able to depend on quarterback Brian Brohm to make a trip to their first BCS game a little more likely.