The way-too-early Top 25 for 2015
It’s never too early to take a peek at next season, right? With the bowl season kicking off next weekend, let’s take an ill-advised stab at projecting next season’s Top 25 nearly eight months too early:
THE SDS ‘WAY TOO EARLY TOP 25 FOR 2015’
1. OHIO STATE — No matter what happens in the national semifinal against Alabama, Urban Meyer’s team will be the most lethal on offense heading into next season with Heisman frontrunner J.T. Barrett returning from a fractured ankle. Barrett set a new Big Ten single-season touchdown record with 45, eclipsing Drew Brees’ previous mark of 42 in 1998.
2. ALABAMA — You don’t lose Blake Sims, Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Landon Collins and improve, do you? A few of those players are expected early exits, but the most noticeable difference will be under center for the Crimson Tide. Sims has flourished in Lane Kiffin’s attack this season, winning the job over 2015 starter Jacob Coker while keeping Alabama afloat at the top of the polls. Coming off what could be the program’s fourth title since 2009 next August, a ‘down season’ with 10 wins is possible thanks to serious personnel losses.
4. FLORIDA STATE — The Seminoles move up if Jameis Winston returns, but he’s projected to be taken in the first round despite a serious drop in production as a sophomore. By this point, it’s possible the two-time defending national champions (if Florida State wins the Playoff) could be riding an incredible 31-game winning streak.
5. BAYLOR — Seth Russell takes the reins of Art Briles’ high-powered offense over from Bryce Petty, a tweener according to NFL scouts who will try and do his best Blake Bortles impression in the upcoming combine. We know the Bears will be able to score and they very well could be the Big XII front-runner.
6. GEORGIA — Breaking in a new quarterback will take some time for Mark Richt whose seat will be quite warm heading into SEC play, but rising sophomore sensation and Heisman candidate Nick Chubb should be be able to handle most of the Bulldogs’ offensive burden. If Jeremy Pruitt’s defense can shine, Georgia’s the early odds-on East favorite.
8. MICHIGAN STATE
10. MIZZOU — The Tigers are a little high at No. 10 since they’re losing probably SEC defensive player of the year Shane Ray, but it’s time to stop limited Mizzou’s potential based on the eye test. The Tigers won 10 games this season and captured another Eastern Division crown. And Maty Mauk’s back at quarterback.
12. AUBURN — Year 3 will be a true test on the Plains for Gus Malzahn as he directs an offense without Nick Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne. Duke Williams will be the Tigers’ go-to player in a passing game that has a chance to be even more lethal with signal caller Jeremy Johnson. Depending on who Auburn hires as Ellis Johnson’s replacement at defensive coordinator, this is a team that could challenge for the West.
14. MISSISSIPPI STATE — This pick hinges on Dak Prescott’s return to Starkville for another run at an SEC West title and possible Heisman. The prolific quarterback’s 50-50 on an NFL decision at the moment, but is an essential piece for Dan Mullen’s offense and the team’s overall strength. If Prescott leaves after the Orange Bowl, Mississippi State falls toward the bottom of the preseason Top 25.
15. TENNESSEE — Butch Jones is beginning to make us all believers in what’s going on at Tennessee, an SEC champion darkhorse in 2015. Derek Barnett will be one of the league’s best defensive players overall while the Vols are one of the only teams in the East — besides Mizzou — with a reliable option at quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. With youthful, but experienced, skill players at several key spots, Tennessee’s a possible nine-win team next fall.
16. NOTRE DAME
17. LSU — Will the issues at quarterback be resolved by next year’s opener? Anthony Jennings was scrutinized throughout the season and it didn’t appear freshman Brandon Harris was ready when given the opportunity. Leonard Fournette’s a luxury, a dominant running back who should go head to head with Nick Chubb for the SEC rushing lead.
18. ARIZONA STATE
19. OLE MISS — On respect for Hugh Freeze alone, AP writers will vote the Rebels in a similar spot next summer as this year’s preseason ranking. Ole Miss returns Robert Nkemdiche up front, but the star-studded secondary is nearly wiped out along with multi-year starting quarterback Bo Wallace. Laquon Treadwell’s journey back from a season-ending leg injury gives the offense a superstar in the making.
22. ARKANSAS — Here’s a squad on a mission after a strong finish in conference play to end the 2014 campaign. The Razorbacks lose several studs on defense, but the core nucleus on offense — Brandon Allen and Alex Collins — are back along with tight end Hunter Henry. Jonathan Williams is likely an NFL casualty, but Bret Bielema will have another stud ballcarrier waiting for his shot.
23. GEORGIA TECH
24. TEXAS A&M — For now, Kyle Allen will lead Kevin Sumlin’s offense, but what’s going to happen with Kenny Hill on the depth chart with Johnny Manziel-clone Kyler Murray set to arrive on campus? Spring practice should be fun in Aggieland.
25. BOISE STATE
SEC teams receiving votes: Florida, South Carolina.