OFD Pre-Fall Top 25: No. 16-20

With practice just around the corner, here comes the next installment of One Foot Down's pre-Fall Top 25. 

Over a week ago we unveiled the first five teams in the rankings and they were as follows from lowest to highest:

Texas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Ohio State.

That group above actually had every single team fall from the spring rankings, but once we break into the top 20 you will see a lot of teams taking advantage of The Great Ohio State Drop.

It's time to get controversial (or not) with teams 16 through 20.

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20. MichiganState Spartans (23)

The 2010-11 Spartan teams will probably be the most well-rounded and successful in recent MichiganState history. Another double digit win season is clearly possible, but they do lose some of the best defenders they’ve had in a long time.

Still, there is a nice collection of returning players on defense and Dantonio has proven to be a very capable coach who gets the most out his team. Most importantly, MichiganState returns what could be the Big Ten’s best offense with a great ground game mixed in with competent experience and leadership at quarterback.

Their biggest issues are up front on the offensive line and in the secondary, but if those weaknesses can be managed this Spartan team shouldn’t lose more than two or three games.

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19. Florida Gators (10)

What was I thinking having Florida as a top 10 team in the spring? I was drinking too much Boom Kool-Aid, that’s what happened.

I’m not even sure the Gators should be ranked at this point, but the defense should be very good right out of the gate and Charlie Weis should at least improve the weakest part of their offense at the quarterback position.

This is a team that could very easily go 6-6, and really suffer down the stretch with a 2-6 record after September. Still, in the defensive-minded SEC Florida will probably steal a game or two from their six tough opponents, especially if they get the Year One Bump from Weis.*

*Don’t expect it to last.

This has to be the most fascinating team to watch in 2011.

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18. Virginia Tech Hokies (25)

I think this is a good spot for a Virginia Tech team that lost QB Tyrod Taylor as well as a collection of really nice players. Beamer & Co. do a really good job of developing players, but they also don’t recruit as well as most of the teams in the top 25 either.

With that shellacking from Stanford in the Orange Bowl still fresh in my mind (Stanford was +246 in yards; The Cardinal were only +53 against the Irish, with Luck having his worst passer rating of the season…so we’ve got that going for us!) I don’t see how Virginia Tech can be any higher than this.

However, they do have one of the easiest schedules in the country and it is the main reason why people like Phil Steele have the Hokies in the top 10 with a real chance to go undefeated. They are nearly a lock to go undefeated on the road, and their toughest home games are all ACC opponents with no FloridaState on the schedule.

The odds of another double-digit win season are pretty good in Blacksburg and depending on where they are ranked when the first AP poll comes out, Virginia Tech will be one of the most popular darkhorse national title contenders we've seen in a long time. 

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17. Georgia Bulldogs (26)

I moved Georgia all the way inside the top 20 from not being ranked because their schedule is very friendly, and I think they will have a big bounce back year for Mark Richt, whose job may be on the line---it just has to be at this point, right?

Plus, their recent freshmen class is loaded, they have possibly the SEC’s best quarterback, the defense is very talented, and the Bulldogs are in a more stable position (I think) as a program than division foe Florida.

Their season starts out in brutal fashion (Boise State & South Carolina) but after that it's almost laughably easy for a SEC team, as they might not play a ranked team after the first two weeks in September. Even with a 0-2 start, Georgia can easily go 9-3 this year and sneak into the SEC title game.

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 16. Nebraska Cornhuskers (19)

The Cornhuskers are probably the hardest team to get a read on this preseason for a variety of reasons. What’s going on with their quarterback situation and is that settled? Is the head coach mentally stable? How will they handle playing in the Big Ten?

And then there’s last year's results: Nebraska destroyed Washington early in the season, handed Oklahoma State one of their two losses, beat a very good Missouri team, and hung in there with Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

But they also scraped by South Dakota State, lost to the worst Texas team in years, needed overtime to beat Iowa State, and put in a pathetic performance in their rematch versus Washington during bowl season.

Nebraska will have a good defense (I think it will be the weakest of the past three years), but the offense needs some serious work and that probably doesn’t equal any greater success than what we saw last year from the Huskers.

They are also are going to find life in the Big Ten much more difficult and quite a step up from the usual roadkill they are accustomed to in the Big 12 North. The Cornhuskers will be another fascinating team to watch in 2011.  

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