1. Tennessee - Watch out for the Vols in '11, especially if you're in their division. Bray might kinda act like a douche and have a Mark McGrath-esque back tattoo, but he's got talent. And, with Precious at the helm, more discipline should follow, helping to steady a program that's been in relative turmoil for almost 3 years. Justin Hunter will be a league-leading next season and an improved O-line will be the difference in the close games (LSU, UNC), helping the Vols earn at leas nine wins. The other factor that helps? The SEC East is awful. Florida will be realigning under new management, Georgia's down - way down -, and SoCar's not repeating as division champs. Right now, barring a turn around in Athens or quick reaction in Gainesville, it seems the division is Tennessee's to lose.
2. Michigan - I know, I know, 7-6, blowout loss in the bowl, and a new headcoach. But I'm including Michigan based more on the level of their competition. I'm just not convinced all those players who gave "their word" to Tressell will be back at OSU, and that type of talent loss could weaken the Bucks' strangle hold on the Big-Ten. Plus, Wisconsin's rebuilding, Iowa's in flux with graduations, injuries, and arrests, and Penn State just can't seem to get over the hump. That opens the door for the Wolverines who look to be improved enough to actually walk through it without stubbing their toe in the hilarious fashion we got used to under RichRod. I'm not saying Big Ten champs - OSU didn't lose that much talent - but I am saying 8-9 wins. Think about it: the defense can't be any worse and if Shoelace stays, the offense should be fine.
Side note: That Michigan-SDSU game next year looks very interesting.
3. Arizona State - I went into this post ready to write about Cal here. I felt the Bears had an honest shot at marked improvement, but I just can't get past the malaise that defines Berkley under Tedford. So, poking around the Pac-10(12?), I started looking at AZ State. The Devils were ten points away from a 10-win season this year and return their starting QB and leading rusher. While they don't have quite as easy a schedule as they did this year, a focused effort could get State 9 wins.
While we're at it, here's a new early top-10. I adjusted it for info that's come out the last few days, like Blackmon staying in Stillwater, reality in Columbus, and a shuffle in Baton Rouge.
- Boise State
- Florida State
- Oklahoma State
- Virginia Tech
- Ohio State