My college football Top 25: UGA is No. 11, and LSU is …

Will Loquacious Les and his Fightin' Tigers be singing in January? (AP photo)

So: Will Loquacious Les Miles and his Fightin' Tigers be singing in January? (AP photo)

File this under Adventures in Prognosticating. Due to print schedules, this list was compiled and submitted several days ago. It was printed — the special Sunday football section had an early run — the day LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard was suspended and the day before charges were brought against Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who was then himself suspended.

I supposed I could have changed the Top 25 for AJC.com purposes, but that way I’d inevitably wind up being wrong twice. Better to remain mulishly consistent, I say. (This time, anyway. Where mulish consistency is concerned, I’m sometimes inconsistent.) And besides: It would be just like LSU to win the BCS title without two key contributors. I mean, who among us doesn’t have great faith in Zach Mettenberger?

But enough. Here’s the Top 25, at least until somebody else gets arrested/suspended.

In keeping with the Les Miles Way of Football Coaching, this Top 25 will either be the smartest ever compiled — or the silliest. Which seems rather fitting, given whose team is ranked No. 1.

1. LSU: It’s unlikely the Tigers will go unbeaten — they play Oregon in Arlington, Texas; Mississippi State in Starkville; West Virginia in Morgantown and Alabama in Tuscaloosa — but an SEC school can win the BCS title with one loss. (LSU won it in 2007 with two losses.) And if any team can stand up to a demanding schedule, it’s this. Loony Les has all but guaranteed a windfall autumn, and now the investigation into a Baton Rouge brawl has left him spitting mad.

2. Oklahoma: The Sooners, by way of contrast, probably have to go undefeated to wind up in the BCS title game. With Texas in retreat and Nebraska in the Big Ten, the Big 12 (which has 10 members at the moment) is the least challenging of the major leagues. A loss to Florida State in Tallahassee on Sept. 17 could and the championship hopes of the team ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, and the loss of linebacker Travis Lewis to a broken foot augurs poorly.

3. Stanford: How much of the Cardinal’s rise was a function of Jim Harbaugh, and how much was the doing of Andrew Luck? The former is now coaching the San Francisco 49ers, and his fire will be missed. But his successor is David Shaw, who was Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator, and Shaw is sharp enough to realize that, in Luck, he has the nation’s best quarterback. The key game for Stanford comes Nov. 5 against Oregon, and it’s in Palo Alto.

4. Alabama: It’s a tribute to Nick Saban that his Crimson Tide, which lost four first-round draftees to the NFL and its starting quarterback to boot, is still the consensus pick to win the nation’s best conference. The Tide figures to be well coached, duh, and even more driven after its fourth-place finish in the SEC West. But without Mark Ingram and Julio Jones and Greg McElroy and Marcell Dareus, Alabama seems a year away from greater glory.

5. Florida State: Here’s another team that lost its quarterback — Christian Ponder was a first-round NFL pick — but might have upgraded at the position. E.J. Manuel was voted all-conference by the ACC media last month, which tells us much about his potential. (Also a bit about the blind faith of the ACC media.) The aforementioned date with Oklahoma has been circled in Tallahassee for months. The teams met last season in Norman, and the Sooners won 47-17.

6. Wisconsin: Who says college football doesn’t have a waiver wire? Grad student Russell Wilson, who passed for 3,653 yards last season, was released from his scholarship by North Carolina State but decided to end his dalliance with minor-league baseball and return for a final season of college football. He chose over the Badgers over Auburn, which has known some success with one-year quarterbacks, and immediately rendered Wisconsin a Rose Bowl favorite.

7. Oregon: The Ducks closed last season with an honorable at-the-horn loss to Auburn in the BCS title game. Next they get to try another SEC West opponent on another neutral field. Should Oregon beat LSU on Sept. 3, another run to the championship would be a real possibility. But the guess is that an offseason of scrutiny will take a toll on the program Nike built. If it’s any consolation, though, the Ducks still figure to win more games this year than Auburn.

8. Boise State: Should the Broncos beat Georgia here Sept. 3, we’ll be treated to another round of does-Boise-belong-in-the-title-game debate. Should Boise lose, we won’t hear another peep about its BCS chances. Let’s recall that the Broncos lost only one game last season — to Nevada in overtime — and fell from No. 3 in the polls to the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl. Pound for pound, this remains the best program in the land, but it’s still not ready for the heavyweight championship.

9. Nebraska: This proud program has a new home, and the Big Ten has, in the combustible Cornhusker Bo Pelini, the new Woody Hayes. Watching Pelini throw a sideline tantrum has become a guilty pleasure — is it any wonder he once worked for Les Miles? — but his new conference has every reason to fear the ranter. The past few seasons have done nothing to burnish the Big Ten’s reputation, and now there’s a real chance a transplant could be its champ.

10. Virginia Tech: The Hokies, as usual, stand to win the ACC Coastal. (They’ve done it four times in six seasons.) But the defense, traditionally tenacious under coordinator Bud Foster, will have to do even more heavy lifting. The offensive movers from last season, quarterback Tyrod Taylor among them, are gone. The schedule is almost a joke: The Hokies don’t face Florida State, and three ACC road games are against teams that won one league game apiece in 2010.

11. Georgia: This season’s boom-or-bust team. The Bulldogs can grab the nation’s attention in their first two games against Boise and South Carolina. Beyond that, the schedule is positively inviting. Then again, Georgia did lose seven games last season.

12. South Carolina: It’s possible the Gamecocks could have a much better team but fall short of repeating as SEC East champs. Like Georgia, Carolina doesn’t have to face LSU or Alabama. But it does have to play a road game in Athens, and that’s huge.

13. Texas A&M:What’s this? Three SEC teams in a row? (Sorry. Getting ahead of myself.) The Aggies’ tale, at least in 2011, figures to be told in a three-game stretch: Oklahoma State and Arkansas at home, Texas Tech away.

14. Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy’s men — heh, heh; little joke — should be the third-best team in the defoliated Big 12. The reason the Cowboys won’t be among the top two is that they must face Texas A&M and Oklahoma on the road.

15. Mississippi State: Coach Dan Mullen’s face appears on billboards that bear the legend, “This Is Our State.” Which might be news to Houston Nutt, but we digress. Good team here. Good team in the wrong division.

16. Arkansas: Speaking of which, Bobby Petrino gushed — and Bobby P. isn’t much of a gusher — at SEC Media Days over his team’s speed. Then running back Knile Davis broke his ankle and was lost for the season.

17. Utah: To accommodate its increased membership, the Pac-12 has split into two divisions. It’s the Utes’ great good fortune to have plopped down in the one that doesn’t include Stanford or Oregon.

18. Penn State: Joe Paterno coaches the Nittany Lions. He has won 401 games and is 401 years old. (OK, so I exaggerate.) The big news this preseason was the night he spent in the hospital after getting trampled in practice.

19. TCU: This team went 13-0 last season. It figures to finish behind Boise State in the Mountain West this season. Next season the Horned Frogs might finish second in the Big East. That’s correct: Texas Christian to the Big East.

20. Notre Dame: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. “Notre Dame is always overrated.” But it’s not like I’m putting the Fighting Irish in the Top 10. And, apart from Stanford, Notre Dame doesn’t play a team that I’ve ranked above it.

21. West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen was supposed to be Bill Stewart’s coach-in-waiting, but Stewart was believed to have bad-mouthed Holgorsen and had to step down. Waiting time for the coach-in-waiting: Seven months to the day.

22. Michigan State: The Spartans went 11-2 last season, which sounds more impressive than it looked. Why? Because their losses — to Iowa and Alabama — came by an aggregate 73 points.

23. Ohio State: Jim Tressel doesn’t coach here anymore, and Terrell Pryor is gone, too. But this is still a program of vast resources, and we know from experience that the Big Ten is less tough than the SEC.

24. Houston: The class of Conference USA. (Other choices would be Southern Miss or Central Florida.) Quarterback Case Keenum was lost to a knee injury last season. He’s back now. He’s good, too.

25. Texas: There are two reasons the Longhorns shouldn’t be a losing team for long. One is freshman running back Malcolm Brown. The other is defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who worked wonders at Mississippi State.

By Mark Bradley

236 comments Add your comment

Flip

August 29th, 2011
8:56 am

Coach Todd Grantham

August 29th, 2011
8:56 am

First. Thanks Mark, Dawgs deserve to be this high!

5 Time National Champs Nebraska

August 29th, 2011
8:57 am

First……In the final polls will be Nebraska.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

5 Time National Champs Nebraska

August 29th, 2011
8:58 am

And you are too generous with your assessment on Georgia.

Flip

August 29th, 2011
8:59 am

I dont know how often it happens that you actually get to read the article and still get a First. But having UGA at is way to high to start a season.

Sonny

August 29th, 2011
9:01 am

Sonny

August 29th, 2011
9:01 am

Wilson

August 29th, 2011
9:04 am

Innocent Bystander

August 29th, 2011
9:05 am

I’m certain a 6-7 team which lost its only two receiving threats and is relying on a true frosh at RB won’t finish #11. A true freshman is just that, a freshman, no matter how many “stars” he may have.

Mr. Peterson vs Bozo

August 29th, 2011
9:05 am

Too bad…… its gonna be bust for UGA!

5 Time National Champs Nebraska

August 29th, 2011
9:07 am

Am I mistaken? Is Auburn not on that list?

BAMA dude

August 29th, 2011
9:08 am

Are you crazy? UGA at #11? They improve to 8-4 this year, 9-3 at best.

Benjamin

August 29th, 2011
9:09 am

Everyone’s touting Georgia to do so well, and I’m a Georgia fan, but we were 6-7 last year and lost SO much talent to the NFL and, in Caleb King’s case, the Athens police blotter. I just don’t see how we can go from that back to the penthouse so quickly.

In my view, we’re an 8 win team at best.

DawginLex

August 29th, 2011
9:10 am

Chattanooga 56
Nebraska 3

buckheaddawg

August 29th, 2011
9:16 am

Bystander, have you read every report out of athens since practice started? Crowell’s the real deal. Herschel was ALSO a freshman at one point.

not having 2 go-to receivers doesn’t matter when you have 3 freakish TE’s. Brown is finally stepping up, and another freshman Malcolm Mitchell is a freakshow of a playmaker. Georgia will be fine, The D will be outstanding, now that Bacarri’s benched.

CFB Fan

August 29th, 2011
9:16 am

Homerism at its finest. Every year Mr. Bradley drinks the kool-aide only to be proven wrong everytime.

In my eyes, Bradley, you lost a litte credibility here.

UGA should be maybe on the bubble around 25.

buckheaddawg

August 29th, 2011
9:17 am

and bradley did his job- stirring up crap from people like ourselves. I don’t agree with his #11 but we’ll finish 11-15 with a 9-3, losses against boise (outcoached), tenn (out-physicalled) and UF (mental)

Gene Gene the tackling machine

August 29th, 2011
9:17 am

This will get you ready for the game, whether you are an optimist or pessimist!!

http://www.warriorandworrier.com

ToccoaDawg

August 29th, 2011
9:20 am

LET THE GAMES BEGIN.

Herschel Talker

August 29th, 2011
9:22 am

buckheaddawg:

Under your scenario, do you believe Mark Richt should be canned? I sure do. Yet another loss to Florida and not winning the East (which I assume is the case in your scenario, although we could win a 3-way tiebreaker) earns Richt a one-way ticket out of town.

HT

JB

August 29th, 2011
9:23 am

I love my Dawgs, and they have made some positive changes in the off season, but I’ll just have to take a wait and see attitude. They could lose the first two, and the world and half the Dawg fan base would write them off, but they could circle the wagons and go 10-2, 9-3 and be ranked and go to a decent bowl. They will for sure be the hunters….and not the hunted. I know people hate this, but we just need some plain ole good luck this year. The ball to bounce our way and no injuries. Go Dawgs

george

August 29th, 2011
9:24 am

Thanks for the good laugh. i dont know which is more ridiculous stanford at 3 or UGA at 11. Both will be 4 loss teams.

[...] My college football Top 25: UGA is No. 11, and LSU is …Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)It was printed — the special Sunday football section had an early run — the day LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard was suspended and the day before charges were brought against Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who was then himself suspended. …Losing early worse than losing late in BCS chaseUSA Todayall 33 news articles » [...]

Socal Dawg

August 29th, 2011
9:26 am

Come on Mark!! Well there goes our year… Bradley is NEVER right. And I had such high hopes.

I'm just saying...

August 29th, 2011
9:26 am

Mark did you go on a bender this weekend?

I got one

August 29th, 2011
9:27 am

I’m pretty sure GT won more than one league game last year. UNC, Wake, Duke, UVA.

JB

August 29th, 2011
9:27 am

Herschel. The powers to be in Athens are looking for every reason to keep Mark, not reasons to get rid of him.
He needs to win the games he’s SUPPOSED to win, and in the losses, Not look lost or horrible doing it. Do that, even 8-4 brings him back IMHO.

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2011
9:32 am

Kudos, Flip.

JB

August 29th, 2011
9:33 am

Herschel, one more thing….I will admit that the expectations are not what they use to be in Athens. Hoping we beat Boise ? Hoping we beat Carolina? That did not use to be the way you heard things. I use to feel that we were going to the Dome every year, if we got there or not, we felt that way. Win 8 and get to a decent bowl is what Carolina and Kentucky use to say, not us.

JackDennis

August 29th, 2011
9:33 am

Oklahoma always chokes one game. Dawgs, more than one. Look for GA in Cottonelle Personal WIpes Bowl.

South GA Dawg

August 29th, 2011
9:34 am

I thin I would flip LSU and FSU. If FSU gets past OK the momentum will take them to the NC game. Boise is a long shot. I do not see them getting by this GA team. It will be a good game but UGA will shut Kellen down. This is not the first overrated QB GA has faced , remember the sugar bowl. If UGA comes to win and you better believe they will, they will come hard and fast. The big dawgs are hungry and mean this year.

Mark Bradley

August 29th, 2011
9:35 am

And I didn’t say Georgia Tech won only one ACC game last season. I said three of Virginia Tech’s four ACC road games are against teams that went 1-7 in league play in 2010. The three: Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke. Virginia Tech’s fourth ACC road game is against Georgia Tech.

JB

August 29th, 2011
9:36 am

The BCS bowl folks are pulling for us Saturday. Having them at 12-0 with that schedule is not something they want to deal with. They lose to Georgia, they’re toast in their eyes.

Columbus Dawg

August 29th, 2011
9:39 am

buckheaddawg has said it all, there is no bigger indication that justice is being done in Athens as the benching of Rambo. I was sure that his play,or lack thereof, would be the deciding reason that my television would be turned off before the game was over. Rambo changed imediately after his big collision with the Auburn running back. This was pretty much obvious to all, but I just believe that the coaches have been trying to give him every opportunity to return to the player that he looked to be before that incident. At this point it looks like that will not happen. This decision to start Sanders at safety ahead of Rambo will be one of the biggest and best decisions you will see out of the Dawgs coaching staff this year. Right up there with the Richard Samuels decision.

BOISE STATE BRONCOS IN FORR A LONG NIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Herschel Talker

August 29th, 2011
9:40 am

JB:

“Win 8 and get to a decent bowl is what Carolina and Kentucky use to say, not us.”

OK, but then in your other comment, you say that the powers that be would keep him in that scenario. So are you saying our standards have permanently been lowered?

Simple question: after the trainwreck of the last few years, why would anyone feel good about 8-4 and feel Richt is worthy of staying given our poor schedule and how down the East is? Do UGA fans not want to excel to great heights, do they merely want a man to stay as coach because he is likeable? It’s insanity.

HT

Same old

August 29th, 2011
9:46 am

After South Carolina wins going away we ca get serious about how well Ga. will finish. As much as it hurts Ga. fans, SC is just a more talented and better coached team.

AceDawg

August 29th, 2011
9:46 am

11 is optimistic for the Dawgs, but I’d probably have them there too out of hopeful thinking. Then again, I think they can beat Boise St and SC, and that’d put them perhaps even near the top 5. Hard to see UGA not losing a couple games along the way as a matter of principle, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a better defense and an experienced Murray.

A Reach

August 29th, 2011
9:47 am

Your reaching Bradley…….stick to your praise of the Brave’s Kimbrel……….definitely spot on!

Jim Doanan as in Doans Pills

August 29th, 2011
9:47 am

the BCS is a Ponzi scheme!

jerry

August 29th, 2011
9:49 am

Sanford Stadium has never been much of a hurdle for good SEC teams in my lifetime and I am no spring chicken.

Gator Bait

August 29th, 2011
9:50 am

Like Georgia always does…..they beat good teams in the SEC AND LOSE to the teams considered worse!Why should that change this year??

Kermit the Frog

August 29th, 2011
9:50 am

Dude, what a terrible top 25. Georgia ahead of South Carolina? LSU the best team in the nation, despite having a terrible QB in Lee? Stanford ahead of Alabama? This is stupid.

Worm

August 29th, 2011
9:55 am

South Carolina fans should be embarassed that they’ve only sold 55,000 tickets to the ECU-Carolina game in Charlotte..It’s 100 miles away and you have one of your better teams..Where’s all those “loyal” Cockfans…That’s 55,000 between the Two teams and the Charlotte Business community.

TruthSeeker

August 29th, 2011
9:57 am

Good list, Mark.

techfan

August 29th, 2011
9:59 am

Mark just curiously, how does Boise St finish 8th and UGA finish 11th? If UGA beats Boise then they won’t sniff the top ten the rest of the season. If Boise wins you are still picking UGA to come back and finish 11th? Are you basically saying that Boise St will be a tougher game then most of the SEC games UGA plays? Because I keep hearing how terrible Boise is from UGA fans.

St. Richt

August 29th, 2011
10:01 am

Wow, 11th ranked after losing their best players on both sides of the ball, with whom they managed to lose 7 games last year. Lets see- Green, Durham, Ealey, King, Houston, Tripp, Dent, and others.. Talk about drinking the Dream Team kool aid…

jerry

August 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Boise St. has about as much chance of beating UGA as Dick Cheney has of shooting a lawyer with a shotgun…….oops.

Fair Dinkum

August 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Not sold on E.J. Manual. ‘Noles will see a better, opposing QB in their season opener.

St. Richt

August 29th, 2011
10:03 am

Too many distractions for LSU to be ranked first.