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January 29, 2008

Draft departures cause Top 25 to change

THE LIST: Rivals.com 2008 Preseason Top 25

College football coaches aren't the only ones taking a second look at their teams over the last three weeks.

When Rivals.com released its first preseason top 25 for 2008 the day after LSU won the national title, juniors had yet to declare their intentions to enter the NFL draft and coaching staffs were still in flux.

Three weeks later, we're taking a second look at our preseason rankings to reflect roster changes, coaching hires, etc.

The top three teams stayed the same after USC junior linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing remained on campus. Ohio State got the biggest boost when juniors James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Alex Boone opted to stay for their senior seasons.

Oklahoma was the biggest mover in the top 25, though not in the direction Bob Stoops would have liked. The Sooners dropped four spots, to eighth, when Curtis Lofton, Reggie Smith and Malcolm Kelly bolted for the draft.

Michigan's place in the top 25 was tenuous at best following the graduation of its starting backfield and offensive tackle Jake Long. Since then, wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington entered the draft and Chad Henne's heir apparent at quarterback, Ryan Mallett, transferred to Arkansas. New personnel and a new scheme could mean growing pains for new coach Rich Rodriguez.

Taking the Wolverines' place in the top 25 is Fresno State, which has watched WAC opponents Boise State and Hawaii reach BCS games in the past two seasons. The Bulldogs lose only one starter on offense - center/guard Ryan Wendell - and return seven starters on defense.

As National Signing Day and spring practice near, coaches and fans will learn a little more about their teams. For now, here's a snapshot of the top 25 for 2008.

Rivals.com 2008 Preseason Top 25: Jan. 29
1. USC (11-2)
USC remains Rivals.com's preseason No. 1, losing only guard Chilo Rachal early to the draft. The Trojans' defense gets a big boost with linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing returning for their senior seasons.
2. Georgia (11-2)
A young team from 2007 returns eight starters on each side of the ball. And only four of the 16 returning starters are seniors. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno will lead the offense.
3. Ohio State (11-2)
No team dodged the early entry deadline more than the Buckeyes. Ohio State lost defensive end Vernon Gholston, but linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and offensive tackle Alex Boone elected to return for their senior seasons.
4. Missouri (12-2)
The Tigers may have passed Oklahoma as the preseason favorite in the Big 12. Missouri still has offensive weapons despite losing senior tight end Martin Rucker, tailback Tony Temple and wide receiver Will Franklin.
5. Florida (9-4)
Defensive end Derrick Harvey left early for the NFL, but tight end Cornelius Ingram removed his name from the draft and returned to school. The Gators offense adds a top-notch running back in USC transfer Emmanuel Moody.
6. LSU (12-2)
The Tigers lost their senior defensive stars - defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, linebacker Ali Highsmith and safety Craig Steltz - and have had to replace defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
7. West Virginia (11-2)
The time is now for rising sophomore Noel Devine, who will have to shoulder more of the load without tailback Steve Slaton. Bill Stewart inherits a talented squad from Rich Rodriguez.
8. Oklahoma (11-3)
The Sooners still can make a run at the Big 12 title and possibly the national title but they lost three of their best players early to the NFL: wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Reggie Smith.
9. Auburn (9-4)
Defensive tackle Pat Sims was something of surprise departure. On the coaching front, the Tigers go into 2008 with two new coordinators - Tony Franklin on offense and Paul Rhoads on defense.
10. Clemson (9-4)
Defensive end Phillip Merling opted for the draft. So did running back James Davis - for a while, anyway. The Tigers kept their talented backfield intact when Davis changed his mind and returned to Clemson.
11. Virginia Tech (11-3)
The Hokies lost junior cornerback Brandon Flowers, but cornerback Victor Harris opted to stay in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech got a big boost when running back Branden Ore pulled his name out of the draft.
12. BYU (11-2)
The Cougars must replace much of their defense, but BYU has the offense for a run at a Bowl Championship Series game. QB Max Hall, WR Austin Collie and TE Dennis Pitta should make for a potent passing attack.
13. Wisconsin (9-4)
Maybe cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu, who tore his ACL while preparing for the draft, wishes he stayed in school. The Badgers still return nine starters on defense.
14. Kansas (12-1)
Cornerback Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Anthony Collins were early departures. Defensive coordinator Bill Young's move to Miami could be just as significant.
15. Texas (10-3)
Even without two early entries - tailback Jamaal Charles and tight end Jermichael Finley - Texas should still have enough firepower on offense. Adding rising star defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is a boost to the coaching staff.
16. Texas Tech (9-4)
The Red Raiders return 10 offensive starters and nine on defense. Maybe it will be enough to push Texas Tech from eight- and nine-win territory into the Big 12 title game.
17. Arizona State (10-3)
Is this good news or bad news? The Sun Devils, who allowed more sacks than all but two teams in the country, lost both offensive tackles and its top lineman, center Mike Pollak.
18. Penn State (9-4)
The Nittany Lions' defense took a hit by losing senior linebacker Dan Connor and junior cornerback Justin King. Returning linebacker Sean Lee should be Penn State's next premier player at the position.
19. Illinois (9-4)
Quarterback Juice Williams will have to work harder without the safety net of tailback Rashard Mendenhall, who ran for 1,681 yards as a junior before turning pro.
20. Tennessee (10-4)
The Vols have overhauled the offensive coaching staff and there will be a new starting quarterback. But tailback Arian Foster opted to stay for his senior season.
21. South Florida (9-4)
The Bulls didn't lose any underclassmen, but they will have to re-tool their defense without linebacker Ben Moffitt and cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams.
22. Oregon (9-4)
Tailback Jonathan Stewart surprised few by jumping to the NFL. The defense will be glad strong safety Patrick Chung returned; he declared for the draft but changed his mind and will be back next season.
23. Wake Forest (9-4)
Coach Jim Grobe again resisted overtures from other programs. The Demon Deacons are poised to start five seniors on the defense but must replace three starting defensive linemen.
24. South Carolina (6-6)
The Gamecocks are poised to return to the postseason with the return of 10 defensive starters and a new defensive coordinator. That number does not include linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who played only four games last year because of a knee injury.
25. Fresno State (9-4)
The Bulldogs enter the top 25 thanks to 17 returning starters on a team that won nine games, including a victory over Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Bulldogs will be tested at UCLA, at Kansas State and against Wisconsin.

Rivals.com football staff members Steve Megargee, David Fox, Olin Buchanan and Mike Huguenin compiled the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25.



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