1) Florida: Remember when the Gators brought back all five starters from their national championship basketball team? We could see the football equivalent. How often does the No. 1 team in the country bring back all 10 or 11 defensive starters? The Gators finished No. 9 nationally in total defense with mostly freshmen and sophomores.
2) Texas: The ‘Horns came within a last-second touchdown of playing in Miami. McCoy returns for his senior season after setting an NCAA-record for completion percentage (76.7). So do receivers Jordan Shipley and Malcolm Williams and four starting offensive linemen. Young defensive backs Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas have the makings of potential stars.
3) USC: If quarterback Mark Sanchez returns, the Trojans will bring back 10 starters from the offense that lit up Penn State in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans will have to replace nearly their entire starting defense, but several of the reinforcements — defensive end Everson Griffin, linebacker Chris Gallipo and defensive backs Shareece Wright and Will Harris — have already played plenty.
4) Oklahoma: The Sooners won’t be scoring 60 points a game next season — nearly the entire offense will turn over, with or without Sam Bradford. But OU’s defense, which played admirably against Florida, should be even better. Nine of its starters against the Gators were underclassmen, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Travis Lewis.
5) Alabama: It’s been said that the Tide were a year ahead of schedule in ’08. ‘Bama was extremely young and, despite losing stalwarts like tackle Andre Smith, center Antoine Caldwell and safety Rashad Johnson, will be more talented across the board. Running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram return, and new quarterback Greg McElroy gets to throw to Julio Jones.
6) Ole Miss: Houston Nutt’s Rebels were one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch, providing a glimpse of even better things in ’09. Quarterback Jevan Snead will emerge as a potential Heisman candidate, and if Ole Miss can continue developing a defense to complement its explosive offense, the Rebels could have their best season since the ’60s.