December 22, 2008
By Todd Helmick

After taking in some of the reviews concerning our 2009 Early Bird Preview, the majority of the reports tend to believe we must be ‘stoned’. Despite the fact this is our eighth season of producing this very early outlook and despite the fact that we ask everyone to NOT MISS THE POINT (see link), there still tends to be a ‘home-team bias’ – “why is a certain team ranked above my team?” It's all par for the course with any preseason rankings in college football…we understand this. Two factors can change these rankings in a major way: players leaving early for the NFL (as we assume everyone is coming back at this point) and the bowl game results. But the differences in rankings between’s Early Bird Preview and the major polls in the past - after all is said and done - have been generally negligible. Any differences usually are not that drastic (more than a few places).

Take a look at the polls that are currently out for 2008. The same top five you see now will be the same top five you see seven months from now…you know, when all those summer preseason previews come spewing forth and become widely available. Maybe not in the same order, but these are the same five teams you’ll see then. Ergo, the title of this Early Bird Preview has been dubbed, "The Song Remains The Same."

We are telling you now that Florida is a LANDSLIDE favorite to be the top team heading into 2009 if Tim Tebow comes back. If he chooses otherwise, they still may be a close second. Outside of All-American Brandon Spikes leaving early, they lose absolutely nobody on defense and that includes back-ups. None of us working here can recall a situation such as this in recent memory (where the current No. 1 team loses so few parts) that is true while simultaneously the recruiting classes continue to be so well stocked.

Surprisingly enough, even some Bama folks don't see their Crimson Tide team sitting this high in next season's polls. Most seem to have accepted the fact that the best offensive tackle in college football, Andre Smith, will be playing on Sundays next fall. Some huge gaps need to be filled for Coach Nick Saban within his offensive line, and that departure is sure to drop his squad out of our current No. 2 ranking. But they won't drop far. Losing John Parker Wilson at QB is an issue, but he was never the kind of passer that solely beat people with his arm. He was just what the Tuscaloosa doctors ordered, a senior signal caller with a ton of experience that didn't make big mistakes as he let the run game and defense play a part. The SEC's No. 1 ranked defense (No. 3 nationally) has nine starters back, and their monstrous recruiting classes have already paid dividends. We'll leave it at that; Saban is way ahead of schedule.

Some have called out the relatively high ranking of Georgia Tech. If you drop them out of any 2009 Top 10 lists, then we assume you must do the same to in-state rival Georgia (see current polls), which then leaves only two SEC teams in our Top 10. While the SEC just saw one of it's worst collective seasons in a very long time, they still pack enough heavy hitters to put more than two teams in our ’09 Top 10. Similarly, Ole Miss at No. 11 may seem a stretch. But if not the Rebels, then who? There is no question this team from Oxford, MS is the third or fourth best SEC team right now as we sit heading into next season.

The talk of the 2008 season was about Big 12 offense. For those scratching their head as to how Oklahoma State could be a Top 10 team in 2009, you may want to take a look at Coach Gundy’s depth charts. The offensive production for next season won’t drop in the South Division (assuming Bradford and McCoy are back) and the Cowboys may possess the most overall talent at the offensive skill positions…at least when looking at the current All-American lists.

We have also heard much clamoring for USC to be our No. 1 team going into 2009. Trojan recruiting is now showing just how good it must be for Pete Carroll. If safety Taylor Mays jumps off early to the NFL, as he seems to be leaning, USC will have only one starter back on defense. While they may not be far off the top spot, it's hard to start even USC here under those circumstances.

The East Carolina pick is our traditional Dark Horse selection. Outside of our pick of the Pirates, they likely won't be getting too much Top 25 consideration as the summer months ensue. In our defense of this specific choice, we did hit a home run with South Florida as our Dark Horse pick in 2007. The climbed as high as No. 2 in the country that season.

And then last year, seemingly lost its mind when we laid out Ball State as our No. 25 Early Bird ranking. Anyone remember those two picks? As the ole adage goes..."we told you so". As for the ranking of Vanderbilt, this too may seem a big stretch. Heck, they have the most returning starters out of anyone on our Top 25 Early Bird. But still, they have never proven to be worthy of finishing in the Top 25. Just like Miami, Notre Dame and Nebraska...maybe they should have to prove they belong here before being handed such an honor. As usual, will revamp much of this list with the release of our full 2009 Preview this spring.

If you’ve seen our Early Bird Preview in years past, then you already know that all of the information the pollsters will be looking at when spring rolls around is right here at your fingertips now. The Early Bird Preview offers depth charts that outline All-Conference selections, key losses, etc. As mentioned, what predominately alters the ranking order will be the early NFL departures. Getting the exact ranking order right is not the explicit reason for this release. We tend to look at the Early Bird Preview as more of a guide for showing who is leaving and who is coming back, which is more than any other early poll is going to attempt to accomplish. And since we publish the only Top 25 for next year while college football is still being played in this calendar year, we humbly present our Early Bird depth charts for your consideration.


DO NOT MISS THE POINT: is proud to once again present our annual Early Bird College Football Breakdown. For those of you concerned with the rankings and the fact this #16 team is better than that #9 team, then YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT! Our presentation was created as nothing more than a rough guide for listing whether key players return or depart. So many of the selections are evidently interchangeable and will adjust continuously until next season arrives.

So sit back, unbutton those tight pants from your holiday dinners and leftovers, and take this preview for what it's worth. We think you will gain much more by realizing that the rankings and their explicit accuracy are not the primary goal. This is not about predicting where these teams will finish by season's end, a flaw in logic many assume - it is about where each deserves to be ranked as the season starts.

However, in the eighth season of compiling this Early Bird Preview, has eerily predicted a very close result to what the official polls will show come August. Returning starters and key losses are not hard to figure out. Unpredictable at this point, though, is just how early NFL departures and bowl game results tend to change these rankings more than any other aspect. We rank what we know and take the rest in stride.