TOP 25 COUNTDOWN
No. 24 Alabama
2007 record: 7-6, beat Colorado, 30-24, in Independence Bowl
Returning Starters: 10 offense, 6 defense
Key Game: at Tennessee, Oct. 25
Player to Watch
Julio Jones, freshman wide receiver
The Crimson Tide lost D.J. Hall and Keith Brown to graduation and helped fill its need at wideout by signing one of the top-rated recruits in the nation. Jones will start immediately and look to justify all the hype.
Why They're Worth Watching
Alabama has ample talent at running back. Fully recovered from a sports hernia that disrupted his freshman season, Terry Grant returns to the lineup as the team's speed back. Despite the injury, he managed to lead the team in rushing in 2007 with 891 yards. In Grant's absence, the duo of Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch proved capable of carrying steady workloads. Those three will run behind an offensive line that features all-American hopeful Andre Smith at left tackle and Antoine Caldwell at center. Caldwell's versatility makes him a valuable asset: He has started at center and both guard positions. Tyler Love, a highly touted freshman at 6 feet 7 and 290 pounds, could beat out junior Drew Davis and sophomore Taylor Pharr at right tackle. In addition to initiating Alabama's ground game, the line also will be protecting quarterback John Parker Wilson, who threw for 2,846 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
Why They're Vulnerable
The Crimson Tide's defense is filled with question marks. Junior Javier Arenas was moved from safety to cornerback, though at 5-9 he could run into some matchup problems against taller Southeastern Conference receivers. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain may end up as the only returning starter on that unit after Prince Hall was suspended during spring practice for a violation of team rules and Ezekial Knight had an unspecified heart ailment diagnosed. Senior Jimmy Johns switched from running back to provide linebacker depth, but he was arrested on felony drug charges and dismissed from the team. The defensive line is in search of a replacement for Wallace Gilberry, who had 10 sacks as a senior. Senior Bobby Greenwood and junior Brandon Deaderick, who combined for three sacks last season, are the top contenders. Expect second-year player Alfred McCullough to get a shot at defensive end as well.
-- Steve Yanda
No. 23 California
No. 25 Arizona State