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'Lariat' writers give their take on AP Top 25 football

Aug. 31, 2004

This the first of a five-part column by sports writers Drew Williamson and Matt Richards on the Top 25 AP poll.

25. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Drew's Outlook: Coach Glen Mason and the Gophers are out to prove that they belong in the same breath as traditional Big Ten powerhouses Michigan and Ohio State. Mason will use a tandem of power and speed to wear down defenses. Junior running back Marion Barber III will provide the muscle at 5'11'', 215 lbs, while sophomore running back Laurence Maroney provides the big-play threat with his lightning-fast foot speed. The defense was mediocre last season and will have to improve in order for the team to have a shot at the Big Ten.

Drew's Prediction: The Golden Gophers have a decent chance at being 5-0 going into the second weekend of October when they travel to Ann Arbor to play a Michigan team with high aspirations. Experts are picking Iowa to upset Michigan, but it will be Minnesota not the Hawkeyes who will upset the Wolverines. The Gophers luck out by missing Ohio State on the regular season schedule. Minnesota finishes 9-2 and with a big win over Michigan puts them in a great position for a shot at a meaningful bowl game.

Matt's Outlook: Last season, the Golden Gophers were only one quarter away from the Rose Bowl. It had been 26 years since Minnesota fans had been lavished in the fruits of southern California. With three quarters remaining, the Golden Gophers were up 28-7 on rival the University of Michigan. It seemed as if Minnesota was on track to do the impossible. However, the team collapsed in the fourth, allowing a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 52-yard touchdown. The loss proved a turning point for Minnesota's season.

Matt's Prediction: This season, Minnesota fans are still California dreaming. Junior running backs Marion Barber III and sophomore running back Laurence Maroney are the two best running backs in the Big Ten. The tandem should prove spectacular, but the defense remains suspect. The Golden Gophers are good, but Minnesota will have to wait for the 28th year.

24. Purdue Boilermakers

Drew's Outlook: Coach Joe Tiller will look to his senior quarterback to lead Purdue to yet another winning season. Kyle Orton has many NFL scouts drooling and even produced a few whispers regarding the Heisman Trophy around campus. Purdue's offense looks very promising. Taylor Stubblefield could quite possibly be the best receiver in the nation, and is by far the most underrated. At running back the Boilermakers throw out a "three-headed monster," a phrase coined by running back Jerome Brooks. Brooks, along with Jerod Void and Brandon Jones give the offense a 1-2-3 punch at running back.

Drew's Prediction: You may have noticed I didn't mention anything about Purdue's defense. Well, the Boilermakers lost eight of their 11 starters from last year, seven of which were selected in the NFL draft. They will have to attempt to outscore teams rather than stop them, and ultimately, will finish at the same place they did last year. The Boilermakers will go 7-4 and play in a meaningless bowl game, but hey, what the Baylor faithful wouldn't give for a meaningless bowl game.

Matt's Outlook: Purdue got shafted in the Capital One Bowl, having to play a Georgia team that belonged in the top five. The fact that they only lost by seven says a lot about this young team. The Boilermakers run an efficient, play-action pass offense set up by the run. Senior quarterback Kyle Orton anchors the offense but is anything but flashy. In fact, nothing about this Purdue team is flashy. They run a conservative offense combined with a solid defense.

Matt's Prediction: Orton will be the most high-impact quarterback in the Big Ten, turning heads in a conference full of great quarterbacks. Purdue will turn some heads this year. They have three big games at home against powerhouse Big Ten teams. Look for this team to score at least one if not two upsets.

23. Oregon Ducks

Drew's Outlook: After underachieving in each of the last two seasons, the team with revolving uniforms looks to turn it around in 2004. Junior quarterback Kellen Clemens hopes to break onto the national scene just as former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington did during his third season. Clemens won the starting job with four games to go last season and impressed everyone by completing 64. 6 percent of his passes for 788 yards and nine touchdowns. The Ducks will have to prove that they can stop someone before they get excited about rebounding from a disappointing 2003 campaign.

Drew's Prediction: Oregonians shouldn't be too optimistic this year. A tough road schedule including games at Oklahoma and at California combined with a suspect defense spell another mediocre season for the Ducks. The green and ridiculously bright yellows will finish 6-5 and find themselves begging for an outright bid to a bowl game.

Matt's Outlook: I always hold the Ducks in high esteem for having the coolest uniforms in all of college football. The green and gold is awesome, even fearsome at times. Wait a minute....green and gold? Fearsome? Maybe Baylor could take the hint. Anyhow, on the gridiron, the Ducks are still suffering from what I call "Joey Harrington-itis." They haven't found anybody to fill his shoes. Junior quarterback Kellen Clemens was average at best last year, breeding frustration amongst coaches.

Matt's Prediction: The Ducks received bad news two days before camp when scholarship commitment Terrance Kelly from Concord De La Salle High School was murdered. I'm afraid it's going to be that kind of year for Oregon. This team could be destined for mediocrity.

22. Maryland Terrapins

Drew's Outlook: The Terps have arguably the stingiest defense in the ACC, last year holding opponents to a conference low 15.8 points per game and only 308.4 yards per game. Watch out for junior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to have a huge year. Jackson had 136 tackles last season and bulked up in the off-season by gaining almost 10 pounds. Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney will have no problem getting his team to make stops when they need them. However, the offense needs to find a reliable quarterback to go along with its solid running attack.

Drew's Prediction: The Terps are rather inexperienced and return only nine starters. That problem, coupled with some tough conference road games, gives Maryland some tough challenges. However, they do luck out on a rather easy non-conference schedule, excluding a game at West Virginia. Maryland finishes the season 8-3 and continues to sit near the top of the ACC.

Matt's Outlook: In a conference known for basketball, Maryland has emerged as a national powerhouse in football. Head Coach Ralph Friedgen led his Terps to a 31-8 in three seasons, garnering him a contract extension through 2012 during the off season. Friedgen loves to run the football right down opponent's throats. He dares opponents to stack the box and try to stop his I-formations. If teams do commit to the run, Friedgen throws the ball deep for a big gain. The Terps turn football games into turkey shoots when the offense is clicking.

Matt's Prediction: I love Maryland football. They punish opposing teams in the trenches. I think Maryland is well-suited for a run this year in a weaker Atlantic Coast Conference. They should take the ACC from Florida State University.

21. Wisconsin Badgers

Drew's Outlook: Wisconsin has seen brighter days. Coach Barry Alvarez saw his Badgers reach three Rose Bowls and win three Big Ten championships from 1993 to 2001, but since the 2001 season his team hasn't met the high expectations of fans in Madison. Running back Anthony Davis looks to prove that Wisconsin has taken the place of USC as "Tailback U" as he enters his senior year. Sophomore John Stocco will be Jim Sorgi's successor at quarterback and the staff is raving about his raw talent and leadership skills.

Drew's Prediction: A lot will have to happen if the Badgers want to finish with eight or more wins. Anthony Davis has to stay healthy if this team wants to regain its place among the top teams in the Big Ten. John Stocco needs to live up to the hype his coaches have created and the defense must quit giving up leads in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin finishes 7-4 in a loaded Big Ten Conference.

Matt's Outlook: I still don't know how Wisconsin cracked the top 25 after winning only seven games last year. This season could be a little better for the Badgers. They do have a great running back in senior Anthony Davis. But even with an above average offense powered by Davis, the defense allowed a lackluster average of 23 points per game last year. Wisconsin is a pretender team.

Matt's Prediction: The Badgers took a hit this week when last year's leading rusher, junior running back Dwayne Smith was lost for the year because of a recently discovered heart disorder. Unfortunately, Smith isn't the only thing in disorder for the Badgers. The entire season could be a fiasco. Wisconsin plays Purdue, Ohio State University and Iowa on the road. Talk about a disastrous schedule.

20. Utah Utes

Drew's Outlook: Head Coach Urban Meyer dazzled critics in his inaugural season with the Utes, leading the team to a 10-2 record and winning the Mountain West conference title. This year, his squad will have had a whole year to work with the new spread offense that Meyer brought with him prior to the 2003 season. Junior quarterback Alex Smith provides the punch Meyer's offense calls for. Not only did Meyer finish 12th in the nation in passing efficiency, but he also rushed for 452 yards and five touchdowns. Utah relies heavily on forcing turnovers on defense and taking care of the ball on offense, something they did very well last year.

Drew's Prediction: The running game is somewhat suspect, due to the fact that there is no clear candidate to get the bulk of the carries. On the other side of the ball, the passing defense is pretty solid, but the Utes have to prove that they can stop the run to become a complete team. However, the sky is the limit for this bunch. All of their road games are winnable, and I see no reason why the Utes can't go 10-1 in the Mountain West conference. Oh, and that prediction includes embarrassing Texas A&M in the season opener.

Matt's Outlook: I'm not a proponent of teams from non-BCS conferences, but I'm going to make an exception with Utah. They are a resilient, gritty team that responds well to adversity. Last year, Utah lost to Texas A&M University by two at Kyle Field. Then, a week later, the Utes knocked off a good University of California team that upset the University of Southern California two weeks later. There's nothing spectacular about the Utes. Like Maryland, they pound the football, sometimes calling more than 40 running plays per game.

Matt's Prediction: The problem is that the Utes don't play a single preseason top 25 team all year. Utah suffers from Texas Christian University syndrome -- the inability to get a game with a top team. With the strength of schedule taken out of the BCS, nobody wants to play Utah. Their only hope for recognition is an undefeated season in a weaker conference.