David Jones has worked within the industry as an oddsmaker and handicapper.
With the recent conclusion of spring practice, the 2009 college football season is in sight. Going into the season, the "usual suspects" are being tabbed as early favorites to capture the BCS championship.
Florida Gators (+250)
Returning starters: 17 ( 6 offense, 11 defense)
Spring recap: The Gators played it close to the chest in their spring game on April 18th. Many key players did not play in the contest. With Tim Tebow back to lead the offense and all starters returning on defense, head coach Urban Meyer wanted to make sure that his club was healthy heading into the summer.
After losing top receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, Florida does have one area to focus on when practice resumes in August. However, it is pretty evident that the Gators' depth makes it a small concern in the grand scheme of things.
Schedule: Florida will likely be favored by double digits in 11 of their 12 regular season contests in pursuit of a third BCS crown in the last four years. Even a loss at LSU on October 10th may not doom the Gators. Florida's recent championship seasons have included a regular-season defeat (2006-Auburn, 2008-Mississippi) in each campaign.
Oklahoma Sooners (+500)
Returning starters: 14 ( 5 offense, 9 defense)
Spring recap: Some recent off-field events overshadowed the team's spring game on April 11th. In the last three weeks, tight end Jermaine Gresham and linebacker Keenan Clayton have been arrested. While the automobile related violations appear to be minor incidents, the school’s recent checkered history brings more attention to these kinds of situations.
Gresham (25 TD receptions in last two years) and Heisman winner Sam Bradford are adjusting to some new personnel on offense. Only one starter is back from the offensive line and the top three wide receivers from 2008 have moved on.
Schedule: The annual Red River Shootout in Dallas on October 17 could be the game of the year in college football. In his early 2010 mock NFL draft, ESPN's Todd McShay's Top 10 draftees feature a combined seven players from Oklahoma and Texas. In addition to the matchup with the Longhorns, the Sooners must survive trips to Miami and Nebraska to reach their fifth BCS championship game of the decade.
Texas Longhorns (+600)
Returning starters: 14 ( 8 offense, 6 defense)
Spring recap: There were two main issues for the Longhorns heading into the spring. First, Texas was looking for a runner to step up to claim the No.1 tailback slot. The job is still up for grabs among three candidates heading into the fall. Second, the Longhorns defense (led the nation in sacks in 2008) needed to replace NFL first-round draft choice Brian Orakpo and a couple of other key linemen.
In a conference of dynamic offenses, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will need to coach up his group more when the Longhorns return to work in August.
Schedule: In a span of 15 days, Texas will face Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State. None of these games will be in Austin. As last year proved, beating Oklahoma doesn't guarantee a Big 12 South title.
Southern California Trojans (+600)
Returning starters: 12 ( 9 offense, 3 defense)
Spring recap: Unheralded sophomore Aaron Corp (four career passing attempts) connected on 14-of-23 passes in USC's spring game to capture the starting quarterback job heading into the fall. Corp beat out hyped freshman Matt Barkley and former Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain. While not as talented as the recent USC star signal-callers, Corp's decision making has impressed the coaching staff.
Most teams would be concerned about losing six starters among the front seven of their defense. Of course, the Trojans are a club that can quickly adapt with new talent that may even surpass the departed performers.
Schedule: After the opener against San Jose State, Corp will be thrown into the fire with a trip to Columbus to face the Buckeyes on September 12. If USC survives September, they may get knocked out in October with visits to California, Notre Dame and Oregon.
Ohio State Buckeyes (+900)
Returning starters: 9 ( 4 offense, 5 defense)
Spring recap: The spring game gave Terrelle Pryor an opportunity to showcase a new wrinkle in the club's offense. Pryor thrilled a spring crowd of over 95,000 by connecting on a couple of long passes in the contest. The usual stout defense of Ohio State is a work in progress after the departures of standouts like Malcom Jenkins and James Laurinaitis.
Schedule: Ohio State will seek to take advantage of a raw quarterback when USC comes to town. In a similar spot in 2006, the Buckeyes defeated freshman Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. With 13 new starters to break in, Ohio State should be more prepared for their next big challenge on November 7 at Penn State. If Pryor plays close to his potential, the Buckeyes could land in the BCS championship game for the third time in the last four years.
If you are looking for some sleepers to mount a challenge, there are a couple teams that are worth a look. From a scheduling perspective, Notre Dame (+2800) has a very favorable slate. Southern Cal is the only definitive Top-25 club on the schedule and that contest is at home. With 10 starters back on offense, the Irish could be ready to rebound from a couple of mediocre seasons.
Based on talent, Oklahoma State (+6500) is a very dangerous long shot. Few teams can match the offensive trio of QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant. The defense and opponents on the schedule aren't quite as favorable. However, if the Cowboys can protect their home turf ( eight of first 11 games at home), they have a decent shot to be 11-0 when the Cowboys make the short trip to Norman to face the Sooners on November 28.