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Monday, February 9, 2009
TCU will be the team to beat in 2009


Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Below is the Independents and Others spring top 10. As you can see, it's different from the season-ending top 10 because it reflects losses to graduation, the NFL and incoming recruiting classes. I guarantee this list will look different at the beginning of the 2009 season. 

1. TCU -- The Horned Frogs finished the season as one of the top teams in the country, and with only a few personnel losses and several key additions, the Horned Frogs are going to be the top team to bring down the BCS this year. It helps that Jerry Hughes, the anchor of the nation's best rushing defense, is still on campus.

2. BYU -- Even with the loss of Austin Collie, the Cougars bring back a strong team that will be better for its experiences from 2008. And don't forget the addition of receiver McKay Jacobson, who is a similar playmaker to Collie. He and tight end Dennis Pitta will continue to give the Cougars strong offensive options.

3. Notre Dame -- With all the talent Notre Dame is bringing back and bringing in through recruiting, it's hard to imagine that this team isn't going to be better than it was in 2008. The Irish ended the season on a high note with a big win in Hawaii and the optimism was intensified with the signing of top recruit Manti Te'o. Now it's time to put it all together on the field.

4. Boise State -- The Broncos will be just as good as they were a year ago, but the loss of Jeremy Childs will force quarterback Kellen Moore to find a new favorite target and a couple of the receivers to step up in Childs' place. There's little doubt the Broncos will be the favorite to win the WAC, but it might have trouble against an Oregon team looking for revenge, and in their tilt at Tulsa.

5. East Carolina -- The Pirates were one of the best teams in the non-BCS last season, but were discounted because of a mid-season losing streak. A lot of the players who helped defeat Virginia Tech and West Virginia to begin the 2008 season return, and key additions at running back and defensive end should help the Pirates challenge for the C-USA title again.

6. Southern Miss -- The Golden Eagles started last season slowly as they got used to coach Larry Fedora, but with a year of this system under their belts and winning their last five to end the season, the Golden Eagles will be a team to watch next year. Not to mention the fact that Southern Miss brings back all of its skill players and has a couple nice additions on defense.

7. Air Force -- The Falcons were one of the youngest teams in the country last season, but still managed to exceed expectations and finish fourth in a tough Mountain West Conference. With Utah rebuilding, the Falcons will have a chance to crack into the top three of the conference and notch another eight-win season.

8. Central Michigan -- The Chippewas struggled a little bit last season and didn't play in the Mid-American Conference title game for the first time in the past couple years, but this is still a good team that now will have a solid senior nucleus. It needs to get quarterback Dan LeFevour help in the running game, but otherwise it should be the favorite to win the MAC.

9. Houston -- The Cougars lost a couple key players on defense, but the offense remains mostly intact and should get help from a decent class and some players coming back from injuries. Quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total offense, is back as are most of his weapons. There's no doubt that he'll be back in the top of the total offense category once again.

10. Nevada -- The Wolf Pack will be one of the most dangerous rushing teams if running back Luke Lippincott, who missed last season with a torn ACL, receives a medical redshirt from the NCAA. That would take the pressure off quarterback Colin Kaepernick to run and he could focus on his passing, which was up and down all season. The only problem for Nevada is a tough non-conference schedule that includes games at Notre Dame and Colorado State, and at home against Missouri and UNLV.