A few weeks ago I got asked a question on a radio show about which program I thought had the potential to become the next powerhouse. My answer was Oregon. Now I realize the Ducks have won at least 10 games four times since 2000, but to me this would be taking the jump from very good to great. So taking that a step further, this week's top 10 list is the programs with the best chance to reach true powerhouse status and win a national title within the next five years. (The one caveat is I'm looking at schools that have NOT won the title in the past decade.) 1. Alabama: Nick Saban has elevated the Tide very fast and had them one quarter away from playing for the title in Year 2. By all accounts he is recruiting well and is stocking his program with both playmakers and tough linemen. The two biggest hurdles in his way: getting past Florida and finding a quarterback. 2. Va. Tech: Frank Beamer had a very young team in 2008 and it still won 10 games. The Hokies are dangerous and the time might be ideal to make a title run now as the ACC seems to be growing up. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is talented but still raw as a passer. His young receivers still need polish although TB Darren Evans is coming off a 1,265-yard rookie season and he'll make things easier for everyone. You know as long as DC Bud Foster is around the Hokies will be salty on defense, but the vaunted special-teams units need to get back to form after having a very down season. 3. Oregon: I see the Ducks as an emerging force in the West. New head coach Chip Kelly has an exciting, wide-open system that is attractive to players. The program has some cachet and the Nike connection sure isn't hurting. USC is still the elite program on the West Coast but if Oregon can land a few more quality defensive players, the Ducks have a chance to make things very interesting. Who knows, if some of Oregon's JC transfers can come through on defense, the Ducks could end USC's run of Pac-10 dominance this fall. 4. Georgia: Hard not to call the Bulldogs a powerhouse given their norm has been double-digit win seasons since Mark Richt took over in Athens. However UGA has had only one top-five finish in the past six years. Injuries and some inexperience at key spots have led to its struggles, but it's hard not to think that if Georgia keeps consistently winning, it can't get a few more breaks to break through. Like the Tide, the Bulldogs need to find a new leader at quarterback and start the countdown until Tim Tebow moves on. 5. Tennessee: Lane Kiffin has dominated the offseason headlines for better or worse this winter. (It's mostly been worse.) But he did assemble a staff loaded with elite recruiters and guys with lots of experience developing talent, and that already has paid off big with some major head turners on the recruiting front, most notably landing all-everything TB Bryce Brown Monday. That was a huge pull for the Kiffin regime. It's also a big need. The Vols need major help on offense. Still do. They were 110th in scoring in 2008 and their skill talent is, at best, average, but Kiffin's new staff added a lot of speed and now Brown, who will cause a major splash on the recruiting scene. Now the Vols have to find a quarterback and more linemen. 6. North Carolina: Butch Davis probably will never turn Chapel Hill into a basketball school, but he's got the facilities and determination to make UNC a football power. The Tarheels made big strides in 2008, winning eight games, the school's most since 2001, and just wait, now Davis' recruits are really going to have a chance to make an impact. UNC brings nine starters back on D and a potent front seven. 7. Michigan: Make your Wolverines jokes now because once Michigan settles on its quarterback for the future, whether it's Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson, this program is going to be a force again in the Big Ten. Last year, Rich Rodriguez was patient and redshirted seven promising O-linemen. The best of the bunch might be Patrick Omameh, an unheralded sleeper recruit from Ohio State's backyard. Omameh's now a 280-pounder with the agility of a tight end and just one of many reasons for Michigan fans to think they could be challenging for the Big Ten title in 2010. 8. Notre Dame: The Irish have some key pieces in place to challenge for a BCS bowl: lots of experience and a very, very soft schedule. Better still, ND just landed the top LB recruit in the country, Hawaiian Manti Te'o, who brings some much-needed athleticism to the defense. The two biggest things that seem to be holding back the Irish: a mediocre O-line and Charlie Weis. Will new line coach Frank Verducci be the answer to the former and will Weis be able to get something out of his players as he settles back into his role as playcaller? Anyhow, even if Weis flops again in 2009, chances are the Irish will bring in someone else who should turn things around. 9. Clemson: Dabo Swinney finished off 2008 well and the Tigers have plenty of young difference-makers they have brought in over the past two years, but consistency has always been the issue. This call is a roll of the dice, but the Tigers are due, no? 10. UCLA: The Bruins were further than anyone on this list from national title talk in 2008, but Rick Neuheisel is turning this program around and put together an outstanding recruiting class last month, landing a bunch of coveted recruits. UCLA is still a long way from scaring USC, but the Bruins aren't going to be out of the top 10 for more than two more seasons. Just missed the cut: Boise State, Oklahoma State, Ga. Tech, Ole Miss, USF and Nebraska. RANDOM STUFF • One of the guys I'd focused a lot on in "Meat Market" was a prized defensive tackle recruit from Lutcher, La., named Rolando Melancon. Even though he had battled injuries over his prep career, Melancon was a guy whom the Ole Miss staff loved. He was just so explosive coming off the snap. The Rebels' staff watched a ton of film on him and IDed him as their top D-line recruit for that year but ultimately Melancon signed with Tennessee. Ironically enough, former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron is now working with the Vols' D-line, but Melancon isn't there. Melancon couldn't get eligible and Tennessee ended up sending him out west to a junior college, but Melancon wasn't comfortable there so he came home to Louisiana. Last fall Melancon was at La. Tech, where he wasn't eligible to play but could practice. A coach I spoke with at Tech said he was dominant at times and flashed the potential to be a first-rounder some day. However, Melancon had some struggles off the field and was dismissed by Tech last month. I hadn't talked to Melancon in a long time but visited with him Sunday via Facebook of all things. He says he's taking some correspondence classes part-time and then will be heading to Texas Southern in the summer. He said he thought about going the juco route but didn't want to get lost in the shuffle so he is headed to Texas Southern. After speaking with Melancon, I looked at Texas Southern's Web site and did a double take. The team is bringing in a bunch of former high-profile recruits, including former LSU players, OL Ernest McCoy and WR Ricky Dixon. Chip Gregory, a former Arkansas LB, is listed as a 6-4, 225-pound WR recruit for TSU. Former Iowa QB Arvell Nelson is another guy who had a lot of impressive offers out of high school. Texas Southern was also the school where former Oklahoma State QB Bobby Reid ended up in 2008. • Speaking of D-linemen, keep an eye on Tennessee DE Chris Walker. I chatted with Orgeron Monday morning and he sounded really fired up about Walker, an explosive athlete whom he tried to recruit as a linebacker/DE two years ago. Before the Vols got to spring ball I recall Orgeron was saying how Walker's athleticism reminded him of some of the quick Miami ends he coached in the early '90s. It sounds as if Walker's stock keeps surging, the more the coaches see of him. "Wow, is he fast!" Orgeron raved. To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider