For top 10 reasoning, go here.
1 Alabama 1
2 Ohio St. 3
3 Georgia 8
4 Stanford 5
5 Oregon 4
6 LSU 14
7 Clemson 11
8 Louisville 17
9 S Carolina 7
10 TX A&M 9
11 Boise St. 19 – Chris Petersen is 51-2 with a returning quarterback. The Broncos don’t have an impressive schedule at all. I don’t factor that in though, or I would be ranking them even higher. They return 10 other starters as well, mostly on offense, so the defense should have some openings for the likes of Washington to exploit. That is why BSU is not in the top 10.
12 Texas — – Even with 19 returning starters, it was hard to put the Longhorns any higher based on the last couple of seasons. On defense, some of the returning starters apparently aren’t even good enough to start again. Defensive backs should be strong though, and there are no glaring weaknesses on offense.
13 Florida 6 – The Gators have 10 returning starters from a team that at least for most of last season greatly exceeded expectations. The running game will be a major question mark, but another solid defense can be expected. They could be something like LSU was in 2010 when there wasn’t much of a passing game either (at least not reliably), but other areas were strong enough that the team still finished #8. With the right combination of wins, Florida could end up representing the East after all. The downside possibility is that the Gators could finish around .500 in conference and maybe even lose to Florida St.
14 Oklahoma 15 – The Sooners need to replace a quarterback, but the 7 offensive returning starters should help out. There will also be considerable depth at receiver that is not reflected in that number. Run defense and pass rush can be very suspect being that the team had trouble in this area last season and does not return anyone on the defensive line.
15 Oregon St. 24 – The Beavers return 15 starters from a 9-4 team last year. They always seem to be a team that can knock off a top team in conference even though this OSU rarely has the talent to win the conference, which should be tilted toward the North once again. They should be able to do better with running the ball, but throwing it may be more suspect. The defense should be solid overall, but there will be some holes to fill on the line.
16 USC — – Staying with the Pac-12 (and this is a team that will have to travel to Corvallis), I don’t quite understand why so many are overlooking the Trojans. They were a top-3 (if not top 1) pick going into last year. While calling last year a disappointment is an understatement, much of the team has another chance at it, and they’re certainly not worse than a year ago. Although there is some chatter about Arizona St. potentially winning the South, there are five pretty win-able divisional games for USC, which also does not face Oregon. They will have a new QB, but I was never impressed by Barkley anyway. I don’t expect anything like 12-1, but the 2003 team did pretty well with a first-year quarterback, as did the 2008 team in Mark Sanchez’s only full season.
17 Notre Dame 2 – All of the easily-recognizable names from last year are gone, but 13 returning starters were enough to put the Irish a good number of spots into the top 25. The pressure will be on Brian Kelly to show that he can keep the team together despite some significant challenges and that last year wasn’t just a combination of lucky breaks. Like last season, the defense should be good enough to keep the Irish in games even if the offense doesn’t perform.
18 TCU — – Lest anyone think that I’m looking past LSU’s first opponent coming up in a few days… The Horned Frogs return almost the entire defense from last year and 6 returning starters on offense. There could be a quarterback controversy and the running game will be an unknown element, but the rest of the offense seems to be solid.
19 Nebraska 18 – Taylor Martinez is one of 12 returning starters on what momentarily looked like a sure Rose Bowl team last season. He will have a running back and a couple returning receivers to accompany him. Sometimes the defense just hasn’t shown up, so it may not be entirely bad that only 5 starters return.
20 Florida St. 12 – It’s not just THAT the Noles only have 10 returning starters, it’s where they are. Only two will be throwing targets, none in the backfield. On defense, the only returning starter outside of the secondary is a single middle linebacker. FSU has five games to get off its feet before traveling to Clemson, so despite the problems, I would not expect a loss before then.
21 Michigan St. — – Despite 6 total losses last season, the only team that beat the Spartans by more than 4 points went to the BCS Championship game. A little bit of maturity might be the only missing ingredient. Eight starters return on offense, where MSU needs to focus on finding running backs. A couple of players on the defensive line will need to be replaced, but the defense may challenge for best in the Big Ten. They may well turn out to be a bit better than this, but I believe in making a team like this prove it.
22 Ole Miss — – This is the other extreme from Florida St.: 20 starters return to a team that finished barely above .500 last season (although playing in the SEC West was a good reason it didn’t have a better record). The defense wasn’t up to par last season, but that is the side with more returning starters. Other than two kickers, the Rebels only need to replace a tight end, an offensive guard, and a middle linebacker as starters.
23 N’western 20 – Both lines will have significant new starters, but 15 starters return from a 10-win team last year. Like Ole Miss, the defense wasn’t always reliable, especially not in the secondary, but we’re not talking about BCS-bowl teams at this point, so there can be such weaknesses.
24 Wisconsin — – The Badgers finished strong and won the Big Ten, but not before a lot of losses that would have normally made that impossible. So I’m not picking them particularly high despite returning 14 starters from that team. The offense should be pretty similar, if it can find a good running back; but beyond the line, there could be trouble on defense, where only 6 starters return.
25 Oklahoma St. — – The weakness with the Cowboys seems to be the running game, although a quarterback rotation can also be problematic. Three starters on the offensive line need to be replaced, and there is no returning starter at running back. Both sides of the ball return 7 starters, but on defense, the players lost from last year seem a lot more balanced.
Out of Rankings: (10) Kansas St., (13) SJSU, (16) Utah St., (21) Ark. St., (22) N. Illinois, (23) Michigan, (25) Cincinnati