Preseason polls are ridiculously hard to justify and, for the most part, after the top six or so it's a real jumble so I won't even bother justifying much beyond "yeah, too high/low, but what are you gonna do?" after the top ten since there's just really no way to. Enjoy!
1. Florida - Full disclosure, I had Georgia here before the loss of Trinton Sturdivant, and in all honesty they could still be here but, at least in my mind, that's enough of a factor to give the toss up to the Gators. And seriously, the Gators should scare the crap out of you. An offense that averaged 42 points per game last year returns virtually intact (need to find a new RG and some receivers, though they have something like 427 receivers on the roster so that shouldn't be too hard) with the added bonus of actual running backs this year, so even if the defense only slightly improves they can damn near outshoot anyone they play. The front seven will be at least as good (all three linebackers return, and there's plenty of talent at DE, though DT is kind of an unproven but wholly talented mess), while the secondary, even with the unfortunate injuries to the safety position, should improve with returning starters at CB who can only get better. And like I said, with that offense, they don't even have to be the same swirling storm of evil that the 2006 defense represented; they just have to be reasonably functional and they have the talent to do so.
2. Georgia - Rocky Top Talk already bathed them in haterade earlier this offseason, and they make some convincing arguments about why Georgia should be considered a paper tig...uh...bulldog. But until I see those convincing arguments taking shape on the field, I still say Georgia is one of the top (and quite possibly the top) teams in the country, and more than capable of winning it all. So long as they find a left tackle immediately.
3. Southern Cal - The Trojans are, without a doubt, the most stacked team in the country. Wave after wave of VHTs have ridden the pine in Los Angeles while waiting for their turn to start, and they stay loaded with talented depth that any team in the country should envy. They've suffered some bad losses the past few years, though, and there's a perception that the Trojans are in decline (though a near stranglehold on their conference and BCS bowls every year isn't such a bad flavor of decline) and unable to find the same kind of offensive chemistry that catapulted the Trojans of the early 00's into the top tier of college football programs. They did finally get it together near the end of last season by throttling Oregon State, a very good Arizona State team, UCLA, and a good Illinois in the Rose Bowl (and what a throttling that was), but unfortunately for them the QB and most of the O-Line that put that run together are now gone while the offense continues its struggles without heir apparent QB Mark Sanchez. The defense will still be solid, though, and, like Florida in reverse, if they can just do enough on offense they'll be fine.
4. LSU - In the same boat as USC, the Tigers have what should be a monster of a defense that can keep them in any game so long as the QB position starts clicking at some point. Having no one settled at QB (and with injuries not really helping the matter), it's imperative that the rest of the skill players on offense step up and take some load off of whoever winds up under center, and that's something they are more than capable of doing. Off the top of my head, Keiland Williams, Trindon Holliday, Charles Scott, Brandon LaFell, Terrance Tolliver, and Demetrius Byrd are all incredible players that can make any mediocre QB look good, especially with their offensive line. The biggest problem I see, though, is that they still needed late game rallies more often than not and if that's the case again this year, not having a fifth year senior to orchestrate it, no matter how mediocre he may have been at times, should send shivers down the spines of LSU fans.
5. Oklahoma - I may have based this ranking off of my own faulty perceptions of OU, namely that they should be just as explosive on offense again and much improved in the secondary. Reading SMQ's thoughts on the Sooners has me thinking they may be too high on this list, but then again I've bumped them down from as high as #2 to as low as #10 while figuring up my first ballot so here at #5 seems a pretty comfortable middle ground. And besides, even with all the question marks he raised, SMQ has them at #3, two spots higher than me, so whatevs man. Whatevs.
6. Ohio State - Another perception pick here, with only a trip to USC standing in the way of a perfect season for the Buckeyes. They have as much talent as anyone ahead of them on this list, but the past two post season humiliations have left just about everyone sour on them and unwilling to put too much faith in their chances despite their on paper ability to take it all.
7. Missouri - Another legit contender if they can just get past OU, which they don't actually have to play this year until (presumably) the Big 12 Championship Game. Offense will still be as potent as ever, a young defense should be better, and if they can avoid any missteps they can live up to all of last year's promise. Avoiding those missteps seems like a tall order for them, though.
8. Texas - I feel like I have the Longhorns too high, here, but that's yet another perception issue. McCoy was down last year, and the defense needs to improve (boom, mfers?), plus, and I know we aren't supposed to be talking schedules here, but they get Mizzou while OU doesn't and play Texas Tech and Kansas on the road late in the season. Not a lot of room for error here, or Texas could find itself in the Holiday bowl again.
9. Oregon - Maybe a little too low for the Ducks, actually, since they looked to have found their post-Dixon QB in the Sun Bowl and should field one of the better defenses in the Pac 10 (which has suddenly learned to play D, amusingly enough). Would not surprise me one bit to see them in a BCS game this year.
10. Arizona State - Probably too high for the Sun Devils since they are rebuilding an offensive line that wasn't any good to start with and generally floundered hopelessly against the better competition they faced last year. Erickson is a great coach, though, taking a mediocre at best team to 10-3, and he has his QB in Carpenter. It's all just a matter of keeping him upright and improving only a little on defense (they have enough starters returning to do so).
11. Texas Tech - With a serviceable defense and an offense that keeps right on humming, there should be no end to what the Red Raiders can accomplish. We've heard that before, though, and I'm not buying into it until I see it on the field. They'll inexplicably drop one they shouldn't (hello Oklahoma State), and get blown out by any team that can get to Harrell on a regular basis (hello Mizzou), all while piling up yardage against the hapless likes of Eastern Washington and UMass. Missouri isn't on the schedule this year, but they do rotate Kansas on (whom they play on the road), so that's kind of an even trade, and they also have OU and TAMU on the road. Another team with the talent to do big things but not, seemingly, the will.
12. Clemson - Cullen Harper was sacked 35 times last season, and that line has to be rebuilt. No starting LBs return (we're one up on you, mfers!), and Rashaad Jackson is gone from the D-Line leaving only two starters there. They'll be good against the pass, they'll be able to run it with Davis and Spiller no matter how bad the line may be, and Harper is a very good QB so long as the ground game is clicking. But all that is with the caveat that they finally have to live up to their potential, something they haven't done under Bowden. The ACC is probably theirs, but that's more a matter of the rest of the league's deficiencies than anything positive we can say about Clemson.
13. Auburn - You could almost paste in the text of what I wrote about LSU for the Teagles and change a few names, except I can't name you any skill player on their offense off the top of my head beyond Kodi Burns and a couple of RBs (Lester and Tate). The Spread Eagle Stop Chop and Roll will be good for some yardage against weaker defenses, but let's not kid ourselves here; the Troy offense was built against the creamy soft defenses of the Sun Belt (and Oklahoma State, whom even Dave Rader could hang 30 on) and couldn't get past FAU last year for a bowl bid even with Omar Haugabook, a veteran of the system, leading the charge. Yeah, yeah, I know they piled it up on Clemson in the bowl, but let's not forget that Clemson had zero game tape to study what Auburn was going to do with the new offense and are, after all, Clemson, a big bunch of choke artists. The defense will be fast and mean, as always, and they'll be able to pound the ball pretty well, but I don't see much beyond the increasingly typical 9 win season happening for the Teagles.
14. Kansas - The Jayhawks came out of nowhere last season to reach a BCS bowl, but they probably won't be able to duplicate that feat this year. Both OTs are gone and Aqib Talib is in the NFL now. They still return nine on defense, though, and Reesing has that Barker quality about him, he just wins even when he shouldn't.
15. Penn State - Will be mean on defense, but have a lot to prove on offense.
16. West Virginia - Too low, probably, but without DickRod calling the shots and a "player's coach" on the sidelines, the drop off should be quick and dramatic. They'll still be more than competitive this year and even have a better than decent shot at the Big East, but they are also choke artists of the highest caliber.
17. Utah - I like the Utes, like I liked Hawaii last year. They'll be a terror against their mid-major (and weaker BCS opponents), but nothing is guaranteed for them besides a team that looks very solid and experienced on paper. We'll just have to see how that plays out for them.
18. Wisconsin - They have the tools on offense to play the kind of three yards and a cloud of dust ball that they do so well, but the defense has to improve. Probably should switch them and Penn State, but too late now.
19. Michigan State - Random pick, here, but they lost all of their games last season by a TD or less and should improve enough to get ranked and to a decent bowl.
20. Notre Dame - Another random pick, but sweet mercy, it's not like they can get any worse. Probably don't belong, but they return a lot of starters that should be much improved with a (horrible) year under their belts.
21. Cal - Another that probably doesn't belong. Ranking Cal in the preseason and then dropping them out almost immediately is just habit.
22. South Florida - They can win the Big East, but will they? The defense loses a lot with the departures of two NFL draftees at CB. Not bothering to show up for the Sun Bowl leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so unless they can get their act together, they'll still just underachieve in spectacular fashion.
23. Alabama - Should probably be ahead of Notre Dame and Michigan State, at least, but I'm trying not to be a homer here.
24. Wake Forest - You can't discount the Demon Deacons anymore, and they could legitimately be higher on this ballot. Skinner is a solid QB, they'll play good defense, and if they can find some playmakers at receiver then they could very easily win the ACC.
25. Tennessee - Far too low for the Vols, really, but I'm not sold on them and didn't know where to put them beyond "well, they should be ranked."
Also considered: Colorado, BYU, Illinois, Florida State