[column]As you can see, my final preseason BlogPoll bears a strong resemblance to the draft I put out last week, with just a few minor tweaks. First, a quick-hitter review of my reasoning for the top five:
- Ohio State: With seven returning starters from one of the top defenses in the country and an offense featuring a ton of upperclassmen talent, the Buckeyes should be a very strong team on both sides of the ball. Terrelle Pryor doesn’t have to produce a Heisman-level campaign for this team to run the table, and if he does, they’ll be a shoe-in for another BCS bowl.
- Florida: Junior quarterback John Brantley has the talent to step in and lead an offense full of dangerous weapons, and while the defense has to replace a fair amount of NFL talent, Urban Meyer has enough four- and five-star prospects to field another stellar unit. The Gators’ explosive offense should get them past Alabama in a game that could determine not just the SEC crown, but which team earns a spot in the national title game.
- Oregon: Off-field distractions aside, this is a team that still can compete for a national title. Chip Kelly’s offense will still put up points in bunches, especially with perhaps the best trio of running backs in the country in LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and blue-chip freshman Lache Seastrunk. Although the defense was shaky last season, they return eight starters, including all three linebackers, and should be a much-improved unit.
- Alabama: While Alabama’s offense — featuring Mark Ingram, Greg McElroy, Julio Jones, Marquis Maze, and Trent Richardson — should light up the scoreboard, I have a tough time seeing a defense that needs to replace nine starters not having a hiccup or two that costs the Tide some games. Nick Saban has built a powerhouse, but I think next year’s squad will have a better shot at a national title.
- Texas: With 14 returning starters and a depth chart chock-full of blue-chip Texas talent, I think the Longhorns will reload and find themselves once again in the national title picture. Will Muschamp is maybe the best defensive coordinator in the country, and the defense should be as stingy as ever — if sophomore Garrett Gilbert can live up to his potential, this will be the team to beat in the Big 12.
A brief explanation of my other picks:
- Boise State could easily have made it into my top five, as they return more starters than any other team in the country, but I want to see how they respond to a early-season tests against Virginia Tech and Oregon State before I hop on that bandwagon. That may not be totally fair, but running through the WAC just doesn’t impress me as much as teams that have to face top-level talent week in and week out.
- I dropped USC a fair amount since my first draft — Lane Kiffin still has to prove to me that he can actually coach a good football team at any level, and pulling together a team hit by major NCAA sanctions is no easy task for any coach. They have as much talent as any team in the country (save Alabama and Florida), but also more off-field distractions than any other squad.
- Wisconsin above Iowa? Believe it. Wisconsin returns every major contributor from the Big Ten’s No. 1 offense in total yardage and points per game, while the Hawkeyes have to replace three offensive linemen and a couple standout linebackers from one of the luckier teams in the country in 2009. Both teams should challenge for the Big Ten title if Ohio State falters, but I like the Badgers more than the Hawkeyes at this point.
- Pitt and Arkansas are two teams I will be very interested in watching this year. Both squads have the potential to put up a ton of points, and each boasts a Heisman Trophy candidate (running back Dion Lewis for Pitt, and former Wolverine Ryan Mallett for Arkansas), but both squads will have to shed the dreaded “preseason dark horse” label (think Ole Miss last year) and prove that they can live up to the hype. For now, I’m putting them right around the middle of the Top 25 pack, but they could shoot up the rankings with impressive performances early in the year.
- Penn State dips down slightly from my draft, as it now appears true freshman Robert Bolden or walk-on Matt McGloin will start at quarterback as sophomore Kevin Newsome has not lived up to expectations in the spring or fall camp. Add that to a defense that must replace five starters along the front seven, and this could be an up-and-down year for the Nittany Lions.