I'm not cool enough to belong to the ever popular BlogPoll, but that shouldn't stop me from joining in on the fun...even if unofficially. That's why I've decided to do my own top-25 -- hey, I want to be cool, too!
I put Ohio State here because I don't think there is a consensus number one. Unlike last year, where USC was the definitive number one, I realistically believe that any top-10 team can make a strong case for the top ranking. The Buckeyes had a solid season last year and finished strong with a pretty convincing win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Jim Tressel has already proven he can coach OSU to the national championship, and he very well may do that again this year. Their biggest obstacle this season will be a trip to Austin, where they face Texas for what could be the game of the year. If Ohio State can get out of Austin with a win, they should have no problem going undefeated, with their toughest games all being played in Columbus, including the end of the year showdown with Michigan.
They're the defending national champions and even though replacing Vince Young will be no easy task, the Longhorns should not see much of a drop off from last year's squad. Their home game against Ohio State is shaping up to be one that decides which team plays for the national championship come January and playing the Buckeyes at home may prove to be a decisive advantage for Texas. Texas' biggest test outside of Ohio State will be their annual meet with Oklahoma in Dallas and a road game against a solid Texas Tech team. It's not unthinkable to believe Texas can once again go undefeated with their schedule and Coach Brown finally seemed to have exorcised his seasonal demons (losing to Oklahoma and failing to win the Big 12).
The Trojans were most likely a punt away from their third straight national championship (and yes, I do count the 2003 championship -- I don't care if you do not). However you look at it, Pete Carroll has balls the size of...well, that's getting a bit too vivid and I don't want to go there. But the past is just that and this ain't your 2005 Trojans team, not by a long shot. Gone is arguably the best quarterback in SC history and of course that one back Reggie Bush, or something like that. But this is SC, where rebuilding ain't an option and it's all about reloading. Maybe I've drank too much of the kool-aid, but I just think Carroll is too good to let the Trojans fall off the map after a shaky summer. And let's not fool ourselves, this summer shook more for SC than LA did during the 1994 Northridge quake. But for all their problems, the ship seems to have righted itself -- even if it's only temporary.
I'm buying the hype, if only because West Virginia plays in the weakest BCS conference in the nation. Don't be surprised if the Mountaineers roll through their schedule and sneak into the national championship game. They might not be the best team in the nation, or even a top-5 team for that matter, but when their toughest game is at Louisville, it's not difficult to see why I list them so high. Yeah, I know it's unconventional to make picks based on a team's schedule, but this is my poll and I'm not bound by rules. West Virginia's national championship hopes ride right through Louisville and if they get out with a victory, there is no reason why they can't finish the season undefeated.
I'm not a Tommy Tuberville fan and am still racking my brain over how the hell he led them to an undefeated season in 2004. But you can't deny what he's accomplished at Auburn and once again he's built a solid team that should contend for the national championship. And that's where things get dicey because the last time Auburn was hyped like this, they flopped big time. That was in 2003 and after many felt the Tigers would play for the national championship, opening ranked 6th in the presason poll, they went on to lose to USC and Georgia Tech, starting 0-2 on their way to an 8-5 season. They bounced back in 2004 and actually had a pretty solid season last year, even with all they lost from the undefeated 2004 team. But expectations were tempered then, just as they were in 2004. The big question surrounding the Tigers will be their ability to react in a postive manner to high expectations -- something Tuberville has failed to do while at Auburn.
Larry Coker has won over 85% of his games at Miami, has a national championship and 3 conference championships. Not a resume for a guy that's on the hot seat, but that's exactly where he finds himself. After yet another unfulfilled 9-3 season -- not winning the ACC, contending for the national championship and getting embarrassed by LSU in the Peach Bowl -- the Hurricane faithful are becoming wary of the 'Canes progress since joining the ACC two seasons ago. Another mediocre (meaning not contending for the championship) season in Coral Gables and Larry Coker might be unemployed. This will be a tough season, especially with the loss of some key players, but I see no reason why Miami can't win 10 games and find themselves competing for the national championship once again.
He might not be too smart and he's amazing at making goofy faces, but no one can doubt Les Miles had a pretty impressive debut with the Tigers last season. In his first season he guided the Tigers to 11 wins, a spot in the SEC Championship game and a blowout win against Miami in the Peach Bowl. If it weren't for a total collapse against Tennessee down in Baton Rouge, the Tigers would have had an even more impressive season. Oh yeah, and he did all of this during probably the most turbulent time in Louisiana history (Hurricane Katrina). This season, LSU will have a hill to climb, but the talent is there for another great run. I don't see them winning the national championship, but they could find themselves in Atlanta once again for the SEC Championship game.
Urban Meyer has done wonders in year two at both Bowling Green and here at Utah, but he'll be hard pressed to replicate that kind of success this season at Florida. I'm not sold on Chris Leak running the spread option and I think Florida's offense will struggle. However it'll be their defense that becomes a force in the SEC and could be what separates them from the rest of the conference. Urban Meyer might be an offensive coach, but the success of the Gators this season will rest on the shoulders of their stout defense. I believe the Gators schedule is far too difficult for an undefeated run, thus a national championship appearance is not likely. I think Florida will be a top-10 team, though would not be surprised if they end the year with 3 losses again, like last year.
Like West Virginia, Louisville plays in the watered down Big East and should have little difficulty succeeding in the win column. Their toughest game, outside of a home date with West Virginia, is against Miami and after that it's pretty much smooth sailing. Bobby Petrino, not to be confused with the walking zombie Joe Paterno, is a great coach who's put together one of the most exciting teams in the country. Louisville probably won't get through their schedule undefeated, so I don't think they'll be in the national championship discussion. However a 10 win season should be expected and anything less might actually be a disappointment. Though last season the Cards struggled against a mediocre South Florida team in a game that not only ended their Big East championship hopes, but cocked a few eyebrows in the process.
While some are predicting the Irish to play for the national championship, I'm not sold just yet. And I made that abundantly clear in this blog entry a couple weeks ago. I like Weis, but am still not ready to crown him the King of College Football based off of one season. Let's not forget that Notre Dame is only a few years removed from the successful debut of Ty Willingham -- and he had more impressive wins than Weis in his first season. Notre Dame may be as good as advertised, but based on last year's results I'm skeptical. They defeated no one, struggled against a below average Michigan State team and got blown out of the water in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish will be good this season, but I don't think they're going to play for the national championship and I definitely do not believe last season's finish warrants a top-3 ranking this season.
Jeff Tedford is arguably one of the most underrated coaches in America. This guy took over a consistently awful team and has positioned them into a truly dominate one. Ok so Cal might not be on the cusp of the national championship just yet and they're still living in the shadow of USC, but they've definitely made some great strides over the past few years. After losing a lot from 2004, Cal barely missed a beat in their rebuilding year, going a better than average 8-4 with a win against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. That momentum created at the end of last season should carry over into 2006, but it won't be an easy task early on as the Golden Bears open up against a Tennessee team quickly trying to dispel any doubts after their 5-6 season a year ago. That game will be a true test, as it's being played in the hostile Neyland Stadium.
Bobby Bowden last year showed he still had it, whatever it is. The Seminoles had a pretty solid season, winning the ACC and getting back to another BCS bowl game (a thriller loss to Penn State). Now this season, things are a bit different, but FSU looks to continue its recent success and once again return to their dominate form. Granted, they probably won't put together another run like they had in the mid-80s all the way up to 2003 (11 straight conference championships, 14 straight top-10 finishes and 2 national championships), but they definitely should be more solid than they were over the past three years. The season's success will hinge on whether they can knock off Miami on the road. A loss there might hamper any ACC title hopes, though FSU has a pretty mild schedule after that, only playing 3 games on the road -- with their toughest coming against North Carolina State. Though a home game against Boston College can't be overlooked.
Iowa took a step back last year after 3 straight 10+ win seasons, especially when you realize a few pundits predicted Iowa in the national championship game. But Kirk Ferentz is a solid coach and should have them competing for the Big Ten championship. The Hawkeyes have a pretty solid schedule with their toughest road game at Michigan. So don't be surprised if they can position themselves toward the top of the Big Ten championship race. A win against Ohio State at home -- subsequently ending Ohio State's national championship hopes -- could be a springboard that launches Iowa toward their first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1991 season. A road game against Michigan however will be the key to Iowa's season. If they can knock Michigan off on the road, morale will be high and the Big Ten Championship right in their sight.
The SEC defending champions lost some key players from last year's team, but Mark Richt doesn't seem to have a problem reloading with the Bulldogs (4 straight 10+ win seasons). While I don't expect Georgia to compete for the national championship, they should be a player in the SEC East and may slip back into the SEC Championship Game if things fall into place. Their game against Florida in Jacksonville will be vital in determining who has the inside track on winning the SEC East and the Bulldogs will look to avenge last year's close loss, so they stand a good chance at winning that game. If things fall into place, Georgia should once again win 10 games and if they get extremely lucky, they may be playing in Atlanta for the conference championship.
After last year's mediocre season, Lloyd Carr's worst season as coach at Michigan, the Wolverines will look to get things turned around this season. And while they shouldn't have a problem getting back to their winning ways, it won't be easy with road dates against Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State. The Wolverines should once again position themselves at the top of the conference and the showdown with Ohio State might actually determine who wins the Big Ten's bid to the Rose Bowl. However if this happens, Lloyd Carr better pray to the college football gods because he's only beaten a Jim Tressel coached Ohio State team once since Tressel arrived in Columbus in 2001. Not a good stat, especially when you consider Carr was 5-1 against former Ohio State coach John Cooper.
The Hokies have consistently been a solid team over the past decade and all the credit goes to the amazing job Coach Beamer has done at molding Virginia Tech into a true national championship threat. Yet with all their success, they've failed to position themselves as a national contender and that shouldn't change this year. Though Marcus Vick was a head case, there's no denying his ability and even though Virginia Tech returns 7 starters on offense, it will be difficult replacing him. Taking over the reigns will be sophomore Sean Glennon and he'll have a challenge, but Tech does benefit from their schedule. Road games against Miami and Boston College could trip them up in their bid to reach the ACC Championship Game for the 2nd straight year, though. If Miami stumbles this season, Virginia Tech should have no problem getting back to the ACC Championship Game.
Texas Christian last season nearly busted the BCS. Yet with all their success, it's difficult to forget their performance against a pretty bad SMU team. The loss not only cost TCU an undefeated season, it blew any chance of playing in a BCS bowl game. An 11-1 finish, with a solid win against Iowa State in the Houston Bowl, has built great momentum heading into the 2006 season. Quarterback Jeff Ballard, who took over for the injured Tye Gunn last season, looks to lead a TCU offense that returns 5 starters. While their offensive line took a hit (Shane Sims - OG, Ben Angeley - OG and Stephen Culp - C all graduated), they should still put up some solid numbers and their defense will once again be toward the tops in the conference. A road game against Utah and home dates against Texas Tech and BYU will be their biggest test of the season, but -- outside of the Utah game -- TCU should be favored to win all their games again this year. An undefeated season with a BCS bowl berth is definitely possible.
Rhett Bomar may have just set Oklahoma back a season. After a rebuilding year where the Sooners struggled to an 8-4 record, some felt Oklahoma would once again return to the top and dominate their way to another Big 12 title. Then Rhett Bomar gets kicked out of school and Oklahoma finds themselves right back at square one. Last season they had to replace Heisman winner Jason White, and were vulnerable at the quarterback position. But at least they had time when it came to prepping his successor, this time around Bomar's void needs a quick fix. Which means the Sooners success will rely on Adrian Peterson's game and if Oklahoma is going to put together a strong season, they need him to put up Heisman like numbers, and even then they could struggle. The Sooners travel to Eugene early in the season to face a solid Oregon squad and end the season playing 4 of their final 5 games on the road, against the likes of Texas A&M and instate rival Oklahoma State. They also have their annual meeting with Texas at the Cotton Bowl, a game that once again may go Texas' way now that the Sooners will be breaking in a new quarterback. Stoops was hoping that last season was Oklahoma's rebuilding year, well it looks like this year will be too.
After spending a year on the hot seat, Tommy Bowden bought himself some more time after leading Clemson to a solid 8-4 season. However 8-4 again this year might not cut it, especially if Clemson once again struggles in ACC play as they went 4-4 last year, including an embarrassing loss to Wake Forest. His father he is not and Clemson fans are starting to wake up to that, so this season Tommy Bowden better hope for 10 wins and a winning conference record. Clemson opens the season against Florida Atlantic, then battles Boston College on the road and follows that up with a road trip to Tallahassee. Not an easy start to the season and the Tigers could realistically be looking at a 1-2 start. Clemson also has to travel to Virginia Tech and a home game against out of conference rival South Carolina won't be easy.
I hesitated putting Tennessee here after their 5-6 finish last year, but history has shown that the odds of this being an anomaly are far greater than this being a trend. Tennessee wasn't a bad team last year, they just had some unlucky breaks and everything quickly fell apart. This season they need to win, mostly to save Phil Fulmer's job, as another campaign like last year will seal his fate. As mentioned earlier, the Vols open up against Cal at home, which is an important game and one that could set the tone for the entire season. A win against a solid Cal team will go along way toward building confidence, a loss could continue their downward spiral toward the abyss. Getting Florida, Alabama and LSU at home is huge for Tennessee this season, however road dates against South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia are potential stumbling blocks in their quest to return toward the top of the SEC.
Last year Penn State started unranked and many in the media were ready to bury the legacy of JoePa. Then the season started and the Nittany Lions roared all the way up into the rankings and found themselves playing in their first every BCS bowl game. This season, they're expected to take a step back, but should still stay relevant in the college football world, something that had been disregarded over the past few years prior to last season. Penn State does have a difficult path on their way back toward the top of the Big Ten, as they play Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue -- who will be much improved -- on the road. Home games against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State will be a challenge too, and their out of conference match between Notre Dame in South Bend early on could define the success of Penn State's season.
Last year Alabama climbed their way nearly to the top of the SEC in Mike Shula's surprise 3rd season. After two mediocre years with the Crimson Tide, he got things turned around and now seems to have `Bama heading in the right direction. Yet on the heels of last year's 10-2 season, there are a lot of unanswered questions heading into the 2006 season. While they return 9 starters on offense, they lose starting quarterback Brodie Croyle -- who only happens to be Alabama's all-time leading passer. Not only do they need to find a capable replacement for Croyle, they only return 4 starters on defense. And that may be the crux of their season, much like it was last year. Alabama has some tough road games against Arkansas and Florida early on in the season -- back to back in fact -- and road games against Tennessee and LSU later on. The Tide will struggle replacing their quarterback and adjusting their inexperienced secondary and it most likely will cause them a shot at the SEC Championship. However they should still have a solid season and finish the year ranked.
Bill Callahan finally got things moving in the right direction after a disastrous 2004 season. While Nebraska was far from their Tom Osborne form last year, things seem to becoming together under their third year head coach. Nebraska had their ups and downs last year (losing to Kansas, then beating Michigan in the Alamo Bowl) and if they're going to become a staple in the top-25 again, they'll need more consistent play. That's the biggest strike against Callahan right now and it's unclear whether he can keep Nebraska at the level needed to appease their unyielding fan base. Nebraska's biggest test will come against USC on the 16th, and with two cupcakes prior to that game, this will be the best way to gauge whether Nebraska is finally back or not. Nebraska's conference schedule is rather easy, with their toughest road game coming against Texas A&M. Texas has to travel to Lincoln this year, which should be an entertaining game. Nebraska, if things fall into place, has a great shot at winning the Big 12 North and from there might upset Texas for the conference championship, though I'm not banking on it.
Last year the Utes struggled under first year head coach Kyle Whittingham. After going 12-0 in 2004, they followed that up with a mediocre 7-5 season. But it wasn't that surprising, as the Utes lost starting quarterback Alex Smith, their leading rusher Marty Johnson and their leading receivers Steve Savoy and Paris Warren. Employing nearly an entirely new offense and retooling an inexperienced defense and the Utes found themselves rebuilding for the first time since the 2002 season. While they struggled through stretches, Utah finished the year winning 4 of their final 5 games, including a dominate victory over 24th ranked Georgia Tech in the 2005 Emerald Bowl. This season Utah opens up against UCLA on the road and are looking to return back to the success they saw in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. While the Utes lost 1,000 yard rusher Quinton Ganther, offensively they return 7 starters, though it's unclear who will be Utah's quarterback right now. That battle is between last year's starter Brian Johnson -- who went down at the end of the second to last game of the season, Brett Ratliff -- who replaced Johnson for Utah's game against rival BYU and the Emerald Bowl, and Tommy Grady, the transfer from Oklahoma. Whomever is tagged to lead the offense should have a plentiful receiving core and Utah's defense returns 9 starters from last season. Outside of UCLA, Utah's toughest opponents all come to Salt Lake City. The Utes game against TCU at Rice-Eccles Stadium not only could decide the conference championship, but a BCS bowl berth as well.
Oregon, after a one year absence, returned to the national stage with an emphatic 10-2 season. This year Coach Mike Bellotti looks to keep them there, though it'll be difficult. Oregon lost starting quarterback Kellen Clemens, who actually was lost toward the end of the season against Arizona. When he went down, Oregon's offense tanked and the Ducks barely had enough in the tank to defeat Cal and Washington State, though they did dominate Oregon State at the end of the season. Oregon opens the season up against Pac-10 foe Stanford at home, then has to go on the road to play Fresno State. That game against the Bulldogs will be difficult, as Fresno State has historically been a solid team early on. Road games against Arizona State, Cal and USC will prove to be the challenge for Oregon and might keep them from making much noise outside of the Pac-10.
Others to watch: Arizona State, Texas Tech, Boston College, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Fresno State, BYU, UTEP, UCLA, Navy