As you know, the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 Poll was unveiled today, and surprise, surprise, Alabama came in at No. 1.
What you may not know, however, is that yours truly is a voter this year. The results of my personal ballot can be found online here, but I thought I'd take the time to briefly tell you why I made some of my picks. Starting with No. 1... (Trust me, this preseason ballot was tough, mainly because we haven't seen any football yet with this year's teams!) And the actual full poll can be found here.
1. Alabama - Plain and simple, the Crimson Tide are the reigning national champs and until anyone knocks the Tide down, No. 1 is where they ought to remain. It can't hurt that their two-headed running back tandem of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram will be sharing the load, and QB Greg McElroy returns as a proven veteran leader.
2. Boise State - Yes, this one is sure to ruffle some feathers, but I legitmately believe Boise State should be in the national championship discussion, regardless what conference it is in. The Broncos have been among the nation's elite the past several seasons, and return more starters than any other FBS team. That opener against Virginia Tech will be a good indication about whether this was a right pick or not.
3. Ohio State - The Buckeyes are a lot of pundits' picks to win the national championship, or at least to end up in Arizona for it. They certainly played well enough in last year's Rose Bowl to state such a case. While QB Terrelle Pryor has grown up exponentially in head coach Jim Tressel's system, he will have to prove his leadership week-in and week-out this year in order for his team to remain in the title discussion.
4. Oklahoma - I wasn't completely sure about putting the Sooners this high because they lost so much from last year's team (that includes QB Sam Bradford and a slew of first- and second-round picks on both sides of the ball). But Oklahoma has proven it can be a consistent Big12 (or whatever it should be called now) contender. Even a five-loss season in 2009 shouldn't deter sophomore QB Landry Jones from making the Sooners a potential top 5 team.
5. TCU - This might just be the best, most overlooked team in my top 5. And I say best, because I'm talking strictly about records. The Horned Frogs should have no problem going for a second consecutive undefeated season. While Alabama could surely go undefeated again, as well, it will have to deal with the tough SEC each week where anything can happen. Boise State has that opener with Virginia Tech that could trip it up early. But because of a much softer schedule, TCU likely will go undefeated, making the national championship discussion even more complicated than it nearly was last season.
6. Iowa - After having seen this team play in the Orange Bowl last January, I was thoroughly impressed with the job Kirk Ferentz has done. The Hawkeyes' defensive line, anchored by senior Adrian Claiborne, was strong and it will be again this year. That, mixed with their hard-nosed, under-the-radar, physical run game, should make 2010 a year Iowa goes BCS bowling once again.
7. Florida - Yes, the Gators lost Tim Tebow and they lost LB Brandon Spikes, among others, but they should still be a serious SEC contender once again this year. John Brantley, the backup QB under Tebow, will take the helm after learning from a player who ran Urban Meyer's system near flawlessly for four years. The players still on the team know how to win, and as the likely winner of the SEC East, they should keep Florida in the mix this year.
8. Texas - When Colt McCoy went down early in the national championship game, in came Garrett Gilbert, a young quarterback who had extremely little on-field experience. Being thrown to the Crimson Tide that night will help Gilbert immensely this fall as he takes over for McCoy, who was selected in the NFL draft. Some may argue this will be a bit of a transition year for Texas, which could equate to no better than a top 20 finish. Like Florida, the players are still in place who understand what it takes to win big games. I think the Longhorns will still be around by season's end.
9. Virginia Tech - The Hokies crack my list as the top ACC team. While I personally don't think they will be the conference's best by season's end, this is where I have them starting. A lot looks good for Virginia Tech in 2010, with its own two-headed RB monster of Darren Evans and Ryan Williams standing in the backfield alongside QB Tyrod Taylor. With three quick, potential play-busting threats in the backfield, Virginia Tech could cause plenty of defenses problems this season. The big question marks will be how well the Hokies play Boise State at the start of the year, and if their defense can be strong all year.
10. Nebraska - If you haven't jumped on the Nebraska train, now is the time to do so. Head coach Bo Pelini has returned the program to relevance for the first time since the late 1990s, and this just may be the year that the Cornhuskers do something big. Although the departure of Ndamukong Suh will hurt defensively, expect to see very much the same team that competed with Texas in last year's Big12 championship. Oh, and since this is Nebraska's last year in the Big12, it will try to go out with a bang.
11. Southern California - Although the program has been embattled over the past few months, and welcomes a new coach, it is still SC. The Trojans should still be better than competitive this fall, even if 11th isn't where they finish.
12. Auburn - The Tigers' Outback Bowl win over my Northwestern Wildcats may have been depressing to watch, but the victory is sure to vault Auburn's confidence this season. The bowl was the most entertaining of last season's lineup. Entering the season, Phil Steele magazine ranked Auburn's offensive line fifth in the nation.
13. Georgia Tech - My second ACC team came in here with the Yellow Jackets. Yes, I cover them and I see them on a regular basis, but I am fully convinced this is a team that could merit BCS consideration by the end of the season. That is, if starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt can stay healthy. As it stands now, the reigning ACC champions have an offense that very few teams still understand how to solve, and the defense can only get better. After allowing 360 yards per game to opposing offenses last year, the defense can't get much worse. The addition of the new 3-4 scheme former Virginia head coach Al Groh is bringing as new defensive coordinator should keep the scoring from other teams low.
14. Pittsburgh - Dave Wannstedt has his group flying under the radar as a team to watch. While stiff road tests at Utah and reinvigorated Notre Dame and Miami will be a challenge, the Panthers should still win their conference and finish high in the top 25.
15. Miami - The Hurricanes are coming back. Are they fully back to where they were at the start of the last decade? The jury is still out on that one, but Randy Shannon has this team competiting well in the log-jammed ACC. Key dates against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech will confirm whether this team is for real.
16. South Carolina - Steve Spurrier may have finally hit on something with this Carolina team. Their defense -- one Phil Steele ranks 13th nationally -- could be among the SEC's best. If they can ride it, Florida's path to the SEC East crown will be no walk in the park.
17. Wisconsin - Ohio State and Iowa made my list earlier, and Wisconsin rounds out the top 20 for my Big Ten selections. While Ohio State's offense will be good and Iowa's defense dominating, Wisconsin may just have the most overlooked combined team pacakage. The biggest test will be the Badgers' road contest at Iowa this year. A win, and they could look for real.
18. West Virginia - Another team on the fringe, the Mountaineers are that is hard to put a finger on. They will surely contend with Pitt for the Big East title, but the Panthers may have an offensive attack that could completely negate West Virginia's defense. When the two meet this year, it will prove whether they earn they spots.
19. LSU - Besides Alabama, LSU definitely is the best in the SEC West. The Tigers aren't what they used to be when Les Miles first took over, but they are still a competitive team that will not make things easy on the Crimson Tide. As a matter of fact, when they meet the defending national champions this year, it will be in Baton Rouge...
20. Georgia - When I made this selection a couple of weeks ago, I talked myself into believing the Bulldogs had earned this spot. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm still not sold on their backup quarterback situation (although the offensive line is QUITE impressive now). The running backs are impressive and definitely caught my attention during the Georgia-Georgia Tech game last year, but I just don't know yet. Perhaps by season's end I'll feel more confident about this pick. If I hadn't picked the Bulldogs here, I probably would have placed them 23rd where the voters ultimately, collectively placed them.
21. Penn State - JoePa will lead another competitive Nittany Lions team out of a strong Big Ten. The fifth-place team in the conference? That's right, my Northwestern Wildcats.
22. Arizona - The Wildcats have a young team, but don't discredit them. With a favorable home schedule (including games against Iowa and Southern Cal), they could be a surprise in the Pac-10. QB
23. Oregon - The Ducks may have dismissed Jeremiah Masoli, but they will be strong. I know a lot of pundits have them even higher than I do, but I'm in wait-and-see mode with these guys (technically all these teams are in that mode until they actually play!). Perhaps its my East Coast bias. I do believe by season's end, however, they could be a top 10 team as largely anticipated.
24. North Carolina - As the days go by, I feel less and less sure about this pick. I have all the confidence in the world in the Tar Heels' defensive line, even if Marvin Austin could be facing suspension time. Robert Quinn will be an absolute workhorse at defensive end. I'm much less confident about the offense, though. While the Tar Heels will be competitive throughout the year, I'm not sure we'll see them in the top 25 by late November. The ACC Coastal is just too good.
25. Arkansas - Ryan Mallet will be a better QB than some may give him credit for this season. Phil Steele seems to agree, as the Razorbacks hold his No. 2-rated offense, and No. 1-rated receivers. Arkansas will make the race for the SEC West quite a battle with Alabama and LSU.