1. USC - They've won 33 of 34. They're favored to three-peat. Matt Leinart remained at USC rather than become the 49ers starting QB as their #1 draft pick because he wanted to stay with the better team. The biggest potholes in the USC road come in the first half of the schedule. Five of their first seven are away from home including tests at Oregon, Arizona St. and Notre Dame. Danger lurks in all three spots, especially the latter pair. If they're unbeaten after six games, it's downhill to the title game.
2. LSU - Tigers return 18 starters from a 9-3 club. Their three toughest opponents--Tennessee, Florida and Auburn--all must visit Baton Rouge. Their schedule is rough enough and the SEC is so respected that if they're one of a handful of one-loss teams they could still get in the title game.
3. Ohio State - 18 lettermen return from a club that roared down the stretch winning five of six. Unlike a lot of their Big (slow) Ten brethren this club has real speed. Huge early season tests with Iowa and Texas both come at home in Columbus.
4. Florida - Were Gator boo-birds correct that this talented group was "coached down" by Ron Zook. Wonderkid Urban Meyer has immediately upgraded the two previous programs he's taken over. A mid-season date at LSU looms as their toughest test. In QB Chris Leak, Coach Meyer inherits perhaps the perfect triggerman for his spread offense.
5. Texas - Horns suffered sizable losses to the NFL but there seems to be huge faith in athletic QB Vince Young. Young dazzled versus lead-footed Michigan in the Rose Bowl. But will rugged foes on the UT schedule focus on him daring inexperience runners and wide receivers to beat them. Texas seems to be the "public" go-with club. That's always dangerous given that the public is usually wrong. One huge problem-the schedule. Games against Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M all come away from home.
6. Iowa - Kirk Ferentz may be the best coach in college football. This once struggling program is 31-7 the last three years. If...that's IF...this club could win at Ohio State, the rest of the schedule's not all that rugged. Tons of injuries last season means more experienced depth this year. Look out.
7. Louisville - Who's gonna beat them? They'll be favored in every game. Unlike last season they'll begin '05 in the Top 15 and maybe in the Top 10 by the time the first polls are released. And if they're one of only two unbeatens at season's end, what keeps them out of the title game?
1. Arizona State - Went 9-3 last season with two losses coming to USC and top 5 rated Cal. Their defense improved nearly 50 yards per game last year while the offense was +58 yards per game. Early season games against LSU and USC could be their only losses. But what if they should pull an upset in one of them?
2. Alabama - Nine defensive starters return from a unit that permitted a miniscule 245 yards per game in the rugged SEC last year. If their staggering offense can be jacked up a bit that "D" gives them a chance to win any Saturday. They catch Florida, Tennessee and LSU at home. Count on it-they'll upset at least one of them.
3. Fresno State - Does anyone realize Pat Hill's Bulldogs have won 38 games the last four years including three bowl victories? Since 2001 they've pulled upsets over Colorado, Oregon St., Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, UCLA, Kansas St and Virginia. WHEW! Sixteen starters return. And they'll again take their best shots at higher profile opponents like Oregon, Boise State and USC.
4. Texas A&M - Could be 8-0 entering November. Enough said. Whoop!