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Preseason Top 25: Here's what you've been waiting for


For those of you who planned your summer around the release of my preseason Top 25, I'm sorry.

While you were loading up the kids for that trip to the mountains, I was tracking the shifting sands of the Big Ten, shaming miscreants and watching Nick Saban get his name above George Clooney on the marquee -- at least in Tuscaloosa.

Hey, Ingram happens. So does Masoli. There was too much going on, everywhere. All the time. Every day, it seemed.

After much consideration and delay please enjoy the 2010 preseason poll dance ...

1. Alabama: Welcome to the Trent Richardson era. The sophomore's time was coming sooner or later. Make it sooner. Richardson could be the starting tailback for the first two games because of Mark Ingram's knee injury. No matter when Ingram comes back, T-Rich is about to solidify his rep as the best runner in the program. What's the worst that could happen? Richardson also gets hurt and the defense can't absorb the loss of nine starters.

2. Boise State: You'll hear all kinds of reasons why the Broncos shouldn't win it. Here's why they should: Given the chance to play against supposedly superior competition they are 4-1 against BCS schools since 2006. All they can do is beat the teams in front of them. What's the worst that could happen? Hypocritical pollsters drop Boise in the polls after it goes undefeated.

3. Ohio State: Most talented, star-studded group in Columbus since the '92 Clippers won 95 games with Bernie Williams and J.T. Snow. Or at least since the 2002 national championship. What's the worst that could happen? Terrelle Pryor '10 plays like Terrelle Pryor '08.

4. Florida: Fast forward to December in Atlanta for the third consecutive year. The season boils down to those one or two meetings with 'Bama. John Brantley will throw for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. What's the worst that could happen? An Alabama sweep (Oct. 2 and Dec. 4)

5. TCU: The most complete team in the top five. Frogs have finished No. 1 back-to-back in total defense. Andy Dalton is a Heisman candidate. Jeremy Kerley is an excellent returner. What's the worst that could happen? A bad loss at Utah late (Nov. 6) knocks TCU out of BCS bowl contention.

6. Texas: Mack Brown says the bulked up, more physical Longhorns will run the ball effectively. Other than the running game, the only weakness is the defensive line. Still, Kheeston Randall is expected to become a star. What's the worst that could happen? Texas still can't run the ball.

7. Wisconsin: Bret Bielema has a quarterback (Scott Tolzien), a pounding tailback (John Clay), an All-Big Ten left tackle (Gabe Carimi) and a freshman All-American at linebacker (Chris Borland). Doesn't he have to win 11 this season? What's the worst that could happen? Ohio State wins on Oct. 16 in Madison.

8. Oklahoma: Landry Jones threw for 26 touchdowns when the season was lost and the pressure was off. Let's see how he plays with everything on the table. What's the worst that could happen? Tailback DeMarco Murray gets hurt again. Bob Stoops says a 2,000-yard season is possible.

9. Iowa: Offensive line is an issue. But if that's the only issue, there are worse places to find offensive linemen. They grow in the cornfields around Iowa City. What's the worst that could happen? Ultra-sensitive Hawkeye fans don't tone down their fine whine.

10. Nebraska: The quarterback thing is puzzling. Bo Pelini either doesn't have a go-to guy or he's sandbagging. The long-term guess is redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, who lit up the spring, eventually will get the job. What's the worst that could happen? Nebraska doesn't live up to the hype and finishes 9-3.

11. Oregon: Darron Thomas getting the quarterback job shows how valuable Jeremiah Masoli was to the Ducks. Chip Kelly needs a dual-threat triggerman to run his offense. Thomas was the best option. What's the worst that could happen? Ducks play in the Rose Bowl as the second-place team in the Pac-10. That means USC, which is ineligible, finishes as paper champion.

12. Virginia Tech: Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has some re-tooling to do but it shouldn't be a problem. All he needs is time. He won't get it immediately with Boise State on Monday and a trip to Boston College looming later in September. What's the worst that could happen? Miami wins the Coastal.

13. Florida State: For the first time since 1969 Bobby Bowden isn't a head coach. No matter how it went down, FSU is better off. The 'Noles begin a slow climb back to the national scene this season. What's the worst that could happen? The defense doesn't improve and the rebuilding project takes longer than anyone thought.

14. Miami: Pushed around by Wisconsin in the bowl game, the 'Canes have to show us attitude, then win games. We'll know more on Sept. 11 when they travel to Ohio State. What's the worst that could happen? The murderous early schedule takes its toll. Try to imagine the 'Canes starting 5-0 after facing Florida A&M, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Clemson and Florida State.

15. Pittsburgh: They share a facility. Finally, some of the Steelers' magic rubs off on the Panthers. The Big East favorites could win 10 games. What's the worst that could happen? Players can't get the Cincinnati loss out of their minds.

16. USC: Take a good look. This is the last you'll see of the Trojans in this condition for the next five years. There are some dark days ahead. This year, though, they can still win the Pac-10. What's the worst that could happen? Any ... injury ... at ... all.

17. Georgia Tech: The Jackets have lost a lot on both sides of the line. But that's the thing about Paul Johnson's option offense. It's always dangerous because no one is familiar with it. What's the worst that could happen? Anthony Allen isn't Jonathan Dwyer.

18. Auburn: Gene Chizik is standing up to Alabama as much as can be expected. A second-place finish in the SEC West isn't out of the question. What's the worst that could happen? Cameron Newton plays like he is still at Florida (legal problems) instead of how he did at Blinn Juco.

19. Arkansas: Best quarterback in the SEC. One of the best set of pass catchers in the country. But can the Hogs play serviceable defense? What's the worst that could happen? NCAA rules Ryan Mallett ineligible for being too tall.

20. Penn State: Coaching-by-committee continues as JoePa heads into the sunset. Paterno wins his 400th and gets the Nits to another bowl game. What's the worst that could happen? Quarterback-by-committee.

21. LSU: Best shutdown corner in the country plays here (Patrick Peterson). Les Miles is hoping that Jordan Jefferson is the best quarterback on the roster. What's the worst that could happen? All those North Carolina players are somehow eligible for Saturday.

22. Connecticut: This might be Randy Edsall's best with 16 returning starters. UConn gets Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia at home. What's the worst that could happen? The Huskies don't start 5-0. The schedule is set up for UConn to make a run at 10 wins.

23. West Virginia: It will take a village to stop Noel Devine. The NCAA already is taking its shot at slowing down the program. What's the worst that could happen? Bill Stewart doesn't win nine again and the critics close in.

24. Georgia: UGA doesn't have to be told that Florida has pulled away in the SEC East. The season needs to be spent getting the defense, Washaun Ealey and the quarterback position, right. What's the worst that could happen? A loss at South Carolina in Week 2. The wolves will be out for Mark Richt. He doesn't deserve the abuse.

25. Washington: Give any coach the next No. 1 draft choice (Jake Locker) and he ought to able to win nine. Steve Sarkisian might not do that but he will get the Huskies to a bowl for the first time since 2002. What's the worst that could happen? Locker is injured again.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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