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My preseason AP Top 25: Let the scandal begin

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Les Miles and the LSU Tigers have 15 returning starters as they head into a tough 2011 schedule. (Getty Images)  
Les Miles and the LSU Tigers have 15 returning starters as they head into a tough 2011 schedule. (Getty Images)  

And now for something completely different.

This college football column will not reference NCAA violations or scandals. It won't include speculation on what penalties the programs at Ohio State, North Carolina, Oregon, Auburn, UCF, South Carolina and Miami -- did I leave anyone out? -- will receive.

Instead it's about football. The best 25 teams in the land to start the season -- or at least who I think are the best 25 teams entering the year.

This is my preseason ballot for the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The AP poll will be released Saturday.

Our ballots were due almost two weeks ago, so I was not able to take into account injuries suffered by Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis and Arkansas running back Knile Davis.

Even if Lewis' injury occurred before my ballot was due, I still would have ranked the Sooners No. 1. I would, though, have dropped the Razorbacks a few spots from No. 14 if I had known Davis would be lost for the season.

Each Sunday during the season, except on Sept. 4, I will provide my AP ballot so you can dissect it and/or ridicule me to your heart's content.

Below is my preseason Top 25 AP ballot, including my Twitter take (140 or so characters or less) on each team. And if you don't like my rankings, don't worry I'll have a new one on Sept. 6.

1. Oklahoma. Last season: 12-2 (6-2 Big 12). 2010 bowl: Defeated UConn 48-20, Fiesta. Returning starters: 15 (Offense 8, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. Tulsa, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: The last three times the Sooners were ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll, they finished third in the final poll in 1986, 1987 and 2003.

2. LSU. Last season: 11-2 (6-2 SEC). 2010 bowl: Defeated Texas A&M in 41-24, Cotton. Returning starters: 15 (Offense 8, Defense 7). Opens: vs. Oregon in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: The Tigers need a much-improved Jordan Jefferson at quarterback facing a schedule featuring nine teams that played in bowl games last year.

3. Alabama. Last season: 10-3 (5-3 SEC). 2010 bowl: Defeated Michigan State 49-7, Capital One. Returning starters: 16 (Offense 7, Defense 9). Opens: Home vs. Kent State, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: For the fourth time since 1992 Alabama was picked to win the SEC. In the previous three occasions, the Tide never won the league title.

4. Florida State. Last season: 10-4 (6-2 ACC). 2010 bowl: Defeated South Carolina 26-17, Chick-fil-A. Returning starters: 16 (Offense 8, Defense 8). Opens: Home vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: In Jimbo Fisher's first season at FSU, the Seminoles scored at least 30 points in nine games. Last time that happened was way back in 2000.

5. Oregon. Last season: 12-1 (9-0 Pac-10). 2010 bowl: Lost to Auburn 19-16, BCS title game. Returning starters: 11 (Offense 6, Defense 5). Opens: vs. LSU in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: LaLa land: LaMichael James can become first person to lead nation in rushing in consecutive seasons since TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson (1999-2000).

6. Boise State. Last season: 12-1 (7-1 WAC). 2010 bowl: Defeated Utah 26-3, Las Vegas. Returning starters: 14 (Offense 7, Defense 7). Opens: vs. Georgia in Atlanta, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Boise State senior Kellen Moore, 38-2 as a starter, is eight wins from passing Texas' Colt McCoy as winningest quarterback in FBS history.

7. Texas A&M. Last season: 9-4 (6-2 Big 12). 2010 bowl: Lost to LSU 41-24, Cotton. Returning starters: 17 (Offense 9, Defense 8). Opens: Home vs. SMU, Sept. 4. My Twitter take: Cyrus Gray, who rushed for 1,133 yards last year, trying to become only third Aggie in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

8. Notre Dame. Last season: 8-5. 2010 bowl: Defeated Miami 33-17, Sun. Returning starters: 16 (Offense 8, Defense 8). Opens: Home vs. South Florida, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: In three seasons at Cincinnati, Brian Kelly lost six games. He lost five in his Notre Dame debut. The Irish will be much improved this year.

9. South Carolina. Last season: 9-5 (5-3 SEC). 2010 bowl: Lost to Florida State 26-17, Chick-fil-A. Returning starters: 13 (Offense 7, Defense 6). Opens: vs. East Carolina in Charlotte, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Steve Spurrier won a national title in his seventh season at Florida. Can he also do it this year in his seventh season with South Carolina?

10. Oklahoma State. Last season: 11-2 (6-2 Big 12). 2010 bowl: Defeated Arizona 36-10, Alamo. Returning starters: 14 (Offense 9, Defense 5). Opens: Home vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: If the Cowboys can win at least 10, they would have double digit victories in consecutive seasons for only second time in 110-year history.

11. Wisconsin. Last season: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten). 2010 bowl: Lost to TCU 21-19, Rose. Returning starters: 11 (Offense 5, Defense 6). Opens: Home vs. UNLV, Sept. 1. My Twitter take: Addition of QB Russell Wilson should help keep running back James White, last year's Big Ten's freshman of the year, from a sophomore slump.

12. Nebraska. Last season: 10-4 (6-2 Big 12). 2010 bowl: Lost to Washington 19-7, Holiday. Returning starters: 13 (Offense 6, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Cornhuskers eager to get to Big Ten after setting school record for most penalties and penalty yards last year in final Big 12 season.

13. Stanford. Last season: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-10). 2010 bowl: Defeated Virginia Tech 40-12, Orange. Returning starters: 11 (Offense 5, Defense 6). Opens: Home vs. San Jose State, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: In 1981-82. Herschel Walker was last one to go from Heisman runner-up to winner in consecutive seasons. Will Stanford QB Andrew Luck do it?

14. Arkansas. Last season: 10-3 (6-2 SEC). 2010 bowl: Lost to Ohio State 31-26, Sugar. Returning starters: 13 (Offense 6, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. Missouri State, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Losing RB Knile Davis is a huge blow, but in 2006 Bobby Petrino's Louisville team lost Michael Bush in first game and Cards still went 12-1.

15. Virginia Tech. Last season: 11-3 (8-0 ACC). 2010 bowl: Lost to Stanford 40-12, Orange. Returning starters: 12 (Offense 6, Defense 6). Opens: Home vs. Appalachian State, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: The nation's only team to win at least 10 games in each of the last seven years hopes for another run -- Logan's Run -- with new QB Logan Thomas.

16. Georgia. Last season: 6-7 (3-5 SEC). 2010 bowl: Lost to UCF 10-6, Liberty. Returning starters: 12 (Offense 5, Defense 7). Opens: Vs. Boise State in Atlanta, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Last time the Bulldogs lost seven games was 1990, but they bounced back the following year with a 9-3 record. Mark Richt needs same turnaround.

17. West Virginia. Last season: 9-4 (5-2 Big East). 2010 bowl: Lost to N.C. State 23-7, Champs Sports. Returning starters: 12 (Offense 8, Defense 4). Opens: Home vs. Marshall, Sept. 4. My Twitter take: In six years as offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen's teams averaged 40 points a game. WVU scored only 40 points twice in last three years.

18. TCU. Last season: 13-0 (8-0 MWC). 2010 bowl: Defeated Wisconsin 21-19, Rose. Returning starters: 11 (Offense 5, Defense 6). Opens: At Baylor, Sept.2. My Twitter take: The Horned Frogs, who own the nation's longest current regular season winning streak (25 games), say adios, muchacho, to the Mountain West.

19. Southern California. Last season: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-10). 2010 bowl: none. Returning starters: 13 (Offense 6, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. Minnesota, Sept. 3 My Twitter take: In the past two seasons, the Trojans have lost nine games -- or the same number of losses they had in the seven previous seasons from 2002-08.

20. Michigan State. Last season: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten). 2010 bowl: Lost to Alabama 49-7, Capital One. Returning starters: 12 (Offense 6, Defense 6). Opens: Home vs. Youngstown State, Sept. 2. My Twitter take: MSU has lost only four of its last 17 games, but they've been doozies: 28 points to Penn State, 10 to Texas Tech, 31 to Iowa and 42 to Alabama.

21. Arizona State. Last season: 6-6 (4-5 Pac-10). 2010 bowl: none. Returning starters: 15 (Offense 8, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. UC Davis, Sept. 1. My Twitter take: Since the spring Arizona State has lost five players to injuries for an extended time, including starting CB Omar Bolden and WR T.J. Simpson.

22. Missouri. Last season: 10-3 (6-2 Big 12). 2010 bowl: Lost to Iowa 27-24, Insight. Returning starters: 15 (Offense 9, Defense 6). Opens: Home vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 3. My Twitter take: QB Blaine Gabbert will be missed, but the defense stole the show last year, allowing 16.1 points per game -- MU's lowest average since 1981.

23. Penn State. Last season: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten). 2010 bowl: Lost to Florida 37-24, Outback. Returning starters: 14 (Offense 7, Defense 7). Opens: Home vs. Indiana State, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Nittany Lions have 58 victories in their past six seasons, marking Coach Joe Paterno's best six-year run since winning 60 games from 1994-99.

24. BYU. Last season: 7-6 (5-3 MWC). 2010 bowl: Defeated UTEP 52-24, New Mexico. Returning starters: 19 (Offense 10, Defense 9). Opens: At Ole Miss, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Under Coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Cougars have 50 victories in the past five seasons. Only eight schools have more victories in that span.

25. Pittsburgh. Last season: 8-5. 2010 bowl: Defeated Kentucky 27-10, Compass. Returning starters: 13 (Offense 5, Defense 8). Opens: Home vs. Buffalo, Sept. 3. My Twitter take: Since joining Big East in 1991 Pitt has never gone undefeated in non-conference play. Pitt also faces Maine, Iowa, Notre Dame and Utah.

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