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Senior College Football Columnist

Aggies preseason No. 1; with Manziel, few weaknesses, why not?


Nuts or wise?

Clairvoyant or high?

Don't save your best stuff for Twitter. Bring it, right here. How can any right-minded human not pick Alabama to win again?

Me. Am I crazy?

If only because it has to end sometime, this Alabama thing has to end soon. Call it the Law of Aggie Averages. Texas A&M is the preseason No. 1 because it was the only team to beat the postseason No. 1 in 2012. That's a good place to start. So is the Heisman Trophy winner, who -- considering he is only a sophomore -- has yet to play his best game.

Oh, and did I mention the Aggies get Bama at home in the third week of the season? Sept. 14 might be the entire season for both teams. A win would vault A&M into national championship contention. The game comes early enough that the Tide could rehab themselves even with a loss.

Losing games at home in the past two Novembers hasn't been a big hurdle.

Why A&M? Why not?

A year ago we were questioning whether coach Kevin Sumlin could handle the SEC. Now he might rule it. Left tackle Luke Joeckel won the Outland Trophy in 2012. Right tackle Jake Matthews might be a favorite to win it in 2013.

Why A&M? Mike Evans was a 1,100-yard receiver as a freshman.

Why A&M? If there is a weakness it's in the secondary. That's not a bad place for your lone soft spot in the run-and-stop-the-run SEC.

Why A&M? Johnny Manziel lost to two teams last season. One -- Florida -- is off the schedule.

Why A&M? Because Johnny Football probably hasn't played his best game. In his last, best appearance he went for a Cotton Bowl-record 516 total yards against Oklahoma.

Why A&M? Why not? Make it eight in a row for the SEC, but the end of the line for Alabama.

Dodd's Power Poll
RankTeam (Previous)Comment
1Texas A&M (3)
2012: 11-2
Conference: 6-2
A new quarterbacks coach for Johnny Football (Jake Spavital). A rebuilt offensive line. A reborn 12th Man. Tailback Ben Malena averaged 5.9 yards per carry. The biggest questions are on defense, where things can only get better. Quality defensive linemen tend to gravitate toward the SEC.
2Alabama (4)
Overall: 13-1
Conference: 8-1
No Georgia, no South Carolina, no Florida on the schedule. Maybe the best quarterback this side of Johnny Manziel. How many teams have signal-callers with two championship rings? The upset is that the Tide aren't ranked first but that Sept. 14 visit to College Station may be the only blemish. And the Tide will have plenty of time to recover.
3Stanford (7)
Overall: 12-2
Conference: 9-1
David Shaw has to replace Stepfan Taylor, but 10 starters return on defense. That's a good place to start for a program that is starting to contend for national championships, not only Pac-12 titles. Try to match the Cardinal's toughness. Oregon and Wisconsin are convinced.
4Ohio State (2)
Overall: 12-0
Conference: 8-0
This time it counts. In Year 2 of Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes will dominate the Big Ten. Braxton Miller has a year on his Heisman resume. Drama, thy name is Big Ten. The toughest game may not be until Nov. 30 at Michigan. Some history there, we hear.
5Oregon (8)
Overall: 12-1
Conference: 8-1
Chip Kelly's schemes continue to flow upward to the NFL. And Kelly has gone with them, too. Still, there is no sign the Ducks will slow down. De'Anthony Thomas is crazy fast, but look for Byron Marshall to also step up at tailback as a sophomore. If Oregon wins at Stanford, there may be bigger things in store in 2013.
6Georgia (6)
Overall: 12-2
Conference: 7-2
Aaron Murray has to be motivated. If not for a tipped pass in the SEC Championship Game, the Dawgs may be the reigning national champs. An absolutely loaded offense returns. We'll know about Georgia right away. They kick off against Clemson and South Carolina.
7South Carolina (11)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 6-2
The Jadeveon Clowney Heisman run is going to be a gas to watch. We've reached the point where a defensive player can win the Stiff Arm. Steve Spurrier has a contract extension and two quarterbacks he trusts. Come to think about it, the Gamecocks' run at the SEC is going to be a gas to watch.
8Florida (5)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 7-1
The Sugar Bowl was bad. Real bad. Embarrassingly bad. It pointed up how the Gators are a potential top-five team but need to get the offense fixed to get to the next level. The Gators will continue to be a power back team. That's a good thing in the SEC. Big back Matt Jones replaces Mike Gillislee.
9Clemson (14)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 7-1
The Tigers showed guts to get to glory in the Chick-fil-A vs. LSU. Now they just have to carry it over to the 2013 regular season. Tajh Boyd is a Heisman contender, aided by what hopefully will be a rebound season from Sammy Watkins. The season begins (Georgia) and ends (South Carolina) with incredibly tough non-conference games.
10Notre Dame (1)
Overall: 12-1
Conference: N/A
Are the Irish back? Brian Kelly certainly is. Other than that, the biggest question surrounding the Irish: Consistency. They must follow up 12 wins with at least 10. Everett Golson will be settled in. Watch for DaVaris Daniels at receiver. Tailback Cierre Wood is going pro but there is plenty of depth. The schedule is typically tough. Will the Irish get the breaks/luck they had last season?
11Louisville (24)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 5-2
Tom Jurich might the best AD in the country. He maneuvered his athletic department into the ACC at a time when football is peaking and basketball is No. 1. Teddy Bridgewater should be a Heisman candidate and the Cardinals should be a favorite to win the Big East in its final season in the league.
12Texas (NR)
Overall: 9-4
Conference: 5-4
Horns quietly won nine games in a rebuilding job that is now going on three years after 2010's five-win season. Mack Brown has plenty of young talent returning to win the Big 12 back from Kansas State and Oklahoma.
13Florida State (15)
Overall: 12-2
Conference: 8-1
A top-five defense took some hits but may have to carry the Noles as Jimbo Fisher breaks in a new quarterback and the running game seeks consistency.
14Oregon State (21)
Overall: 9-4
Conference: 6-3
Never underestimate Mike Riley. The Beavs quietly had the Pac-12's No. 2 passing offense. Riley will arguably have the league's best depth at quarterback with Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. A win over Stanford or Oregon makes it a special season.
15Boise State (20)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 7-1
Now that the conference thing is settled -- we think -- the Broncos have to prove they can keep the momentum going. They haven't won an outright conference title since 2009. Joe Southwick seems poised for a monster senior season. Who knew the Broncos were No. 7 in sacks last season?
16Northwestern (19)
Overall: 10-3
Conference: 5-3
Coming off the team's first 10-win season since 1995, why not the Wildcats in the Big Ten? Fifteen returning starters and Ohio State at home. Just sayin'.
17LSU (10)
Overall: 10-3
Conference: 6-2
Massive losses figure to make these Tigers a shadow of their former selves. A typically strong running game will help Zach Mettenberger. But trips to Georgia and Alabama will be tough. The receivers must overcome a bad case of the drops.
18TCU (NR)
Overall: 7-6
Conference: 4-5
Can make a great case for the Frogs winning the Big 12 in their second season. The defense is loaded; it finished in the top 20 in a transition year. Casey Pachall is back in school and, if he stays clean, may return to the field. That would give Gary Patterson a great 1-2 punch at quarterback. Oh, and the Texas game is at home.
19Kansas State (9)
Overall: 11-2
Conference: 8-1
Is it possible K-State gets better at quarterback? Sophomore Daniel Sams is more athletic than Collin Klein. Incoming Jake Waters was the No. 1 junior college quarterback.
20Oklahoma (12)
Overall: 10-3
Conference: 8-1
It's a good thing the Sooners are in the Big 12. In the last two weeks combined, Mike Stoops' beleaguered D has given up 97 points, almost 1,300 yards and won. OU still finds itself alive for the outright conference title.
21OK State (NR)
Overall: 8-5
Conference: 5-4
In a down year, the Pokes won eight games, found some quarterback depth and told the Big 12 it isn't going away for very long. The loss of Joseph Randle will hurt but Mike Gundy now has a program instead of a team. Cowboys will endure.
22Nebraska (13)
Overall: 10-4
Conference: 7-2
Bo Pelini has won at least nine in each of his five seasons. But the lasting aftertaste is giving up 70 in the Big Ten championship game. In his senior season, Taylor Martinez gives the Huskers another shot at Nebraska's first conference title since 1999.
23Northern Illinois (17)
Overall: 12-2
Conference: 9-0
Sure, the Huskies were outclassed in the Orange Bowl. But as long as they have Jordan Lynch they could make a return trip.
24Mississippi (NR)
Overall: 7-6
Conference: 3-5
Everything is trending up in Oxford. Big bowl win. Two-game winning streak. Twenty -- 20! -- starters back. How many teams can say they have two Nkemdiches on the roster? It may happen if Hugh Freeze can land No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche to join his brother Denzel.
25BYU (NR)
Overall: 8-5
Conference: N/A
The Cougars closed out 2012 winning four of five in their second year of independence. Bronco Mendenhall will have to rebuild the offensive line and find a new quarterback. The schedule also gets tougher. But these are not your grandpa's Cougars. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy may go into 2013 as the nation's best defensive player. Only Florida State and Alabama were better in total defense.

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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