OK, OK, I believe.
After underestimating Iowa all these years, it's time for some love. Lose Robert Gallery? No problem. No running game? A recipe for getting to the Capital One Bowl, naturally. Kirk Ferentz to the NFL? It hasn't happened yet.
|It'll be tough for anybody to beat Southern Cal's Matt Leinart-Pete Carroll connection. (Getty Images)|
Ferentz added another top 10 recruiting class to a roster that went 10-2 and tied for the Big Ten title last year. Drew Tate was the bowl and conference player of the year. This is the signature program for a revitalized Big Ten. Enjoy it while all the running backs are healthy.
Besides, it's better to overrate than underrate.
1. Southern California: The coaches can use the practice more than the players. Five assistants have left the program. It will basically take two coaches to replace former offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Steve Sarkisian is the new quarterbacks coach. He'll be working with 29-year-old OC Lane Kiffin, the old receivers coach. Matt Leinart needs to start developing new relationships right away and not hang his head over the loss of Chow. Why they're ranked here: Twenty-two-game winning streak, back-to-back titles. Duh.
2. Iowa: After losing seemingly every running back on the roster to injuries, Iowa is loaded with healthy RBs. The spring will be spent sorting out the new hoss. Look for a battle between junior Sam Brownlee and sophomore Albert Young. Oh, and there's Tate, the Big Ten offensive player of the year. The defensive line needs to be remade, but how hard can that be? Ferentz won with a sixth-string RB last year. Why they're ranked here: Three consecutive top 10 finishes. Three consecutive New Year's bowls. Eighteen consecutive home wins. Iowa won't go away, so why fight it? Warren Holloway left a calling card for the country not to forget the Hawkeyes. His game-winning touchdown catch in the dying seconds against LSU in the Capital One Bowl is being called the greatest in school history.
|Ten to Watch|
|Non-BCS top 10|
|1. Fresno State|
|3. Boise State|
|5. Bowling Green|
|6. Miami (Ohio)|
|10. North Texas|
3. Tennessee: This is one of Phil Fulmer's best teams. The Vols are favored to win the SEC after getting to the title game last year with a freshman quarterback. Erik "Little Peyton" Ainge should be a pleasure to watch. Backup Brent Schaeffer could be a starter for a lot of teams. Why they're ranked here: Classic Tennessee running game led by Gerald Riggs Jr.
4. Texas: Find a replacement for Cedric Benson and some accuracy for Vince Young. Benson's replacement is speedy Selvin Young. A replacement must be found for linebacker Derrick Johnson. Somehow Mack Brown (43-8 since 2000) will manage. Why they're ranked here: The momentum from the Rose Bowl is incredible. Young's feet are the best since Fred Astaire. He must improve his arm beyond Rick Ankiel status.
5. LSU: Les Miles inherits a load of talent. He must find someone to replace defensive end Marcus Spears. The quarterback battle should be interesting between inconsistent JaMarcus Russell and freshman Ryan Perrilloux, who wants to compete right away. Why they're ranked here: Nick Saban left the cupboard stocked. How does 20 returning starters grab you?
6. Ohio State: Let me be the first to propose a match race between Ted Ginn Jr. and USC's Reggie Bush. They're the two fastest players in the game. The dynamic Ginn goes into next season as a Heisman favorite. If quarterback Troy Smith is able to clear up his off-field problems, the Buckeyes could make a championship run. Why they're ranked here: For now, Iowa and the lingering NCAA problems are too much to overcome.
7. Florida: You want to be there when Urban Meyer begins installing Chris Leak into the spread option. The Gators are thin at linebacker but there is so much talent around that Meyer will have Florida competing for the SEC title in his first season. Why they're ranked here: Meyer is an expert at winning with other people's players. That's not a rip, it's a compliment.
8. Oklahoma: First, the Sooners must get over the shock and awe of the Orange Bowl debacle. There are major losses all over the place, so the spring is huge. The Sooners will be looking at a new quarterback (lost Jason White), a new All-Big 12 defensive end (Dan Cody) and go-to receiver (Mark Clayton). The presence of Adrian Peterson for at least two more seasons should be enough to keep the Sooners in the top 10. Why they're ranked here: Bob Stoops reminded the world after the Orange Bowled Over that the Sooners aren't going away. It's still OU, folks. There's talent all over the field. The battle between Rhett Bomar and Paul Thompson for White's spot should be worth watching.
9. Michigan: The offense should be fine with Chad Henne and Michael Hart going into their sophomore seasons. Both will be competing for Heismans at some point in the next three seasons. Third place in the Big Ten seems about right considering the loss of Ernest Shazor, Marlin Jackson, Braylon Edwards and David Baas. Why they're ranked here: Three Big Ten teams in the top nine. The conference bounces back in a big way after a down year.
Who is your No. 1 team?
They are all overrated
Total Votes: 47,326
10. Louisville: Transition to the Big East should be easy. The Cardinals usually have SEC talent. Now they have a chance to show it in a major conference. Quarterback Brian Brohm shared time with Stefan LeFors last year (sometimes awkwardly). He takes over this year with plenty of experience. Why they're ranked here: Really, what Big East team is better?
11. Virginia Tech: All those years beating their heads against the wall in the Big East and -- voila -- one year in the ACC, and the Hokies are champions. Marcus Vick returns, contrite and made over after off-field problems. Why they're ranked here: Eight starters back on offense. D-back Jimmy Williams is the leader of the defense. Frank Beamer is still one of the best game-day coaches.
12. Arizona State: The biggest season of Dirk Koetter's career. He has gotten the recruiting going. USC comes to Tempe on Oct. 1. Sam Keller continues the quarterback pipeline. Derek Hagan is an All-America type at receiver. If the Sun Devils play just a little defense, ASU should win nine or 10. Why they're ranked here: The toughest road trip is early, Sept. 10 to LSU. They're calling this the best ASU offense ever. That's saying a desertful.
13. Auburn: The Tigers won't go undefeated after losing Jason Campbell, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rodgers and Junior Rosegreen, but the fall from the top won't be that far. Get used to sophomore Carl Stewart and senior Tre Smith at tailback. The linebackers are salty. Why they're ranked here: There are still six starters left from a defense that did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 2004.
15. Fresno State: With 17 starters back, the Bulldogs could compete for the Big 12 North title, not just the WAC. Fresno is fired up about what might be Pat Hill's best team. Why they're ranked here: Quality across the board. Bryson Sumlin and Wendell Mathis are each former 1,000-yard rushers. Defensive tackle Garrett McIntyre blows up offensive lines.
16. Florida State: Once again, the 'Noles have a great running game and a suspect quarterback (whoever it is). Everybody from Wyatt Sexton to Jeff Bowden to the offensive line is under scrutiny this spring. Why they're ranked here: Too much uncertainty in a program that has faded offensively since Mark Richt went to Georgia.
17. Purdue: The Brandon Kirsch era begins at quarterback. He's backed up by a defense that returns all 11 starters, so the Boilers should be solid again. Why they're ranked here: Joe Tiller might have his best defense ever. He always seems to manage somehow on offense.
18. Miami (Fla.): A lot of doubt surrounding the quarterback situation. The battle between Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman is the best spring story. Orien Harris is (another) All-American on the defensive line. But something is missing besides the old swagger. Miami has to find a way to run the ball with the loss of Frank Gore. Why they're ranked here: Three years without a national championship, one year without an ACC title.
19. Boston College: The move to the ACC begins now. Gutty Paul Peterson leaves, but the Eagles will be OK with Matt Ryan and Quinton Porter battling it out in the spring. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka's decision to stay was huge. Why they're ranked here: 9-3 last year, only tough roadies in '05 are at BYU and at Virginia Tech. One of the most consistent I-A programs with six consecutive bowl appearances.
20. Texas Tech: Watch Mike Leach's system make a star out of the next quarterback. Running back Taurean Henderson is one of the best players in the Big 12. Why they're ranked here: Only two other Big 12 programs have been to a bowl each year since 2000 -- Texas and Oklahoma.
21. Pittsburgh: The Dave Wannstedt era begins on the upturn. It's Wanny's job to keep folks excited about Pittsburgh football. Quarterback Tyler Palko looks like he can't get the ball over rushers' hands but threw for five TDs twice last season. His favorite receiver, Greg Lee, isn't a burner, but holds onto the ball. Linebacker H.B. Blades (son of Bennie) has NFL aspirations. In the watered down Big East, the Panthers have a good chance to defend their 2004 title. Why they're ranked here: Wanny's honeymoon season will be a delight. There's so much talent and momentum that Pittsburgh should win at least eight again.
22. Georgia: Only Auburn has lost as much talent, but what's left should be able to produce at least seven victories. D.J. Shockley will add a new dimension after playing behind David Greene for three seasons. Why they're ranked here: Dawgs could finish fourth in the SEC East and still be ranked. The division is that tough.
23. California: A big drop from 2004 with Aaron Rodgers and the best receivers gone. Tedford signed five junior college players, and three of them already are on campus. Quarterback Joseph Ayoob, the favorite to replace Rodgers, has been called the white Michael Vick. Tailback Marshawn Lynch might have to carry the load until Ayoob develops. Juco All-American LB Desmond Bishop also gets ready this spring. Why they're ranked here: It's a leap of faith to put the Bears in the top 25. Few BCS teams have lost more. In Jeff we trust.
24. Utah: Less dynamic on offense with the loss of Alex Smith. But new coach Kyle Whittingham is a defensive guy and will win in a slightly different way. Sophomore Brian Johnson is no slouch at quarterback especially after spending a season watching the best. The Utes will still be competitive and challenge for the Mountain West title. Why they're ranked here: Utah could run through its non-conference opponents (Utah State, Arizona, North Carolina) undefeated again.
25. Boise State: One-trick pony with quarterback Jared Zabransky. A shaky defense and a non-conference schedule that includes Georgia, Oregon State and Bowling Green is not a good way to start a season. Why they're ranked here: A lot of talent is gone but the Broncos will still be a factor in the WAC. Boise State is at Fresno in the WAC title showdown game on Nov. 12.
25-plus-one. South Carolina: Surprised? Sure, the Gamecocks aren't set at quarterback heading into spring. Sure, it plays in the brutal SEC East. Still, the Cult of Steve should be able to carry the Cocks to a 6-5 record at least, which is why we cheated with an extra spot here. Why they're ranked here: Just a hunch, but not a bad one in this loaded division. The defense will be stout led by safety Ko Sampson. Spurrier already said he will visit the defensive practice field.