1. Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Sooners are my pick to hoist the national championship trophy in New Orleans. The Sooners must replace their top passer, top rusher and top receiver, but as long as Bob Stoops is in charge, it all starts with defense anyway. Stoops is a defensive guy and once again Oklahoma will have one of the best defenses in the nation. The Sooners have a favorable schedule this year and will miss playing Nebraska and Kansas State from the North. The Red River War vs. Texas will be their biggest test this year. Also, they must beat Oklahoma State this year who has spoiled their title run both of the last 2 years. Pencil the Sooners into the Big 12 championship game and probably the Sugar Bowl.
2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are the defending Champs and Jim Tressel was rewarded with a new 6-year contract. They have 17 starters returning and all 11 on offense and just think of what kind of year Maurice Clarett could have if he stays healthy. Last year the team depended on its defense, but this year they will have a potent offense to go along with their Top 10 defense. It's hard to believe that the Buckeyes can win half their games by seven points or less again. They will have to do better this year. There's still some questions to be answered in the Buckeyes' secondary. The Buckeyes have to travel to Wisconsin and Michigan which will be 2 big road games. The Buckeyes have everything they need to make another run this year, but I have a feeling they may lose one they shouldn't.
2. Ohio St.
5. Kansas St.
8. Virginia Tech
13. N.C. State
15. Florida St.
19. Notre Dame
23. Colorado St.
25. Oregon St.
|3. Miami: Most Miami fans feel they got robbed in last year's Championship game, but if its any consolation they still are the most talented team in college football. Florida transfer Brock Berlin will now have his chance to lead the team. Tailback Frank Gore sat out last season to rehab his knee and is back to full-strength. Miami has very talented receivers and Kellen Winslow is one of the nation's premier tight ends. Miami will be tested this year with a strong schedule. They must travel to Florida State, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and they also get Florida and Tennessee at home. Larry Coker must make sure his team gels and plays good early if they are to get back to the National Championship game for the 3rd year in a row.
4. Teaxs: The Longhorns will have their work cut out for them if they want to win the Big 12 South. Remember Texas was near the bottom in rushing last year and they will have to break in a new quarterback. Will Mack Brown have another quarterback controversy between Chance Mock and Vince Young? Mock, a junior has the game experience and Young is a 6'5", 220-pound redshirt freshman with loads of talent. Texas has the #2 defense in the country and is very talented. Tackle Rodrique Wright was named the 2002 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Linebacker Derrick Johnson has been playing big since he first arrived in Austin. Nathan Vasher and Dakarai Pearson rank among the league's premiere defensive backs. Texas will still have to answer the same questions they are asked every year. 1. Can Mack Brown finally win the big games? 2. Can Texas beat Oklahoma? Texas does get Nebraska and Kansas State at home but must go on the road to play Oklahoma (neutral field) and Texas A&M. I have this feeling a team from the Big 12 North might give them some trouble.
5. Kansas State: The 2002 Wildcats outscored their opponents by an average of 45-12 and scored 60 or more points in three different games. The wildcats will return 12 starters to include quarterback Ell Roberson and tailback Darren Sproles. They will need to win at Texas and Nebraska if they have national title hopes. The wildcats will be favored to win the rest of their games. This year is like most years for the wildcats with a very weak non-conference schedule playing the likes of McNeese State and Massachusetts. Talk about weak, I bet you can't name the Massachusetts mascot. It's the Minutemen, take my word for it, I looked it up. With all that being said, Kansas State is still my favorite to win the Big 12 North and with a little luck could find themselves in New Orleans playing in the Sugar Bowl.
6. Michigan: John Navarre will be returning as quarterback and last year he set the single-season school records for attempts, completions, yardage and 200-yard passing games. He threw 21 touchdown passes and just seven INTs. Tailback Chris Perry will run behind four returning starters on the offensive line, including All-Big Ten performers in tackle Tony Pape and guard David Baas. Michigan will be favored to win their first 11 games. This makes the game against Ohio State very big. It's not out of the question that both teams could be undefeated when they meet. Mark this game on your calendar it's sure to be a classic.
7. Auburn: Auburn is a veteran team with loads of talent. The Tigers have 4 good tailbacks Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs. Tuberville will be challenged to keep them all happy. Their two biggest games will be at Georgia and LSU.
The Tigers will be the favorite to win the SEC title.
8. Virginia Tech: Head coach Frank Beamer has his best team since the 1999 juggernaut. The defense is experienced, deep and talented. The offense gets almost all of its key components back with an expected upgrade in overall firepower helped by the experience of receiver Ernest Wilford, quarterback Bryan Randall and running back Kevin Jones working behind a solid line. Oh yeah, there's also Marcus Vick waiting to explode on the college football world. The Hokies' biggest game will be vs. Miami on November 1st.
9. USC: USC ended last year as one of the best teams in college football. Pete Carroll has to find a replacement for Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer at quarterback. Matt Cassel and Purdue transfer Brandon Hance are the early favorites. USC has a tremendous challenge right off the bat, playing an experienced Auburn team on the road with a new quarterback. Back-to-back road trips to Notre Dame and Washington in October will also test a team. The finale against Oregon State is at home and may decide the Pac-10 championship.
10. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh is coming off its most successful season in two decades. Quarterback Rod Rutherford set a school single-season record with 3,181 yards of total offense. Tailback Brandon Miree is making a habit of 100-yard rushing games, and Larry Fitzgerald is one of the most electrifying receivers in the game on any level. Pittsburgh's schedule is set up nicely for a possible run at a national title. The three big names on the schedule Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami all have to come to Pittsburgh.
20. Nebraska: New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is applying his no-nonsense approach to get the defense good enough to handle the top offenses again. The offense got by for years with the most dominant rushing game in the country, but it isn't the monster it once was and got stagnant when defenses were able to handle the power attack. Offensive coordinator Barney Cotton will instill more short passes and try and make things more diverse. I predict that the Blackshirt defense should regain its swagger and Solich will get off the hot seat as Nebraska wins 9 games this season.