I took USC #1 because it's a wide open year and in such circumstances, I'll go with the team that has recruited the best over the past five years and has the best coaching staff. USC certainly has more talent than anyone else and they might not have the best coaching staff, but they're braintrust is pretty good. The offense will regress a little, but the defense will have better depth this year as a result of their injuries last year and will make up for the offensive regression. Plus, the concept of defense is such an anathema in the Pac Ten that the Trojans have a comparative advantage simply by virtue of the fact that they have large angry men who can tackle. I'm not buying the analogy to '03 Miami at all, first because USC has a good QB option other than their overrated product of Evangel Christian and more importantly, because USC isn't coached by college football's version of Bill Guthridge.
I'm unsatisfied with Texas at #2, but I think that the new QB is coming into an ideal situation in terms of the supporting cast and a manageable schedule. The defense ought to be very, very good and that will carry the Horns.
I'm also unsatisfied with Ohio State at #3 because they have some significant Charles Rogers Theorem potential, but I do like Troy Smith and their running game and Tressel has never had anything but a good defense at OSU. Bucks fans should be much less concerned with defensive losses than they would be if they were replacing nine starters on offense. (I think that Florida State is similar in that regard.)
Why Georgia at #4? Because the defense has been consistently excellent under Mark Richt, because there are worse scenarios than picking between a 5th year senior and a ballyhooed freshman under center, and because the team ought to be able to run the ball well. I'm also shying away from Auburn because they were picked to win the SEC and no team has been picked to win the SEC and actually won the league since 1996, if I recall correctly. Tennessee was the favorite at this time last year. Plus, Auburn, like Clemson, is noted for vulnerability when a lot is expected of them.
My concern with Iowa is that they always suck in September and their biggest game of the year - the home date with Ohio State - is in late September. I don't trust them to start strong, but they do have a lot returning and I'm a big Drew Tate fan. 10-1 with a loss to the Bucks seems like a strong possibility.
My Cal pick is based solely on the assumption that Jeff Tedford cannot have a crap QB for two straight years. My comment about Pac Ten defenses was a little unfair, at least in the sense that Cal has a pretty good defense as well.
I might be going out on a limb with this Virginia Tech pick, but the Hokies are a very dangerous team when they are getting no hype and let's be honest, the lack of expectation for them is nothing more than an assumption that no one can replace Marcus Vick. Uh, did you see the Miami game last year? Tech's strength has always been their defense and they ought to have a very good defense this year. I feel quite good taking them to win the ACC.
Rationally speaking, Auburn ought to be the pick in the SEC. I'm simply going with historical factors to conclude that they'll be good, but not great. Aren't we due for an Auburn-Georgia SEC Title Game at some point?
I like Louisville at #9 because I'm very confident that they'll beat WVU at home and that they'll score a ton of points. They'll get outscored once or twice by an opponent that has its way with their suspect defense, but I wouldn't want to rely on my team being the one to do that.
Notre Dame? See: Louisville.
Oklahoma? Who the hell knows. Without a passing game, they'll go 8-4 again. If Paul Thompson gets it under center and the offense is properly adapted for his talents, then they're a major threat because of their defense. However, OU had a whole off-season last year to mold an offense around Thompson and that experiment lasted all of two quarters.
Florida has enormous Charles Rogers potential. No offensive line, deceptive finish in 2005, shiny new quarterbacks and receivers, sign me up. I would have them lower if not for the fact that their defense will keep them in games. I am not expecting big things offensively in year two under Urban Meyer.
I'd have LSU in the top five if I had more faith in Les Miles. I just can't shake the image of him trying to call a timeout after an interception in the Tennessee game last year. He's either telepathically ahead of his time or in over his head at LSU, but protected by the fact that Nick Saban left him a motherload of talent.
Clemson scares me because they, like Florida, had a deceptive finish last year and Tommy Bowden only does just enough to keep his job each year, but they return a ton of talent and replacing Charlie Whitehurst ain't like replacing Danny Wuerrfel. I'm very anxious to see if the C.J. Spiller hype is for real.
Miami...whatever. Good defense, no running backs, huge losses on the offensive line, possible program in freefall. I really hope that they look good this year because college football is better when Miami is good, but I'm pessimistic. Miami leads off the roll of programs that used to be better and now convey the feeling that they have doddering coaches who squander their talent. That roll includes FSU, Michigan, and Tennessee. Their talent will win them nine games in the regular season, but they each have flaws (Jeff Bowden, Lloyd's end-game insanity, Fulmer's loyalty) that will keep them from winning more.
Not much to say about the rest...