As a preliminary note, I am basing this assessment solely on the teams that I think are the best in the country. It is not meant to be an assessment of where I think they will finish. I refuse to discuss schedules in ranking teams before the season, except to say things like "South Carolina will end up being a better team than their record or ranking will reflect because their road schedule (Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee) is brutal." And with that said, a few thoughts on the rankings:
1. It never crossed my mind to rank a Big Ten team after the first four. Indicative of the fact that the conference lacks depth or am I having a "fighting the last war" problem where I assume that last year's Big Ten will be the same as this year's? In contrast to the Big Ten, I ranked seven SEC teams and would have been perfectly content putting Alabama in the top 25, as they should be good.
2. I feel queasy taking LSU as my #1 team, especially since I'm not sold on Gary Crowton or Les Miles, but by the same token, I'm not sold by the coaches running the USC offense, either. The bottom line is that this USC team shouldn't be getting the absolute consensus #1 ranking that everyone is bestowing upon them (especially in light of the fact that their focus waxed and waned last year to a significant degree) and if I have to be Jeannette Rankin, then so be it. I am high on LSU's defense, Bo Pelini, Matt Flynn, and LSU's running backs. I also like both of their lines.
3. I am higher on Auburn than most. They return a decent number of starters, they should be better balanced on offense with a healthy Brandon Cox, and they have a great history when little is expected of them. The combination of the West being awarded to LSU in the off-season, combined with all of the focus on Nick Saban, leads me to believe that Auburn will be extremely motivated this year. Combine that fact with a pair of excellent coordinators and I think the Tigers should be a real threat. I refuse to downgrade them simply because they, like South Carolina, play a lot of difficult road games this year.
4. I'm not going to lie: the thought of bestowing spots in the top five to teams quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and Sean Glennon scares me, but those teams are so loaded at every other position that I'm willing to hold my nose and rank them high. I generally operate on the assumption that teams with great defenses will have great seasons. Defense, incidentally, is the reason why I have Louisville ahead of West Virginia, even though WVU is the favorite in the Big East because they get the Cards at home. Doing the rankings reminded me, by the way, that the Virginia Tech-West Virginia series ended just as it was about to get really, really good.
5. I got really stuck on the "O" portion of the alphabet. If Frank Solich can show me a little this year, then the Bobcats could make it a clean sweep for "O" teams in my rankings. Oregon State over UCLA was a tough call, but Karl Dorrell brings so little to the table that I am willing to overlook 20 returning starters. That's probably a mistake. Actually, I could be persuaded to put the Bruins in the rankings in place of Tennessee, which I see as having little going for it this year.