As an initial note, these are the teams that I believe to be the 25 best in the country. I have not taken schedule into account at all. Leaving matchup issues aside (such as the presumption that Ohio State would lose to Vandy or Mississippi State because of their hoo doo against the OMG!SEC), I imagined that the hierarchy of these rankings is based on how the teams would do against one another on a neutral field.
My Rationale for USC at Number One - Because one can never go wrong picking a team with a two-deep composed almost exclusively of top recruits. Because Pete Carroll paired with just about the entire defense returning is a frightening thought for the rest of the Pac Ten. Because USC has three five-star bullets in the chamber to find a quality quarterback. Because this team will be better without John David Booty. Because the offensive line is the only major question on the team and all of the four new starters have started games before. Because they're due.
My Biggest Disappointment with my Poll (There's a line that looks much better in print than it would sound if transmitted orally.) - I went with the same top five that everyone and their mother has used. I wanted to go with someone, anyone else in the top five spots, but I couldn't. I came close with South Florida, which has a ton of starters returning and now the best coach in the conference with Petrino and Rodriguez elsewhere. (I guess Schiano and Kelly would have something to say about that.) In the end, their offense reminds me a little too much of Florida's in the sense that it is a tailback away from being very good. I also came close with LSU, but the quarterback situation, paired with a hangover from winning the national title and a step down at defensive coordinator, keeps them out of the top five. Missouri was the third team that I considered, but I can't get past lingering concerns about Gary Pinkel. Plus, I'm inherently suspicious of offense-heavy upstart teams.
What do we make of Kansas? They were a consensus top five team at the end of last year, they return 15 starters, and now they are on the fringes of the top 15? I'm as guilty as anyone since I have them #12, but isn't this an admission that we were all too impressed with their record last year and didn't account for a gaudy schedule? Or are they being punished by pollsters for playing a tougher schedule this year, which seems a wee bit unfair.
If you can't tell, I don't think much of the ACC or the Big Ten. The lesson? If a conference confers a degree on yours truly, then it must not be able to produce quality football teams. I wavered a lot on Illinois. Along with Alabama, North Carolina, and Wake Forest, they were the team that I struggled with excluding. At the end of the day, I think that Juice Williams' passing deficiencies will be more pronounced without Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield. Also, Ron Zook. Res ipse loquitur. I'd rather go with Penn State, a team that I know can run the ball and play defense, over a team with a good spread running game and little else. I didn't really consider putting Michigan in the poll. If you were hearing the things that Michigan fans are hearing about the quarterback situation, you'd understand. I don't expect a total nightmare, but 7-5 or 8-4 seems plausible.
About West Virginia, I smell the scent of Bobby Williams. Think Louisville without Petrino, only Bill Stewart doesn't have Steve Kragthorpe's resume. I'm not expecting a collapse to 6-6, but don't underestimate the impact of a powerful coach leaving and the aw-shucks assistant taking over.
Ole Miss? Really? What fun is a poll without a little risk-taking? Hear me out on this one. They have 16 starters coming back. Ole Miss was better than 3-9 last year, as they came close against a number of quality opponents. The Orgeron recruited well, but couldn't coach, especially in close games. Conversely, Houston Nutt is a coach who could always get a little more out of his talent than expected. He's innovative and adaptable. His first Arkansas team was a horrific Clint Stoerner fumble in Knoxville from being 9-0. Finally, Ole Miss's weakness even since Eli left has been the quarterback position and now they have a VHT to man the helm. This season sets up very well for them.
My Obligatory Dig at Unranked Notre Dame - Behold, the Irish play exactly one team in my preseason top 25. Very challenging.