And why 13, rather than the traditional 20, 25, or 35? My rationale points to:
- #12 in the year-end BCS poll enables top non-BCS conference teams (CUSA, MAC, MWC, Sun Belt, WAC, and independents not in the midwest) to earn BCS Bowl bids. Thirteen teams gives me a cushion.
- #13 is a Fibonacci number, part of a number series with immense implications to many natural occurrences.
1) Auburn Tigers/Plainsmen/War Eagles
Strengths: Tommy Tuberville crafts a top five team each year, and a great case can be made that they should have been in the title game in 2004. Regardless of the coordinator, Tigers simply put incredible defenses on the field. Offensively, RB Kenny Irons and a strong offensive line will ease QB Brandon Cox maturation. All the tough games are at home (only four road games!)
Weaknesses: Receivers have either underachieved or are true freshman, since top three graduated. Three games lack big-time opponents (Buffalo, Tulane, Arkansas St.), so many will point to the strength of schedule (SOS) again as a weakness for the program. Nevertheless, this is my pick for the SEC Title game and beyond.
2) USC Trojans
Strengths: No team is better prepared to deal with massive graduation, as former uber-recruits John David Booty and Chauncey Washington step in to the backfield.
Weaknesses: Sneakily difficult non-conference slate (Arkansas, Nebraska, Notre Dame)...don't be shocked if they lose one of them.
3) Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Strengths: This is probably the highest you will see the Canes on any lists - I am banking on the defense carrying them through the challenging early schedule. Kyle Wright is as good as any QB in the land
Weaknesses: Head Coach Larry Coker is fighting for his coaching life, having turned over the staff and now dealing with suspensions and shootings. VERY possible 1-2 start could lead to effigies of Coker burning in the streets of Miami next to Fidel Castro.
4) Oklahoma Sooners
Strengths: Adrian Peterson is the best RB, and the Sooners have my #1 defense in the land. A bevy of talented receivers will help the new QB. Watch the Vegas lines, I predict the over/unders will consistently be low.
Weaknesses: They were my original pre-season #1 until the losses due to stupidity. Offensive line is the only thing keeping AP from 2000 yards. For a quarterback, Paul Thompson is a good WR - the offense could unravel in a hurry. I reserve the right to move them down as the season progresses.
5) Ohio State Buckeyes
Strengths: Troy Smith, a very talented offense overall, and one of the better special teams in the nation. They should be the opposite of Oklahoma with lots of high scoring games.
Weaknesses: Only two returning starters on defense raises the caution flag, but like USC, Texas and Oklahoma these programs simply reload. September 9 matchup with Texas will give us all more clarity.
6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Strengths: Charlie Weis awakened this Lazarus-like program. Quinn to Smardzija is the top pitch-and-catch combo in the nation, plus the Irish return all of the line and RB Walker. Imagine 11-0 as they travel to USC on November 25 - HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL FOOTBALL FANS!
Weaknesses: Ah, the defense and that schedule. Touchdown Jesus forbid if Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball actually becomes a good QB in the opener and starts the Irish down 0-1, but that is unlikely. The defense can't get worse, can it?
7) Texas Longhorns
Strengths: 13 returning starters, they get Oklahoma at home, and the offense returns all players except...
Weaknesses: No Vince Young! I can't think of any other weak spots. Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead are both highly-regarded athletes, but either is a downgrade.
8) Louisville Cardinals
Strengths: Double trouble on offense with QB Brian Brohm and RB Michael Bush, plus studs like WRs Urrutia and Carter. Phil Steele's College Football Preview says Louisville will have the second best Margin of Victory (20 ppg, just behind Texas) Schedule is very conducive to an unbeaten season and their moving up this chart.
Weaknesses: As I mentioned for Miami (FL), the Week 3 matchup will go a long way to legitimize the Cardinal chances for a BCS Bowl berth. L'ville traditionally performs poorly a couple times per year, like WVU and USF last year and the Canes in crunch time in 2004.
9) Florida State Seminoles
Strengths: One of the best defenses in the nation gets a very manageable schedule, except for the bookend games (Miami to start, Florida to end). QB Drew Weatherford grew up while receiving OJT, and is surrounded by talent.
Weaknesses: OC Jeff Bowden gets heat for offensive production that underwhelms given the talent, and rightfully so. A couple more bad seasons and maybe "Dad' will have to send Jeff out of the sandbox.
10) Virginia Tech Hokies
Strengths: Special teams, a defense that creates opportunities, and a stable of talented running backs have Coach Frank Beamer smiling ear-to-ear when looking at this schedule that should start 8-0.
Weaknesses: The Marcus Vick graduation and the Ike Whitaker suspension leave the QB position thin. The Gobblers have never been a passing team except for the Jim Druckenmiller days, and the WR corps is unproven.
11) California Golden Bears
Strengths: Great RB depth may allow for two 1000 yard rushers in Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. If not for USC, this would be the top defense in the Pac Ten.
Weaknesses: QB questions again, as Nate Longshore and Joseph Ayoob continue to battle for the top spot in the new spread offense. Schedule is no picnic, starting with road game in Rocky Top and trips to Arizona and USC.
12) Boise State Broncos
Strengths: I put Broncos at #12 because I expect them to make a bid for the BCS Bowls. Eighteen returning starters with a ridiculously easy schedule. No reason that they shouldn't finish undefeated in the WAC, and perhaps overall if they beat Oregon State on the Blue Turf and Utah away. Coach Dan Hawkins moves on, but understudy Chris Peterson will hit the ground running. Defense is stout as are the special teams that rival VT in their ability to block kicks.
Weaknesses: I hate to do it, but QB Jared Zabransky has shown little regard for ball security (35-29 TD/int ratio) and must play at a top notch level - his mouth is writing checks that his stats can't cash. Three of the top four rushers graduate.
13) Florida Gators
Strengths: Enough about Tim Tebow - this is Chris Leak's offense and it is loaded with talent, especially with the healthy return of WR Andre Caldwell. Urban Meyer's grand lab experiment of the spread offense in the SEC will be the discussed much more than the amazing defense led by DC Charlie Strong and LB Brandon Siler.
Weaknesses: Schedule is a bitch - at Tennessee, at Auburn, at FSU. The 100th year of Gator football may be remembered for another 9-3 season, but it could be 11-1 as I expect them to lose to Auburn.
Also on radar...
14) Georgia Bulldogs, 15) Michigan Wolverines, 16)West Virginia Mountaineers, 17)Arkansas Razorbacks 18) Clemson Tigers, 19) Texas Tech Red Raiders, 20) Utah Utes, 21) TCU Horned Frogs.
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