I can summarize my biggest reasons for optimism and pessimism with Oklahoma in two words: Sam Bradford. His statistics as a freshman are almost unfathomable: 69.5 percent completion rate, 3,121 yards, 36 TDs, 8 INTs. This in a high-pressure environment where every move you make on the field is subject to some of the most intense scrutiny in college football.
There's also the matter of a sophomore slump. Yes, some of that is made up. But it is also real. Defenses now have a season full of video to look at with Bradford. They will be better prepared this year.
At the other skill positions, RB Allen Patrick is gone. But these are the Soooners, and you know they have a replacement, in this case RB DeMarco Murray, who averaged 6.0 ypc last year and actually had more TDs (13) than Patrick (8). The top receivers in terms of yardage (Juaquin Iglesias, 907) and TDs (Jermaine Gresham, 11) both return.
The lines are deep on both sides of the ball, though the linebackers and secondary could be weaknesses.
Meanwhile, the schedule is tough, but not murderously so. Kansas and Texas Tech come to Norman, as do the toughest nonconference games -- Cincinnati and TCU. Texas is in "neutral" Dallas. The Sooners' road slate? Try at Washington, at Baylor, at Kansas State, at Texas A&M and at Oklahoma State. But there's a trip-up in there somewhere, most likely against the Red Raiders or the Longhorns. And if they get to the Big XII Championship Game undefeated, I believe they will lose. More on that in a moment.
4. SOUTHERN CAL
I tried a thought exercise a couple of weeks ago with a knowledgeable college football friend of mine. "I present to you a team that lost its starting quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver and four of its five starting offensive linemen. Would you rank them in the Top 5?"
"No," this friend responded.
Of course, once I told him that the team in question was Southern Cal, he backed off almost immediately, saying, "Well, that would be the one exception." But why? What makes any team invulnerable to the laws of football? Isn't this the same idea -- talent and solid coaching uber alles -- that got us into so much trouble with Miami a few years ago?
Now, with Mark Sanchez injured, it's easy to see things going south for the Trojans -- at least by their standards. Sure, Sanchez could be back by the game at Virginia; but how much will missing a couple weeks of practice cost him? Some? None?
And the receiving corps is still a question. One of the returning WRs had 50 catches. The top receiver, TE Fred Dvais, is gone. He also had the higest yardage per catch among anyone on the team with 20 or more receptions last year. The Trojans have a lot of talent there, but do they have the high-caliber threats that power a passing game?
Don't get crazy. Of course I'm putting Southern Cal in my Top 5. But there are way too many questions to put them in the title game, or anywhere near it. They can answer those questions and win their way into the Top 3. They need to earn it, though.
Consider this: Florida got 1,659 rushing yards last year from two players whose official positions were not RB (QB TTIIMM TTEEBBOOWW and WR Percy Harvin). So it was understandable that, when coach Urban Meyer told the assembled crowd at SEC Media Days that he was actually pleased with his running backs, you could almost hear a pin drop. Even a crowd in love with TTIIMM TTEEBBOOWW had to listen to this pronouncement: The one missing offensive cog for Florida had been filled.
But the biggest hole in the defense last year remains its biggest hole this year: The secondary isn't just a unit that was bad last year, it's a unit that is practically nonexistent this season after injuries and off-the-field issues. Granted, there are a lot of things to like about the rest of the defense, but watching a secondary get scorched against Michigan to end last year and then banged up before this season even begins leaves one slightly uncomfortable about the Gators' chances.
Still, they have one Heisman winner (Tebow) and another candidate (Harvin, if he heels). The question is not whether the defense will be good enough for Florida to be a good team, but whether the defense will be good enough for Florida to be a great team.
Florida might have an easier path than Georgia, but not by much. They still play Miami, at Tennessee, LSU, Georgia (in Jacksonville) and at Florida State. The only gimme wins are Hawaii, at Vanderbilt and The Citadel.
Almost everyone agrees that the winner of the Florida-Georgia game will play for it all in January. I happen to think the winner will not be the Gators.
There's no need to pretend that Missouri is the perfect contender: the Tigers are not. But QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin are great places to start. Daniel threw for 4,306 yards and a 68.2 percent completion rate last year, tossing 33 TDs against 11 INTs. And he threw in 253 yards and four scores on the ground. (His rushing net was 471, but remember that sacks come off rushing numbers in college.)
Mizzou had the 5th-ranked offense in Division I-A last year, ringing up 490.3 ypg, and the only truly crushing loss is RB Tony Temple, who rushed for 1,039 yards and 12 TDs. If he can be replaced, the Tigers' offense will roll.
A defense that yielded 378.9 ypg returns 10 starters, but that could be as much a recipe for improvement as a cause for concern. They return all three of their top tacklers. Consider this: With last year's defense, Missouri beat every team it faced except Oklahoma. Trim that ypg down by 25-50 (not a proposition beyond the realm of possibility), and the Tigers become one of the most difficult teams to beat in the country.
Missouri has an opening month that's just easy enough to go 4-0 and just tough enough to generate some buzz: match-ups with Illinois, SE Missouri, Nevada and Buffalo. The toughest stretch begins Oct. 4, with consecutive games at Nebraska, against Oklahoma State, at Texas and against Colorado. Get through that, and it should be smooth sailing to Kansas and the Big XII Championship Game (if they make it there).
The Tigers might be a bold pick, but there are dumber choices you could make.
So there it is. It hasn't changed. The winner of the prestigious C&F Preseason No. 1 Ranking is Georgia. It's truly an honor. Previous winners include last year's Texas team, who rode the ranking all the way to the Holiday Bowl, and 2006 Notre Dame, who ended up getting blasted 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl.
So, now that I've given you all the reason you need to pay rapt attention to my No. 1 selection, the case for the spelling-challenged Dawgs:
Sure, sure, there are questions about whether Matt Stafford can have "the season." But if he can raise that completion percentage from 55.7 percent to, say, 58 to 60 percent, and if Knowshon Moreno can come anywhere close to duplicating last year's 1,334 yard, 14 TD campaign, it will be difficult to stop Georgia. Dannell Ellerbe and Asher Allen anchor a tough defense that surrendered 323.2 ypg last year.
As for the schedule, it's difficult, but forgive me if I don't think it is prohibitively so. Georgia should cruise through games against Georgia Southern and Central Michigan. If the spelling-challenged Dawgs navigate the next two games -- at South Carolina (a team that always plays Georgia tough) and at Arizona State -- they shouldn't be challenged again until an Oct. 25 game at LSU. (Yes, I know the Tennessee game is Oct. 11; more on that tomorrow.) Yes, they play Florida (in Jacksonville), at Kentucky and at Auburn before ending the season at Georgia Tech, but how is this more difficult than, say, Florida's 2006 schedule? And if a defeat should come, it will be hard to argue that a one-loss Georgia team will be less deserving than any other one-loss team in the country.
Identify a loss: Florida, the team Georgia drilled last year? An Auburn team, with two new coordinators, that the Bulldogs blasted last year? What have either of those teams done that makes them that much better than UGA?\
South Carolina could pull a second upset, but that's unlikely. Tennessee will be down. Those are the only two losses from last season.
No, Georgia will win 11 or 12 games in the regular season, win the SEC and win the national championship.
Now, excuse me while I go order a few dozen cases of Pepto-Bismol.
After the jump: How the entire ballot would look if cast right now; feel free to criticize, mock or praise, if you feel so inclined.
4. Southern Cal
6. Ohio State
7. The Team from the Upstate
9. Texas Tech
11. West Virginia
15. North Carolina
18. Penn State
19. Arizona State
22. South Florida
23. Mississippi State
25. Wake Forest