What a surprise! Ohio State and Notre Dame ranked 1-2 in a preseason poll.
That’s the way it broke deal as our stellar panel of experts carefully sorted out last year’s results with this season’s projections to come up with a representative opening Top 25 to carry into next week’s opening games.
Defending national champion Texas opens at No. 6, mainly because of losing Vince Young to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Southern Cal was also hit heavily having to replace Heisman Trophy winners from the previous two years tailback Reggie Bush and QB Matt Leinart.
The Buckeyes face a huge test Sept. 9 in Austin against Texas in a rematch of last year’s memorable battle in Columbus won by the Longhorns. The 25-22 victory went a long way to sending Texas into the BCS title game with USC and keeping Ohio State out of the title picture.
GT’s stellar handicapper/columnist Jim Feist tabbed Auburn as his No. 1 team. The Tigers went 13-0 two seasons ago and had to settle for third in the country. That same situation could happen to West Virginia, picked ninth in the GT poll. The Mountaineers could run the table if able to beat Louisville and Pittsburgh, but an easy schedule won’t garner much national support among the polls.
LSU is ranked fifth in our poll, just behind USC and Auburn. The Tigers are loaded, but face a grueling schedule in the nation’s best conference — the SEC.
Miami, Florida and Florida State all made the Top 10, with the Hurricanes and Noles playing each other in the season opener at Miami. That blockbuster opener will place the winner atop the ACC standings and the loser all year to go unbeaten in order to counter that first loss and re-enter the national title picture.
Oklahoma, at No. 11, is a big question mark having lost its starting QB to off-field problems. California and Clemson have been labeled teams to watch in 2006. The Golden Bears are involved in the most intriguing first week matchup, a cross-country trip to Knoxville to face Tennessee. The Vols come off a miserable 2005, lowlighted by a loss to, of all people, Vanderbilt.
The Vols hung in for a No. 23 preseason ranking in the poll. TCU, last year’s Mountain West champ, rounds out the poll at No. 25.
Alabama heads the honorable mention list that includes Navy, which could win 10 games this year.