Before we start this and people get too judgmental, just remember that A) You have to have ten teams in the top ten, even if you only trust four of those teams, so please do not shout "HOW CAN YOU HAVE TEAM X IN THE TOP TEN?" without suggesting an equally unappealing alternative and B) You can only have 25 teams in the top 25, and once you get past say, the mid-teens, you could flip anyone around up until the mid-thirties and no one would notice or care.
I'm not sure what preseason polls are supposed to do - or why they exist when we're evaluating teams with zero game data - so this is a prediction where teams will stand before the bowls are announced and not a power poll. THIS WILL BE WRONG. But it is fun to walk through the national landscape and look at some of the supremely talented teams and amazingly weak non-conference schedules out there. The last time we did this poll was way back in the spring, so ignore the deltas. Breakdown after the jump:
1) Trojans: Is this trying to be a jinx? Maybe! But USC has one of the best quarterback/wide receiver combinations we've seen in a long, long while. And hey, maybe Lane Kiffin can actually coach when he stays somewhere for more than a season? The defensive line depth issues are a problem, and they have to replace a left tackle who went towards the top of the NFL draft, but the schedule is manageable. They get Oregon and Notre Dame at home and their non-Irish non-con game is Syracuse. The one to circle (and we will get to this a little later) is October 4th, a Thursday night in Utah. Could be fun.
2) Bayou Bengals: I went back and forth between Alabama and LSU here, but settled on the Tigers because they get Alabama at home, but geez, that schedule is not easy, with road trips to Florida, Auburn, A&M and Arkansas and home games against South Carolina, Washington and Alabama. They return the entirety of their powerful rushing attack, and you have to imagine their quarterback play is not going to get much worse than it was under the Jordan Jefferson/Jarrett Lee platoon. Zach Mettenberger, this is your life! Bet against Les Miles at your own peril at this point.
3) Crimson Tide: Nick Saban brings back a generic white quarterback who doesn't kill his offense and a potent running game. They lose a lot of their receiving corps and defense, but replacing the former seems unimportant to a Saban team and replacing the latter seems like something he does while stifling a yawn. They do travel to Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee, which is why they were slid down to two instead of three. Running that gauntlet would be tough for anyone.
4) Oregon: This is a respect vote for the previous work Chip Kelly has done and an acknowledgment of a hilarious non-conference schedule (Arkansas State, Fresno State, Tennessee Tech). They have a redshirt freshman quarterback, but I expect him to guide the offense to 45 points a game without breaking a sweat. Barring some weird shenanigans, the whole season will come down to their November 3rd trip to Southern Cal, and then the likely rematch in the PAC12 title game. They play Washington State in Seattle on September 29th, which should be really fun, but there aren't a lot of potential toe-stubbings on the schedule, unless you're concerned about trips to Arizona State or Cal (you shouldn't be).
5) Wisconsin: The worst of the worst of the worst. Non-conference schedule: Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Utah State, UTEP. And then Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema will take time every seven months to talk about how they really want to schedule Notre Dame, only they never ever will. WE'RE AVAILABLE. Russell Wilson is gone and he was awesome, so it's probably back to a generic white guy (yep, Danny O'Brien) leading things. Montee Ball is really good and they will be in the Big Ten title game by default considering the other "legendary leader" programs in their division are Ohio State and Penn State. Unless they lose at Nebraska or home against Michigan State or Ohio State, they might go undefeated.
6) Georgia: Other than the season finale with Tech, their non-conference schedule is Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern. They do have to travel to Missouri and South Carolina, but they miss Arkansas, Alabama and LSU AGAIN. How is that possible? Even without a joke schedule they'd be pretty good, with nine defensive starters returning in addition to quality quarterback Aaron Murray. They lose Isaiah Crowell, but gain Keith Marshall (sigh), so they'll probably keep on rolling.
7) Florida State: I originally had the Noles higher, then I had them lower. It's hard to balance their returning talent and easy schedule with the fact they're Florida State and have been preseason top five for a thousand years. If Tommy Rees doesn't melt down in Orlando, are Kirk Herbstreit and Phil Steele predicting them to win the title? Unlikely. They open the season with Murray State and Savannah State, but I find it difficult to imagine they'll be able to run the Wake Forest/Clemson/@USF/@NC State slate without messing something up. They also must travel to Blacksburg and deal with the Gators at home. The schedule is easy, but it's not that easy, and if anybody knows how to lose to random teams he shouldn't, it's Jimbo Fisher.
8) Arkansas: If Bobby Petrino was coaching this team, they'd be a darkhorse national title contender. Instead, John L. Smith is, and oh buddy, this will be fun. Gunslinger Tyler Wilson is back, but he loses a few of his favorite targets in Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs. They get Alabama and LSU at home, but have road trips to Columbia and College Station. Let's not discount their non-conference, which is Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers and Tulsa.
9) Oklahoma: Landry Jones is the Joe Flacco of college quarterbacks: he's better than the majority of his competition, but you're still gazing wistfully at Tom Brady. The Sooners have a supremely weird schedule, as their first five games consist of UTEP, Florida A&M, Kansas State and two bye weeks. The key stretch will be their final three, when they play at West Virginia, host the rival Cowboys and then play at TCU. It wouldn't be that surprising to see the Sooners roll into mid-November with one or zero losses and then spontaneously combust against Dana Holgorsen's offense in Morgantown.
10) South Carolina: I love Steve Spurrier, and I love Marcus Lattimore, and I love Jadeveon Clowney, but it's going to be sad not having Stephen Garcia around as the straw that stirs the highly alcoholic drink. Connor Shaw-to-Ace Sanders is the most cinematic-sounding QB/WR combination in the game, and they'll need them doing cool things together with road trips to Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida and Clemson. They get Arkansas and Georgia at home and miss Alabama. In reality, this team should probably be ranked a little lower with that monster schedule, but I don't love any of the teams below them that much.
11) Texas: Going to have an awesome defense and a very, very questionable offense. Is it possible for a team with this much talent to be mediocre three years in a row? (Mack Brown is smiling and nodding, but not really paying attention because there's a Matlock rerun on and he's ironing his track suit.) They get West Virginia and TCU at home and Oklahoma is neutral site, per usual, so they could roll up some wins.
12) West Virginia: Not the toughest of schedules as a new Big 12 member. A road trip to Austin is the only thing potentially separating them from a perfect mark going into an @OK State/vs. Oklahoma combo in mid-November. Be sure and get some popcorn for December 1st, when Charlie Weis, Dayne Crist and the whole band roll into Morgantown. Vegas will probably put the line somewhere around 60.
13) Michigan State: Everyone keeps talking about how scary the defense is going to be, and while it returns plenty of starters and will certainly be good, this is the same unit than Tommy Rees, Wisconsin and Georgia all put 30+ on. They lose Kirk Cousins and every wide receiver of note, so it'll be up to Andrew Maxwell and Le'Veon Bell to guide the offense. They have road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin and have to deal with Notre Dame, Boise State, Ohio State and Nebraska at home. If Andrew Maxwell can step right in or the defense is elite-level, they'll make another run at the Big Ten crown, but they'll need at least one of those to avoid some slippage.
14) Utah: Sleeper team! They could actually probably be higher, when you consider they return nine offensive starters and a really good defense anchored by stud tackle and all-name first teamer Star Lotulelei. They get USC and BYU at home, miss Stanford and Oregon and their only real road test is to Washington. Playing in the Pac-12 South, they're dealing with so many new coaches (Rodriguez, Graham, Mora) that the stability of Whittingham is a huge advantage. The southern division will likely be decided October 4th in Salt Lake City. BE EXCITED.
Let's speed this up a bit:
15) Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas is a monster, Bud Foster's defenses are always good, will probably end up losing in a BCS bowl at worst.
16) Michigan: They lose most of their defensive line, have a non-con against Alabama and travel to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State in addition to getting the Spartans at home. If they finish in the top ten again, I will write poetry about him.
17) Kansas State: Colin Klein and his whole receiving corps is back and Bill Snyder is a wizard. This is probably a little high, but if they take care of business at home and steal one on the road from Oklahoma, West Virginia or TCU, that would be another really good season.
18) Clemson: Dabo's gonna Dabo.
19) Louisville: They were so young last year, and Charlie Strong seems like he is going to be the next big hire when a top-tier program cans their coach. (Mack Brown is ignoring you now.) I've made this terrible joke a hundred times, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sounds like he should be the evil water polo player in an "The OC" arc.
20) Ohio State: Urban Meyer is good at coaching, and he's going to have Braxton Miller morphed into a killer by the time Michigan comes to town at the end of the season.
21) Florida Gators: Defense is going to be awesome. There will also be an offense.
22) Oklahoma State: They lose Weeden and Blackmon, but this is a respect vote for what Mike Gundy and T. Boone have built down there. Going from a 28-year-old senior at quarterback to 18-year-old freshman is awesome. I am sure there is another sweet receiver ready to step up, cloned from whatever genetic material got them Dez Bryant and Blackmon.
23) TCU: Casey Pachall replaced the Red Rifle better than anyone could have hoped. They lose a lot from their defense, but Gary Patterson is usually pretty good at that. They are probably going to start 7-0, then things get very interesting (@Ok State, @WVU, vs. KSU, @ Texas, vs. Oklahoma).
24) Boise State: Everyone expects them to take a step back after losing Kellan Moore and Doug Maritn, but would you be that surprised if they rolled into East Lansing and took out the Spartans to start the season? Respect vote.
25) Notre Dame: Great line play, two first round picks at tight end and inside linebacker, a deep stable of running backs and some upside at quarterback. Tough schedule, but if they can slip by Michigan State in East Lansing, there is a chance they go into Norman 7-0, as they'll be favored in every other game. If they can get out of this season with fewer than four losses, it will have been a really, really good one.