Hope: That last year's Sun Bowl outburst against a good USF defense (56-21 victory) with a third string quarterback was a sign of very good things to come. JUCO star back LeGarrette Blount is expected to dominate right away.
Change: Wiry but awesome quarterback Dennis Dixon is off to the NFL. With him went pounding tailback Jonathan Stewart and his nearly 2,500 all purpose yards.
Straight Talk: A projected 12 other starters return, however. Oregon has an impressive group of offensive linemen and a loaded secondary to build from. Last year's bowl star Justin Roper may once again find himself third or fourth string, that's how deep Oregon is at quarterback. If Blount disappoints, senior Jeremiah Johnson is more than capable. Oregon's offensive system appears to be a winner so long as it has a healthy quarterback with some reps under him. Their defense will tell the story, but they appear to be the second or third best team in the Pac-10 this year and there's a steep drop-off after them.
Hope: That everything will be alright even with the departure of offensive workhorse Ray Rice
Change: Ray Rice is gone! The sky is falling! Run!
Straight Talk: Rutgers is one of those teams that bores you to tears, but has a bit of Rocky in them. Every time I was ready to write them off the last few years they'd find themselves and play tremendous football. Rice is gone, but they have a surprising number of really good football players who we'll all finally notice now. They've quietly become more explosive while still managing to do the dirty work of running the ball and stopping the run. I'm shocked how low Rutgers is on most peoples' rankings, as I think they're presently a better version of what the Wisconsin model of football should be.
Hope: That last year's collapse was merely growing pains for a still-young program that is in essence a commuter school (I love college football).
Change: Not much. A total of 17 starters are projected to return although two elite corners moved on to the NFL. Auburn is now off the schedule but there will be a big home game on Sept. 13 against Kansas.
Straight Talk: This is a team more than capable of being in the top 25. They play hard-nosed football, but have some creative offensive looks and rally behind the charismatic quarterback Matt Grothe. They could use a little more help from backs Mike Ford and Benjamin Williams but this appears to be a team that will contend for the Big East crown.
14: Wake Forest
Hope: That coach Jim Grobe's straightforward approach continues to work. Wake likes veteran players and an offense built around all kinds of tricky looks to create running lanes and attack space.
Change: Not much on defense, as nearly the entire squad returns. The offense takes some hits with the graduation of some receivers and linemen as well as do-it-all star Kenny Moore. He'll be tough to replace.
Straight Talk: This is one of the better teams in a weakened ACC. Josh Adams was a revelation last year, gaining close to 1,000 yards outplaying veteran Micah Andrews. Cornerback Alphonso Smith is getting lots of NFL looks. The defense surrendered just 3.2 yards/carry last year and should produce something similar this year. Quarterback Riley Skinner disappointed last year but he's still only a junior and posted 72% completions last year which is remarkable. Lots to like here.
Hope: To return to championship football. The program's at least another year away if not more, but with Nick Saban they may finally have stability and turn the corner on the gruesome years since the departure of coach Gene Stallings (and the ghost of Bear Bryant).
Change: A top-rated recruiting class, for starters. Receiver Julio Jones is already getting phenom hype. They'll need his production after losing the top three receivers from last year. Alabama also switched out offensive coordinators, trading Major Applewhite for Fresno State's Jim McElwain.
Straight Talk: The schedule is tough. Alabama isn't the most explosive team offensively but their solid line should be able to run the ball and help sophomore Terry Grant to a really nice season. They must also get past the string of four consecutive defeats last year before the bowl victory. There's a lot on this program's plate and tremendous expectations and impatience, but it's hard not to like a team with players like Rolando McClain, Rashad Johnson, Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell and Julio Jones. Alabama should be above average, but not quite elite.