I'll release the top five on Monday
Hope: To defend the national championship and maybe even lose fewer than two games in the process. Is that too much to ask?
Change: Quite a bit. Glenn Dorsey is gone from the defensive interior. Quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Early Doucet and powerback Jacob Hester are all off to the NFL. At least the new Mike The Tiger is back for a second year.
Straight Talk: LSU should be much better than people assume. They played it close to the vest last year, with power football and repeatedly going to skilled but less athletic players like Hester and Doucet. LSU has a chance to be much more explosive this year. In fact, given the personnel, they don't really have a choice.
Andrew Hatch is a complete unknown at quarterback, but they run a fairly mundane power spread look that's manageable for all the players and that should create space and opportunities to score in new and exciting ways instead of the more methodical and plodding method of last year.
Defensively they should be about the same. The defensive line looks darn good and the secondary will be much more athletic, if inexperienced. People are pointing to a rough schedule, but this team should have that winner's swagger and make it through most of the season unscathed, if not quite perfect.7: Missouri
Hope: That having Oklahoma off the schedule (Texas slides in) leads to an undefeated season this time around.
Change: Not much, although shifty tailback Tony Temple will be missed unless they've got some super secret replacement ready in the wings.
Straight Talk: The relatively easy schedule and a taste of success should take Missouri far, particularly with Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel directing traffic. Missouri has two or three really good individual defenders, but they desperately need to improve the overall defensive numbers to be taken seriously as national title contenders.
8: West Virginia
Hope: That program success doesn't rapidly go out the door with former coach Rich Rodriguez.
Change: Well, uh, they lost their head coach. That's kind of a big deal. Interim turned permanent coach Bill Stewart led the Mountaineers to a surprising thrashing of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. I can't help but wonder if he's a Larry Coker clone though, the nice guy steering the ship for one more magical season before putting his own, likely less successful stamp on the program.
Straight Talk: At least for one game, West Virginia proved it could be great even without the old coach. They're running the same system and offensive centerpiece Pat White is back for what should be a magical senior year. He's got some weapons who should do quite well in the absence of Steve Slaton and Darius Reynaud. This being college football, this is a team that will still dominate for at least a little while and should have a fine 2008.
Hope: That last year's dramatic, little-discussed collapse is behind the Bears.
Change: Kevin Riley literally just got the starting nod at quarterback, although two year starter Nate Longshore will reportedly participate against Michigan State in the Bears' first game. Enigmatic and explosive receiver DeSean Jackson is now in the NFL as well. Oh, and steady smurf back Justin Forsett.
Straight Talk: Cal has a little less firepower this year, but more balance. Eight starters return from a slightly disappointing defense. The offense should be much more consistent under Riley, and get its pop from zippy tailback Jahvid Best. Cal isn't particularly deep with talent, but they've got some marquee players to help navigate the rougher partches of the season and are out for redemption and a taste of the glory that has eluded them since that magical 2004 season.
Hope: A return to last year's good times. Kansas lost just one game but still faced a BCS snub that has to bother more than a little.
Change: Most starters return, although bruising back Brandon McAnderson graduated.
Straight Talk: Kansas was quietly quite the team last year. Sure, everyone saw the offensive numbers, but their offense actually stagnated a few times last year. What saved their bacon was a terrific run defense all year, particularly in games where the offense wasn't putting up points. If they can keep that up, the offense will continue to do its job and Kansas will be right back in the championship race.