The suspense is over. What we have here is a flawed top five, which makes me suspicious that we once again won't see an elite team in college football this year. A repeat of the madness that was 2007 isn't likely, but its reasonably safe to assume there will be no preseason coronation and things are very much up for grabs.
Hope: A BCS bowl victory would be nice. They've done it before -- beating Florida State for the title one year and also against a Washington State team that didn't look like it cared to play for departing coach Mike Price. The Sooners would also love to have quarterback Sam Bradford avoid the sophomore swoon that plagued rival Colt McCoy.
Change: Tailback Allen Patrick is off to the NFL, as are several defenders. Everyone else is on board. The Big 12 suddenly turned competitive the last year or so, making Oklahoma's schedule perhaps a bit tougher than it might have been two or three years ago.
Straight Talk: Not the sexiest No. 1 around, but they'll do (until the games are played, of course). Bradford is ruthlessly efficient and plays effortlessly. Their line is big, and perhaps the nation's best. They've got a pair of former No. 1 defensive tackle recruits on the interior. DeMarco Murray makes plays all over the field yet will be pushed by powerful frosh Jermie Calhoun. The upset loss to Colorado early last year was disconcerting, but Oklahoma had no troubles after that until Texas Tech had Bradford seeing stars. As far as personnel, Oklahoma is basically at a draw with Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, USC and LSU, but they should be motivated and not as burdened by expectation as someone like Georgia or USC. They also have perhaps the best combination of offense and defense in America.
Hope: To go somewhere the program hasn't been since the Herschel Walker days.
Change: Sky-high expectations. Georgia went on a major tear at the end of last year and never relented. The rise of star back Knowshon Moreno had something to do with it, but also a change in how coach Mark Richt handled his business. He ditched the script a little bit and let his guys have more fun. It worked. The challenge is maintaining that energy after college football's endless postseason.
Straight Talk: Georgia as a program sometimes pulls back when in the spotlight and its something worth monitoring. Matt Stafford is a future high draft pick but is just now starting to look like a college star. Georgia will win on the ground but for them to be scary good he'll have to take yet another leap in his development. That is an unknown as of right now. The defense is solid but maybe not spectacular. Lots to like here, particularly if Georgia plays with that confidence we saw last year it'll be hard to slow them down.
3: Ohio State
Hope: BCS Championship redemption.
Change: Most of the program's star players returned for their senior seasons. Ohio State also welcomes the nation's top recruit, athletic quarterback Terrelle Pryor who should play this year, perhaps extensively.
Straight Talk: I have the same feeling about Ohio State this year as I did in early 2006, that they're among the nation's best teams in a year with no clear favorite. The offense is a bit mundane, so the addition of Pryor might help. Tailback Chris Wells is playing for the Heisman Trophy and early, early NFL draft status. The defense is among the nation's elite although lacking in star power on the interior line. Other than the USC game they have an easy schedule as the Big Ten is down this year and has rarely troubled the Buckeyes in the last three seasons. The sky is nearly the limit although Ohio State has that same BCS bowl burden shared by Oklahoma.
Hope: For an improved defense.
Change: Several players have been injured or snared in offseason trouble. Star defensive end Derrick Harvey is off to the NFL but has a great replacement in Carlos Dunlap.
Straight Talk: The offense will be tremendous, likely better than last year. Percy Harvin's nagging injuries are concerning, but the Gators mix in several elite frosh as well as speedy Chris Rainey who tore up the spring game on national TV. The defense is the major question, as the secondary in particular was vulnerable last year. The Gators may start a true freshman safety and overall this group is incredibly young. If they can patch together a defense that is among the SEC's 3 or 4 best this season will be a coronation instead of a worry for the Gators.
Hope: To restore that championship feeling.
Change: Ten Trojans were chosen in April's NFL draft. USC is one of the rare schools capable of adequately replacing so many departed stars. There's also that new quarterback situation to figure out.
Straight Talk: The opening schedule is rough (Virginia, Ohio State, Oregon State) but USC always finds a way to navigate troubled waters. The defense will be spectacular, although replacing nose tackle Sedrick Ellis could be slightly troubling. The trouble since 2005 has been fielding an elite offense. Mark Sanchez is the likely starter, and he's yet another former No. 1 quarterback. He adds moxie, mobility and a better deep arm, or at least the fans hope he does. There's more than enough offensive talent (particularly tailbacks Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight) but USC has to overcome conservatism and a scheme that's led the offense into rough waters much more consistently than under Norm Chow who is now coaching the offense for that team across town. It's hard to predict a championship here but USC has the horses and a nice schedule after the first three to reclaim what was lost in January 2005. If they can put together a dominant offense there's no doubt this is the best team in America. If not? See 2006/2007.