As always, these are power rankings. Records matter, performance and overall perception of team strength plays a big role.
Preseason picks are a challenge and fortunately they mean nothing once the players hit the field. Instead of building out a 20+ team list this year I think I'll just stick to a power nine of the programs I believe to be the strongest right now.
- Florida -- They're loaded, but I hunch they won't dominate in anywhere near the same fashion as last year when they were surprisingly off the radar once they lost to Ole Miss. Everyone will take their best shots but its hard to argue with Tim Tebow, an endless array of offensive weapons and an entire two deep back from a top ten defense.
- USC -- Gut call here. I believe this to be the best USC team since 2005, one that is particularly hungry not having tasted a championship game in four years. The decision to play true freshman Matt Barkley at quarterback is a severe head-scratcher but everything else lines up nicely. The schedule is challenging with rivals, top 10 teams, revenge games and lots of tough roadies. Count on that keeping USC alert week-to-week this time around.
- Oklahoma -- I like their defense better than Texas', and they'll be better running the ball. Everyone talks about having to go it with four new offensive linemen but Oklahoma's a talent factory, that'll resolve itself after a few weeks. They should also beat Texas in a revenge game of sorts for last year's defeat.
- Texas -- Colt McCoy is ridiculous. Flat out ridiculous, and I hope he keeps up the ridiculous accuracy. I just don't see it though with the run game and replacing two impact veteran defensive linemen. The schedule is a breeze so they'll be in the hunt but I think they're just a notch below the others.
- Alabama -- Ignore the Sugar Bowl loss, if you can. It was a letdown game and they played like it. This is a program that just gets better each year, very fast and tough on defense, the new quarterback should bring a new energy to the offense, very solid overall team.
- LSU -- Rebound year. They fixed their quarterback and defensive coordinator issues in a big way and are under the radar for the first time in more than a few years. They'll catch a few people sleeping.
- Penn State -- Some questions on both lines but Daryll Clark really impressed me in the Rose Bowl last year, the guy just never lets up and makes a lot of plays. They'll run the ball well and have been really tough on defense the last few years which should continue.
- Ohio State -- Seem to have found their groove in the bowl loss to Texas last year, looks like they turned a corner even in (narrow) defeat to a very good team. Good defensive line, their offensive line might be their best in years, will run the ball well and they have a threat nobody else possesses at quarterback.
- California -- Should be excellent defensively this year. Quarterback Riley really slid the last two years but if he gets back to form he's pretty darn good and will need to be to create more opportunities for explosive back Jahvid Best.