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1. Alabama -- The question is simple: Can Alabama defend its national title? The easy answer is: Of course. Nick Saban's program is on a roll. With a BCS championship and the school's first Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, back at tailback, it is difficult to see how that momentum will not continue, especially with a roster chock full of NFL-caliber athletes. Defensively, Saban has some glaring holes to fill but the unit is so deep and talented it probably won't matter. Tide rolls. Again.

2. Ohio State -- Yeah, yeah, yeah we've heard it all before. Loaded roster, best in the country, perhaps. Great coach in Jim Tressel. Heisman Trophy candidate in Terrelle Pryor (left). Same story. Same expectations. But as every team is getting to know, it's not who you play that counts, but who you play against. And where. At Wisconsin. At Iowa. At home against Miami. If the Buckeyes, who always manage to stumble once, win them all, they will be national champs. Deal with it, folks. The Buckeyes are BCS title game-bound once again.

3. Boise State -- Look what we have here. A non-BCS gate crasher not only expected to compete for the national championship but good enough to win it. Will miracles never cease? The Broncos lost two starters from a 14-0 team a year ago and return QB Kellen Moore (left), WR Austin Pettis and DT Billy Winn. Two early tests will decide their fate: Sept. 6 vs. Virginia Tech and Sept. 25 vs. Oregon State. Win both and Boise State will sit at the head of the table come January.

4. Florida -- You know you are good when you can lose your super human QB to the NFL and people still think you can finish in the Top Five. That's life AT (After Tebow) for Florida. How good are the Gators? So good that while many of the familiar names are gone they'll simply have to retool rather than reload. Quarterback John Brantley (left) has better pocket presence than his predecessor. And the defense, led by CB Janoris Jenkins, has speed all over the place. The Gators are as dangerous as any team in the land.

5. Texas -- While the objective -- a national championship -- remains the same, a multitude of questions must be answered. First, the 'Horns must replace QB Colt McCoy, although Garrett Gilbert (left) showed promise in the BCS title game against Alabama after McCoy was injured. To take even more pressure off Gilbert, Texas will shift to a more run-oriented attack with TBs Tre' Newton and Fozzy Whittaker. A stout defense, especially in the secondary, should have the 'Horns in the mix, but the offense will have to carry its share of the load.

6. TCU -- The Horned Frogs will learn quickly if they're a contender for the national championship with a game in Arlington, Texas against Oregon State on Sept. 4. If TCU can beat the Beavers, it shouldn't have any issues until the Nov. 6 game at Utah. Coach Gary Patterson has 17 starters returning, including QB Andy Dalton (left) and DE Wayne Daniels, and an experienced offensive line. But it's the dauntless 4-2-5 defense, which held opponents to an average of 12.8 points, that makes TCU elite.

7. Oklahoma -- Oklahoma, where the wins have come sweeping off the plains for years under Bob Stoops, has maintained its status as one of the nation's premier programs but hasn't won the national championship since 2001. It won't happen again this year because of a not-so-favorable schedule. The good news is QB Landry Jones (left) played well in place of Sam Bradford and Jones' favorite target, WR Ryan Broyles, also returns. Toss in a mean defense and the Sooners will be good, just not good enough to win it all.

8. Nebraska -- Things have returned to normal for the Cornhuskers just as they leave the Big 12 for even bigger bucks in the Big Ten. Normal for Nebraska means contending not only for conference championships but for national titles as well. With coach Bo Pelini (left), it starts with defense and despite the loss of dominant DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska returns DT Jared Crick who finished with 9.5 sacks. But the 'Huskers aren't higher because Bo doesn't know offense, which ranked 99th nationally in total yards.

9. Virginia Tech -- A mere 18 points separated the Hokies from an undefeated season in 2009 and they have enough talent, led by TB Ryan Williams (left), for a little pay back. The Hokies should repay Georgia Tech and North Carolina in November but before ACC revenge is served they have a big date, Sept. 6, against Boise State. They are the class of the league and as every good ACC fan knows, if you win your bowl game and are unbeaten, you should have a piece of the national crown.

10. Oregon -- The beginning of Chip Kelly's tenure with the Ducks hasn't exactly been memorable. There's been an embarrassing series of arrests, suspensions and court appearances, but the defending Pac-10 champions still have the conference's best talent. With 17 starters returning, Oregon is also among the most experienced teams in the Pac-10. But TB LaMichael James' (left) sore knee remains a question mark and Kelly is still searching for a QB: Nate Costa and Darron Thomas remained deadlocked.

11. Iowa -- For the first nine weeks of last season, everyone in a Hawkeye uniform must have slept with a horseshoe in his pocket. And they would have remained lucky -- and perhaps undefeated -- had QB Ricky Stanzi not suffered an ankle injury. And they still managed an Orange Bowl victory. Back-to-back charmed seasons is out of the question (right?) but they figure to contend in the Big Ten with Stanzi and one of country's most furious defensives, led by DE Adrian Clayborn (left) and SS Tyler Sash.

12. Wisconsin -- The Badgers are capable of upsetting Ohio State and Iowa to secure their first Rose Bowl trip since 2000. Wisconsin returns 10 starters on an offense that led the conference in scoring, including TB John Clay (left) and QB Scott Tolzien, but must address some holes on defense, which is breaking in several new starters. The big dates are Oct. 16 and 23. The Big Ten championship will be decided when the Buckeyes come to Madison and when the Badgers travel to Iowa.

13. Miami -- The 'Canes aren't quite where they were during the early part of the decade, and despite having their best team under coach Randy Shannon, they could possibly take a step backwards in the win department. Sure QB Jacory Harris (left) is back, as are DE Allen Bailey and CB Brandon Harris, but when does Miami come up for air on its schedule? There's Ohio State, Pitt, Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Miami is improved, but not good enough to win them all.

14. North Carolina -- Sure didn't take long for Butch Davis (left) to get the Tar Heels rolling and there's some who even consider the Heels a Top 10 team. Nineteen starters are back, most notably DE Robert Quinn, CB Kendric Burney and FS Deunta Williams, but the offense is why North Carolina isn't rated higher. QB T.J. Yates is the starter, at least until redshirt freshman Bryn Renner is ready. While the Tar Heels won't be the favorites to play in the ACC title game, that doesn't mean they won't get there.

15. Southern California -- This may be the last time the Trojans are ranked this high for a while. The probation, especially the scholarship reductions, are crippling, some of the top talent has already bailed and no one truly knows if Lane Kiffin can coach or not. But the Trojans believe they have enough horses to win the Pac-10. QB Matt Barkley (left) is back and the front four on defense is strong, but the secondary is suspect. A repeat of nine victories would be a minor miracle.

16. Arkansas -- Bobby Petrino (left) is only 5-11 after two years in the SEC, but the Hogs believe they can contend in the conference. The optimism is because Ryan Mallett is one of the top QBs in the country and he's behind center in the league's top scoring offense from a year ago. But the defense is quite benevolent. Arkansas yielded 30 or more points to four SEC opponents in 2009. The Razorbacks are going to be tested in road trips to Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State, but Alabama visits on Sept. 25.

17. Penn State -- The Nittany Lions have questions at quarterback, offensive tackle and among the front seven. Now let's analyze the schedule which includes road games at Alabama, Iowa and Ohio State. Add it all up and it means a repeat of the 11-2 record from a year ago is not in the cards. Sophomore Kevin Newsome is the new QB and his development is critical to the Lions' success. He should be fine because of TB Evan Royster (left) and WRs Derek Moye, Graham Zug and Chaz Powell.

18. LSU -- The Tigers aren't used to being this low but the truth is they last won a championship three seasons ago and they're 17-9 since, including 9-4 in 2009. There's a growing number of LSU fans who aren't happy with Les Miles and it's going to be difficult to duplicate another nine-win season. The offense is going to be middling if QB Jordan Jefferson doesn't show improvement and Miles doesn't find a capable RB. The defense will once again be strong, anchored by CB Patrick Peterson and LB Kelvin Sheppard (left).

19. Cincinnati -- Brian Kelly is off to Notre Dame while QB Tony Pike and WR Mardy Gilyard are in the NFL, which means the Bearcats won't win the Big East, right? Think again. Back is QB Zach Collaros (left) and a WR corps, led by Armon Binns, Southern Cal transfer Vidal Hazelton and D.J. Woods, that ranks as one of the country's best. If anything will hold back the Bearcats it will be the defense -- which had trouble stopping opponents late last season -- as it switches from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme.

20. Georgia Tech -- Hard to believe but after all this time -- and we're talking decades here -- option football still works if you have the right personnel and system in place. Paul Johnson's offense averaged an ACC-high 33.8 points per game last season and with QB Josh Nesbitt (left) and former Virginia coach Al Groh bringing his 3-4 defense to Tech, the Yellow Jackets have an outside chance at repeating as conference champion. Certainly, they won't surprise anyone by winning lots of games but the schedule figures to work against them.

21. Auburn -- Going 8-5 was a nice rebound year for the Tigers but when certain rival Crimson Tide team finished unbeaten and won the national championship, more than a few fans took notice. This time around, Gene Chizik needs to find a QB to throw to WR Darvin Adams (left) and a TB. He feels he has someone special at QB in junior college transfer Cam Newton, who started his career at Florida. Auburn won't see another 13-0 finish anytime soon but the Tigers are young and should be competitive in the rugged SEC West.

22. Florida State -- We're going to miss Bobby Bowden but there was a troubling trend of seven- and eight-win seasons over the last five years so the 'Noles needed a new voice. Jimbo Fisher takes over for the legend and QB Christian Ponder and WR Bert Reed (left), two of 10 returning starters on offense, should make the transition a smooth one. Taking over the defense is Mark Stoops, the younger brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, which means the days of running up 30 points or more on the 'Noles are over.

23. Georgia -- Bulldog fans are getting a little testy with coach Mark Richt, whose team hasn't lived up to lofty preseason expectations in the past. Georgia won't challenge for the national title, or even the SEC championship for that matter, but they'll be slightly improved. The offense is experienced and has a talented WR in A.J. Green but a new QB -- Aaron Murray (left) was the leader after spring practice -- has to be developed. There's also talent on defense and they should be faster and more unruly in their new 3-4 scheme.

24. Pittsburgh -- Note to Heisman voters: Don't forget about TB Dion Lewis (left). All he did in his first season with the Panthers was rush for 1,799 yards with 17 TDs, making people forget about LeSean McCoy and bring up memories of Tony Dorsett. With all the experience and talent on the field, what's not to like about Pitt? QB, for one. The job should go to Tino Sunseri, who played sparingly last year. At least he'll have a veteran offense line and a spark plug like Lewis to hand off to.

25. Utah -- The Utes have won 23 games over the last two seasons, which isn't too bad for a team that plays in the shadows of some of college football's best. TCU might not be catchable this season and it will be hard for coach Kyle Whittingham (left) and his bunch to land another BCS bowl with a schedule that includes Pitt and Notre Dame. It helps landing TCU, Pitt and BYU at home. The last time that happened, the Utes finished undefeated. A reliable running attack, led by Eddie Wide, holds the key.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com