Bob McClellan Rivals.com College Football Columnist
The first Rivals.com Preseason National College Football Top 25 is being released today after digesting what has transpired with early departures for the NFL. We'll revisit this list during and after spring ball and then again prior to the season, given that injuries, academics and recruiting attrition can play a role in the rankings. But it's never too early to begin the debate about who's No. 1.
Perhaps no team is more devastated than Texas, which is losing Vince Young after his virtuoso Rose Bowl performance. Had Young returned, the Longhorns would have been a sure No. 1. As it is they fall only to sixth, but it's hard to imagine them making another run at the title in 2006.
Despite only two returning starters on defense, our panel voted Ohio State into the top spot by a large margin. The Buckeyes looked every bit the '06 national championship contender with their thorough destruction of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. will lead what could be one of the nation's most explosive offenses.
Speaking of explosive offenses and the Irish, Charlie Weis' team is our panel's pick to meet the Buckeyes in, of all things, a Fiesta Bowl rematch.
The Southeastern Conference tops our poll with six representatives, including four of the top 11.
Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top 25
The losses on defense are heavy, but quarterback Troy Smith won over a lot of experts with
his Fiesta Bowl performance. All-around threat Ted Ginn Jr. also returns, and he and Smith
seemed to develop the kind of chemistry over the second half of the season that will be
needed to make a national championship run. But can the Buckeyes replace one of the
nation's best linebacking corps? What of the depleted secondary? And who will emerge
opposite Ginn with Santonio Holmes leaving early for the NFL? Our panel believes Jim
Tressel's team has the depth to answer all of these questions.
Anyone for a Fiesta Bowl rematch? The Irish return 17 starters including Heisman Trophy
candidate Brady Quinn and his favorite target, wide receiver Jeff Samardzija. The Irish
secondary was overwhelmed by the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl, so expect changes there by
Charlie Weis and staff. Notre Dame also looks to add more team speed in a highly touted
Sugar Bowl residual effect? A lofty preseason ranking and the knowledge you won't be
sneaking up on anybody and may, instead, be wearing the target. But with freshman
sensations Pat White and Steve Slaton in the backfield and offensive whiz Rich Rodriguez at
the coaching helm, what have the Mountaineers to worry about?
A lot of great players are leaving early for the pros, but there is still plenty of talent
on the shelves in Los Angeles. John David Booty and Mark Sanchez will duel to replace Matt
Leinart, and it's possible a freshman or two steps in for Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Everyone will gear up for the Trojans, looking for their shot at redemption against a team
that probably has routed them for three years running. Yes, the task will be easier, but
any team that believes it's a given better think again.
The resounding victory over Miami in the Peach Bowl and the play of quarterback Matt Flynn
showed the public the Tigers have plenty of talent on the bench. Les Miles needs to replace
three starters on the offensive line, but LSU has plenty of talent at the skill positions.
There also are holes to fill throughout the defense, but there are underclassmen who saw
some playing time who are eager for more.
There's little doubt the ranking of the Longhorns depended upon Vince Young's decision
about the NFL. With his departure, sixth might be a lofty goal. But the cupboard is hardly
bare and the recruiting class once again will be chock full of more blue chips than a rerun
of the World Series of Poker.
The Tigers garnered one first-place vote in our poll thanks to the prowess that returns on
offense at the skill positions. Coach Tommy Tuberville will look to address some key
graduation and/or early entry losses on his offensive and defensive lines, but Auburn
figures to be in the mix battling LSU and Alabama in the SEC West.
At his past two posts, year two is when the Urban Meyer offense took off and put up
stratospheric numbers. It doesn't hurt (does it?) that quarterback Chris Leak has returned
for his senior season, not to mention Meyer has a class that at this time is listed No. 1
by Rivals.com and is chock full of breakaway wide receivers.
Rhett Bomar has a much-needed year of experience. The key for the Sooners will be a
healthy-from-start-to-finish Adrian Peterson. Anytime he's 100 percent OU is a threat to
win. The problem will be finding replacements on an offensive line that loses four
The Hurricanes will have a lot of questions to answer next season after overhauling
virtually the entire of Larry Coker's staff. Kyle Wright will be expected to develop more
rapidly, but he has some excellent targets returning.
Big holes to fill at quarterback and along the offensive line.