January 17, 2006

First look: Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top 25

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 2005 Record
1. Ohio State 10-2
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.
2. Notre Dame 9-3
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 recruiting class.
3. West Virginia 11-1
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?
4. Southern Cal 13-1
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.
5. LSU 11-2
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.
6. Texas 13-0
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.
7. Auburn 9-3
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.
8. Florida 9-3
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.
9. Oklahoma 8-4
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 starters.
10. Miami 9-3
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.
11. Georgia 10-3
Big holes to fill at quarterback and along the offensive line.
12. Michigan 7-5
Offense should be fine with Michael Hart and Chad Henne, but defense must be fixed.
13. Oregon 10-2
Young quarterbacks gained experience, but Ducks will have to settle on one.
14. Florida State 8-5
Gave Penn State everything it could handle in Orange Bowl, but questions abound on offense.
15. Louisville 9-3
Brian Brohm and Michael Bush could be every bit as good as WVU's backfield tandem.
16. Penn State 11-1
Huge influx of talent from last two recruiting classes, but huge question at quarterback as well.
17. California 8-4
Another team with QB questions, but the Bears can run it with anyone.
18. South Carolina 7-5
Ol' Ball Coach must find a running game to complement Sidney Rice.
19. Virginia Tech 11-2
No Marcus Vick, but Hokies always about winning with defense, special teams.
20. Nebraska 8-4
Big 12 North is there for the taking, Huskers could run away with it.
21. UCLA 10-2
Lots of production to replace as Maurice Drew and Drew Olson have moved on.
22. Clemson 8-4
Won six of last seven, freshman sensation James Davis can carry the load.
23. Iowa 7-5
Drew Tate and Albert Young return to key offense, but big holes to fill at linebacker.
24. Alabama 10-2
Will be breaking in a new quarterback on an offense that struggled even with Brodie Croyle.
25. Boston College 9-3
Quarterback Matt Ryan and one-two RB punch of L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender return.

Also receiving votes: Texas Tech, TCU, Boise State, Arizona State, Fresno State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Utah, Iowa State, N.C. State, Arizona and Navy.


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