Well, after much gnashing of teeth, I've managed to come up with the 25 teams that I think are the best in college football for 2006. It should be noted that I've attempted to rank teams on how good they are, not who I think most likely to win a national championship. I would be stunned if a team came out of the SEC undefeated. On the other hand, the winner of the West Virginia/Louisville game should have a great chance to finish without a blemish. With no further ado, a raw, easy to read list first, with my thoughts below:
3. Ohio State
6. Miami FL
7. Notre Dame
8. Florida State
13. West Virginia
19. Georgia Tech
20. Virginia Tech
23. South Carolina
25. Texas Tech
1. California - Cal returns a plethora of talent on offense and the defense should be the best in the Pac-10. This pick is a wild guess, and I'm hesitant to pick a Pac-10 first overall, but the chief weakness on offense appears to be at QB, a position that Jeff Tedford seems to be able to coach pretty well. Ask me again who the best team is after about four games.
2. Auburn - There were about five teams I wanted to put fourth or fifth, but one of them had to go this high. I like Cox and Irons, almost enough to put Auburn first, but they just lost too many starters to go any higher.
3. Ohio State - As much as I hate to admit it, tosu was another team I seriously considered ranking higher. The offense is going to be very, very good but lacks a big wide receiver to stretch defenses. Nine new starters on defense prevent them from going any higher. If the defense develops, this team will rise as the season progresses.
4. Texas - Another flawed team, this one featuring a freshman QB (which frosh is still a question though). t.u.'s defense looks good and the running game should be a strength.
5. LSU - LSU should be one of the most talented teams in the nation, with experience at the offensive skill positions. They feature a significant number of new starters on the o-line and in the defensive front seven. I'm putting them this high on their talent alone. This is another case of ask-me-again-in-a-month.
6. Miami(FL) - Miami should be pretty good, once they get their suspended players back. The offensive line scares me, but the defense should be more than adequate. Sixth is probably high for this team, but that is why they play the games.
7. Notre Dame - Notre Dame's offense will be pretty darn good, but this defense could be a weakness. If the D proves itself early, I'll move them higher. Otherwise, I think that this is about right.
8. Florida State - FSU is another team I have no idea where to put. The Seminoles should be talented, but they also look relatively young. The Miami game will be telling.
9. Florida - With four new starters on the O-line and Chris Leak still unproven, I've decided not to put the Gators any higher. This is yet another one of those teams to watch closely as only time will tell.
10. Michigan - My alma mater has more than enough talent to get the job done. The key will be the development of the offensive line and whether or not the defense will play to win this season. As close as Michigan was to 4-7, they were even closer to 11-1 a year ago, blowing late leads to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska. Depending on how they look against Notre Dame, this team could also move up.
11. USC - The Trojans lost so much of their offensive production from a season ago that its hard to place them. If they live up to their recruiting rankings, they are a top-five team. Growing pains could make for a tough year this season though.
12. Nebraska - The Huskers will be the class of the Big XII North, but how much is that saying? The defense and passing game should be solid, but a rebuilt O-line and no proven running back could complicate things.
13. West Virginia - I don't buy the preseason hype surrounding this team. Slaton and White are both in line for a sophomore slump and this team overachieved a year ago.
14. Clemson - The Tigers offense returns more than enough talent (including all five lineman) and the defensive front seven looks solid. If a number of people hadn't already beaten me to the punch, I would be seriously considering Clemson as the biggest sleeper team in the country.
15. Louisville - Another Big East team that I think is overrated. This will be a fun team to watch, but I question their ability to stop the run. Louisville easily has the greatest chance to make me eat crow following the season.
16. Oregon - Oregon is a team I like for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. They don't return a ton of starters, but they seem to always put together a surprisingly good season. Here's betting they do it again.
17. Oklahoma - Prior to the Bomar debacle, I would have had this team in the top-5. The defense will be superb, but how will Adrian Peterson's body hold up when he is called on to carry the load again?
18. Iowa - In my opinion, Drew Tate is most underrated QB in all of college football. The Hawkeyes also get bonus points for having great fans (not really, but I did want to give one of the most polite fanbases in the country some credit). They have some big holes to fill, but if they do, this team will shoot up the rankings.
19. Georgia Tech - Funny story, Georgia Tech accepted me to their grad program three days after I had accepted Texas A&M's offer (which had an expiration date). This has nothing to do with Calvin Johnson being really, really good or with Reggie Ball being back for another year, I just wanted to mention that I almost went here. The Ball and Johnson show should be good enough to keep the Yellowjackets in the top-20 this season.
20. Virginia Tech - Putting the Hokies this low makes me nervous, but the offense doesn't look very good. If any school can win with defense and special teams though, its VaTech. I think that 20th is about right.
21. Georgia - Georgia probably shouldn't be this low, but the Bulldogs do return only nine starters. That makes me just nervous enough to keep them down here for now.
22. TCU - This is a reputation pick as much as anything. TCU appears to the best of the mid-majors and so they bear inclusion. The defense should be good enough to buy the offense some time to develop. I wouldn't want to play these guys in November.
23. South Carolina - I like Sidney Rice a lot, and the offense looks talented overall. They will need to be though, as the defense isn't much. If the Gamecocks can keep outscoring teams they will be alright, but if the offense sputters, look out.
24. Arkansas - The Razorbacks return more starters than just about anybody else in the country, and as a result I like their chances. A strong running game and all that experience put them solidly in the 20-25 region.
25. Texas Tech - I'm looking forward to seeing these guys come to College Station this fall. The offense will be great again and the defense shouldn't be bad. If the cards fall right, this team will make a bunch of early noise again.
Other Teams I Considered
Texas A&M, Iowa State, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Tulsa, Northern Illinois, Utah, UCLA, Arizona State, Tennessee, Alabama, Boise State and Fresno State.