TEAM, RECORD RETURNING STARTERS
1. Ohio State (14-0) 18
Why not? Three veterans from a hard-hitting defensive front are
ready to take over as team leaders from departing linebacker
Matt Wilhelm and safety Mike Doss. On offense the Buckeyes will
be dangerous, with all 11 starters returning, including steely
quarterback Craig Krenzel and dazzling running back Maurice
Clarett. Expect a team of equal talent and--with the passing
attack likely to improve with experience--better offensive
2. Oklahoma (12-2) 17
Injuries set the Sooners back this season, but they're ready to
make a title run. Ten members of the late-blooming defense
return, including standout linebackers Teddy Lehman and Lance
Mitchell and tackle Tommie Harris. The continuing concern is
whether Oklahoma can win a title with Nate Hybl behind center.
3. Miami (12-1) 15
So the Hurricanes stand to lose a dozen or so players to the
NFL--since when did that suck the wind from their sails? The
offense will still be potent. Florida transfer Brock Berlin
should ably replace quarterback Ken Dorsey. Tailback options
runneth over: Even if Willis McGahee is still on the mend from
knee surgery, Frank Gore, the sophomore who sat out this season
with an ACL tear, could bring every bit as much to the table.
Defensively, the secondary should be the nation's best.
4. Georgia (13-1) 15 Quarterback David Greene loses only
Terrence Edwards from a deep receiving group, and while the
departure of offensive linemen Jon Stinchcomb and Kevin Breedlove
could leave the team vulnerable early, their successors have
studied under the best. The defense, led by end David Pollack,
should be a dominating unit.
5. Texas (11-2) 17
End Cory Redding and cornerback Rod Babers leave, but the rest
of a stingy defense remains. There will be a heated battle to
replace Chris Simms, but whoever starts at quarterback will have
the luxury of throwing to Roy Williams and handing off to Cedric
6. Kansas State (11-2) 14
With the team's best player, cornerback Terence Newman, gone,
linebacker Terry Pierce will anchor a young but talented
defense. The offense will lean on the rushing game as run-threat
quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles return.
7. Virginia Tech (10-4)18
The offense will be stronger. Quarterback Bryan Randall will get
a push from Michael Vick's little brother, Marcus, and tailback
Kevin Jones will be the Man after sharing the ball with Lee
Suggs. A swarming, athletic defense returns nine.
8. USC (11-2) 14
This ranking is a nod to the momentum that seems to be building
under coach Pete Carroll. The Trojans must contend with the loss
of Heisman Trophy--winning quarterback Carson Palmer, two
stellar running backs and safety Troy Polamalu. But USC has a
star in receiver Mike Williams and an abundance of young talent.
9. Florida State (9-5) 17
With an older, hopefully wiser Chris Rix at quarterback and
returnees like top receiver Anquan Boldin and star linebackers
Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope, the Seminoles still have
plenty of talent. The big question is whether coach Bobby Bowden
can instill more spirit and drive than this year's team showed.
10. Virginia (9-5) 19
The Cavaliers boast an abundance of young talent that came of
age at the end of the season. Eleven freshmen earned starting
positions, led by Darryl Blackstock (LB), D'Brickashaw Ferguson
(OT) and Heath Miller (TE).
Others to look out for: Maryland (11-3), Notre Dame (10-3),
Auburn (9-4), Washington (7-6), N.C. State (11-3), Penn State
(9-4), Pittsburgh (9-4) and Oregon (7-6).