Picking the 2006 Top 25 in January is dumber than an improvised lateral on the dead run to an unsuspecting teammate. (Was that really you, Reggie Bush?) But that's the job here, with a mild re-write after underclassmen have made their stay-or-go declarations for the NFL draft:
Here's the first word on next season:
1. West Virginia Mountaineers
: One of the surprise teams of 2005 should be better in '06. Quarterback Pat White
and running back Steve Slaton
were amazingly productive as freshmen, and they have plenty of other offensive weapons to rely on.
: The secondary must be rebuilt, and we all remember how the
Mountaineers underachieved in 2004 with top 10 expectations.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
: Did you see Troy Smith
, Ted Ginn
and Antonio Pittman
carve up Notre Dame in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl?
: Can the Buckeyes really be No. 2 after losing all three members of a great linebacking crew, plus two key offensive linemen? And with a trip to Austin next fall?
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
: Brady Quinn
, Jeff Samardzija
, Anthony Fasano
and Darius Walker
all return along with another strong line, so the offense will torch scoreboards again. The defense will be improved. And there's a strong recruiting class coming in. Charlie Weis is just getting started.
: The Irish will be breaking in some new linebackers against a schedule that includes six 2005 bowl squads.
4. LSU Tigers
: Tons of talent at the skill positions and the defensive backfield, and tons of momentum from that flattening of Miami in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
: Some key losses on both lines. Settling on a quarterback could be troublesome -- and Les Miles can ask Phil Fulmer about what a quarterback controversy can do to a team's chemistry.
5. Florida Gators
: Chris Leak
should continue to progress in Urban Meyer's offense, and Meyer should have a better handle on what will work in the SEC. Lots of other talent to be found on both sides of the ball, and another very good recruiting class is on the way.
: If Leak looked skittish behind a veteran offensive line, what will he look like behind a rebuilt one in '06?
6. Oklahoma Sooners
: Adrian Peterson
should return to Heisman contender form, Rhett Bomar
should take a major step forward at quarterback, and the defense should be up to usual Bob Stoops standards.
: A shaky offensive line in 2005 only gets younger in 2006. And although Bomar impressed with his toughness in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, he's still got a long way to go before mastering his position.
7. USC Trojans
: If you've been paying attention the past three years, you know why. Regardless of the NFL exodus, there is plenty of talent ready to step forward at Troy.
: All good things come to an end -- especially when the best and most experienced players in recent school history are gone. Darnell Bing and Fred Matua joining them a year early doesn't help, either.
8. Michigan Wolverines
: If Mike Hart
stays healthy and Chad Henne
continues to progress, the Wolverines will still score a lot of points. And the defense will have a lot of experience at linebacker and in the secondary.
: When was the last time this program lived up to expectations?
9. Miami Hurricanes
: Kyle Wright
will be better, and in Greg Olsen
and Ryan Moore
, he'll have a couple of quality targets to throw to. The Hurricanes' secondary should be excellent again.
: Concerns exist regarding the leadership of the program, from the head coach to the upperclassmen, after the disaster in the Peach Bowl.
10. Oregon Ducks
: Start with a sensational offensive line and add plenty of skill talent and very good coaching.
: Defense will miss Haloti Ngata up front, and quarterbacks Dennis Dixon
and Brady Leaf
will have to prove they're big-time leaders and playmakers.
11. Texas Longhorns
: The monkey is off their back and lies dead at the Longhorns' feet. They know how to win championships -- and they have a deep cast of skill-position talent to work with, even if the quarterback has changed.
: That's not just any change at quarterback. Vince Young
was the heart, soul and singular talent on that Texas title team. There have been no bigger shoes to fill in college football in many years.
12. Louisville Cardinals
: If Brian Brohm
returns healthy from knee surgery, he and running back Michael Bush
will both be strong All-America candidates. There is speed and talent on defense and at wide receiver that should only improve by next year.
: There are some key offensive line losses, and star rush end Elvis Dumervil has left the building.
13. Penn State Nittany Lions
: The skill-position speed that helped turn around the program will be back. If linebacker Paul Posluszny returns healthy and quarterback Anthony Morelli
can even approximate Michael Robinson
's leadership skills, the Nittany Lions will not regress very far from their
: Take Tamba Hali, Alan Zemaitis and Robinson out of the equation and you've lost a lot. And Morelli doesn't have Robinson's mobility, which will change the scope of the offense.
14. Auburn Tigers
: QB Brandon Cox
and RB Kenny Irons
are two great places to start on offense, and the secondary should be among the best units in the country.
: The Tigers have considerable turnover at receiver, plus a few holes on the defensive line and at linebacker.
15. Cal Bears
: Fantastic running backs and receivers and an experienced defense team up with Jeff Tedford's coaching.
: Still not sure the Bears have a big-time quarterback, and they lose a couple of very good offensive linemen.
16. Georgia Bulldogs
: Mark Richt has elevated his program to autopilot contender status. The Bulldogs will have one of the best linebacking corps in the nation.
: This team could struggle offensively. Quarterback will be a question, as will the line.
17. Alabama Crimson Tide
: The Crimson Tide is just about all the way back from probation. Mike Shula has answered all questions about his readiness for this job.
: No Brodie Croyle
, no DeMeco Ryans. There go the two solid-gold leaders on each side of the ball.
18. Nebraska Cornhuskers
: Another kingpin program proving that its rebound is well underway. The Cornhuskers ended 2005 with tremendous momentum and seem to have a firm grasp on Bill Callahan's passing offense.
: Some holes to fill on the offensive line, and still some credibility issues for anyone from the Big 12 North.
19. TCU Horned Frogs
: Running back Aaron Brown
could be a breakout star as a sophomore, and there is very good young talent at linebacker as well. Gary Patterson has done a remarkable job adding to the program foundation laid by Dennis Franchione.
: Hard to replicate 11-1 for a second straight season, especially given some of the close calls the Horned Frogs had.
20. Arizona State Sun Devils
: Pick a quarterback, Rudy Carpenter
or Sam Keller
, and the Sun Devils will again be powerful offensively. Some D-I transfers will help immediately on defense.
: ASU has had a problem getting over the hump and becoming a legitimate national title contender, in part because of chronic defensive shortcomings. Will it be much better in '06?
21. Iowa Hawkeyes
: Drew Tate
could be the best quarterback in the Big Ten, and he'll have 1,300-yard running back Albert Young
: Linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are finally gone, leaving a major void in the middle of the Hawkeyes' defense.
22. Clemson Tigers
: Tigers ride momentum into '06, having won six of their last seven games in '05. Running back James Davis
leads a strong returning cast.
: Replacing forever quarterback Charlie Whitehurst
might not be as easy as everyone in orange thinks. (See: Brandon Cox replacing Jason Campbell.)
23. Virginia Tech Hokies
: The defense should again be very fast and very good, and perhaps there will be some addition-by-subtraction without Marcus Vick
around for the administration to overprotect.
: Until the Hokies prove they can properly finish off a season, there is reason to doubt this team. Quarterback is now a big question, too.
24. Iowa State Cyclones
: Pass-and-catch combo of Bret Meyer
and Todd Blythe
return for another productive season.
: Chronic crunch-time failure with the Big 12 North title on the line is no way to convince anyone that the program has arrived.
25. Florida State Seminoles
: Gritty showings in the ACC title game and Orange Bowl show that pride and talent remain in Tallahassee.
: Early entries hurt at several key positions, and questions remain about FSU's offensive direction.