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August 29, 2006

Top teams survive final preseason poll shakeup

This is our fourth preseason football poll at Rivals.com, and this one is for keeps.

We gave you a poll after the bowl season. We rallied for another look after Signing Day, and yet another top 25 just prior to fall practice.

Now it's time to get down to serious business. We've seen how things have played out in the last month. We know who the new starters are. We have a grasp on which freshmen will contribute immediately. We know which teams have been beset by injuries, and we know which quarterbacks are no longer on campus.

All of that means a few shakeups since our last poll. But still nothing has changed at the top. Rivals.com's panelists are sticking by what they projected in January No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Notre Dame meeting for the national championship.

Rivals.com 2006 Preseason Top 25 2005 Record
1. Ohio State 10-2
We've liked the Buckeyes from Day One, and so far we've seen nothing that would make us change our minds. The defense obviously is the concern; right now the depth chart lists five sophomore starters. The one who seems to be wowing the folks in Columbus is outside linebacker Marcus Freeman. The offense is in good hands with Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman and Ted Ginn Jr. We'll know a lot about Ohio State after it goes to Texas on Sept. 9. (Previous rank: 1)
2. Notre Dame 9-3
Like Ohio State, the team that bested it in last year's Fiesta Bowl, the Irish have most of their questions on the defensive side of the ball. The emphasis is on building speed on defense. Senior Travis Thomas is projected to start at outside linebacker after spending last season at running back. The offense will be expected to carry Notre Dame for a while, but that shouldn't be a problem with Heisman threat Brady Quinn, All-American wideout Jeff Samardzija and running back Darius Walker. Five-star freshman Sam Young has been named a starter at offensive tackle. (Previous rank: 2)
3. Auburn 9-3
The Tigers have risen all the way from seventh in our first preseason poll to No. 3. Nothing like gaining momentum even before the first game. There is plenty to be optimistic about on the Plains, especially on offense. Auburn has Brandon Cox back at QB, enough RB talent to run the wishbone and a top-notch offensive line. The biggest question is depth at linebacker, with Tray Blackmon and Kevin Sears serving suspensions for off-the-field incidents. The injury bug also was wreaking havoc on the Tigers, but it appears the rest of the scheduled starters will be ready to go come Saturday against Washington State. (Previous rank: 4)
4. Texas 13-0
Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy has a leg up, at least for the time being, on true freshman Jevan Snead in the race to replace Vince Young. All the Longhorns need is for their quarterback not to lose games, because there is plenty of talent around to take care of the winning. The offensive line is led by All-American Justin Blalock, and the other skill positions are loaded with Jamaal Charles, Selvin Young, Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman. The defense returns seven starters, including All-American safety Michael Griffin. (Previous rank: 5)
5. Southern Cal 13-1
The Trojans fell a couple of spots in our poll, but probably less because of any perceived problem as the belief that Auburn will be very good and Texas got a big break with the Oklahoma QB situation. Pete Carroll's team still has some major talent on offense, though less of it is proven than in years past. There's little doubt that whoever shakes out at running back will be productive behind one of the Pac-10's best offensive lines. The Trojans still may be the class of the Pac-10, but it won't be the cakewalk it has been the past couple of seasons. (Previous rank: 3)
6. LSU 11-2
Quarterback controversy brewed in the spring as incumbent JaMarcus Russell sat out because of a shoulder injury. But the junior out of Mobile, Ala., has re-established himself as the clear No. 1 in fall practice. Questions linger at running back as both Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard are coming back from ACL surgery. Both have carried the ball in contact scrimmages in the fall, but it's anyone's guess as to whether they can return to pre-injury from. The receivers are among the best in the SEC, and the defense should once again be stout. (Previous rank: 7)
7. West Virginia 11-1
The Mountaineers have a chance to vie for the national title because they are in everybody's preseason top 10 coming off the Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia. Rivals.com freshman All-Americans Pat White and Steve Slaton return to power the offense. White, a terrific runner, has improved his passing in the summer and has everyone buzzing. The offensive line is excellent. The questions are in the front seven on defense, but the schedule - for the most part - should be a breeze. (Previous rank: 8)
8. Miami 9-3
The Hurricanes are getting adjusted to a new offense under a new coordinator, and the offense is probably the unit with which coach Larry Coker should be most concerned. Two true freshmen are among the top four receivers in the rotation, and one of them was just switched over from cornerback in the past week. That's not a promising sign, but the defense can carry the load for a while. The Miami secondary may be the best in the nation. (Previous rank: 10)
9. Florida 9-3
At his past two posts, year two is when the Urban Meyer offense took off and put up gaudy numbers. The problem for Meyer at this point is he still is disappointed in the running back play, and it's anybody's guess who will get a majority of the carries (Kestahn Moore and DeShawn Wynn have the edge). The offensive line isn't exactly a strength either, but QB Chris Leak has a bevy of talented receivers. Linebacker Brandon Siler is the defensive leader, and he should be drooling at the prospect of playing behind one of the SEC's elite front fours. (Previous rank: 9)
10. Louisville 9-3
The Cardinals get West Virginia at home, which could determine the Big East champion. Brian Brohm has recovered from ACL surgery and the buzz is he's stronger than ever, which should frighten Big East defenses. Louisville is absolutely loaded on the offensive side, with Brohm, running back Michael Bush and receivers Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas. The main concern on defense is the line, where sack machine Elvis Dumervil is gone and depth has been a problem. The Cardinals have a much tougher schedule than West Virginia, including a home game against Miami on Sept. 16 that will reveal whether Bobby Petrino's troops really are ready for a run at the national title. (Previous rank: 11)
11. Michigan 7-5
New defensive coordinator Ron English has generated plenty of interest in Ann Arbor. The belief is the Wolverines will be faster on defense and will send a lot more people at opposing quarterbacks. Leon Hall is an All-American candidate at cornerback, and the D-line could have a breakout year. The expectations also are high on the offensive side, where running back Mike Hart is fully recovered from last year's injury problems. Chad Henne has top targets in Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston, but the offensive line lost three starters and must be able to provide ample time for the passing game. The Sept. 16 date at Notre Dame could tell the tale of the season for Lloyd Carr. (Previous rank: 12)
12. Georgia 10-3
When Mark Richt recruited five-start QB Matthew Stafford out of Texas he probably viewed it as a luxury, what with Joe Tereshinski, Blake Barnes and Joe Cox already in the mix at the position. But when Richt named Tereshinski the starter for the opener against Western Kentucky, suddenly there was talk of Stafford being upset and wanting to transfer. Stafford quelled the rumors, and he still could work his way into the lineup before it's all said and done this season. The defense will take its cues from All-American senior end Quentin Moses. (Previous rank: 13)
13. California 8-4
Some of our voters have grown more enamored with the Golden Bears, and there is plenty to like. Marshawn Lynch is a Heisman dark horse. Lynch's backup, Justin Forsett, averaged better than 7 yards per carry last season. If that wasn't good enough, Cal is loaded at receiver, too, with DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan. If Jeff Tedford gets any consistency out of his quarterbacks (Nate Longshore will start the opener at Tennessee), the Golden Bears could battle Southern Cal for Pac-10 supremacy. Cal also has a pair of Rivals.com preseason All-Americans on defense in tackle Brandon Mebane and corner Daymeion Hughes. Can they get it done in front of 104,000 Vols fans on Saturday? (Previous rank: 16)
14. Florida State 8-5
The NFL Draft hit the Seminoles hard on defense, but there is talent in the wings waiting for a chance to shine. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the backup to first-round pick Ernie Sims, has been an absolute sensation in the spring and summer and is ready to be the Seminoles' next great player at the position. Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen also appears ready for a quantum leap into the national eye, and JUCO nose tackle Paul Griffin has wowed nearly everyone. Sophomore QB Drew Weatherford has looked sharp. The offensive line, a problem area last season, has made great strides. The biggest areas of concern are at defensive end, and - brace yourselves 'Noles fans - kicker. (Previous rank: 15)
15. Penn State 11-1
All eyes will be on Anthony Morelli. He has the unenviable task of replacing Big Ten MVP Michael Robinson. But offensive coordinator Galen Hall has been effusive in his praise of the new signal-caller, saying Morelli has the strongest arm and quickest release of any quarterback he has coached. Morelli will be playing behind an offensive line that is in a rebuilding mode. The schedule doesn't bode well, either, with September road games against Notre Dame and Ohio State. What will that do to the psyche of a relatively young team? (Previous rank: 14)
16. Oklahoma 8-4
The Sooners plummet in our poll because of the situation with Rhett Bomar. The returning starter at QB was kicked off the team for violating NCAA rules regarding his summer employment and his wages. Enter Paul Thompson, a player deposed as a QB last year. His move to wide receiver ended when Bomar was dismissed. Suddenly Thompson has been thrown back into the lead role, and it's an impossible situation. Sure, he'll get to hand off to Adrian Peterson. But you can bet teams will be stacking up against the run and forcing Thompson to try and beat them. (Previous rank: 6)
17. Iowa 7-5
Iowa has gained some momentum in our polls, climbing up from the 20th spot. There is plenty of reason for Hawkeyes fans to be excited, with Drew Tate running the offense and Albert Young available to take 20-25 handoffs per game. The receiver positions are a question, and projected starter Herb Grigsby has been suspended for the opener for violating team rules. So has starting defensive end Kenny Iwebema. Fortunately the opener is at home against Montana. Coach Kirk Ferentz could suspend about 20 more players before he'd have to worry about that one. (Previous rank: 20)
18. Oregon 10-2
The Ducks should improve in their second year in the spread offense, but the schedule is extremely difficult. It includes non-conference games at Fresno State and at home against Oklahoma, plus conference road games at Arizona State, Cal and USC. Still, there is reason for optimism. Mike Bellotti is a terrific coach, and running back Jonathan Stewart is going to be a star. But the receiver play has been inconsistent in practice, and the injury bug has hit the defensive line hard. Projected defensive end starter Victor Filipe could miss all of September with a dislocated elbow. (Previous rank: 17)
19. Virginia Tech 11-2
You just worry less about a team coached by Frank Beamer and Bud Foster than you would any other team that lost 10 starters from a year ago. Foster's unit may have to carry the Hokies for a while, despite the fact it lost its two best players in corner Jimmy Williams and end Darryl Tapp to the NFL Draft. Linebacker is a strength with Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall returning. Questions abound on offense, where Sean Glennon will replace Marcus Vick at QB, and Branden Ore hopes to emerge as the feature back. (Previous rank: 18)
20. Clemson 8-4
The Tigers believe Will Proctor eventually will be able to fill the shoes of Charlie Whitehurst. Fortunately for Proctor, he won't be called on to win a lot of games on his own. Clemson's running game is in superb hands with last year's freshman sensation James Davis and a guy who could be this year's freshman sensation, five-star running back C.J. Spiller. Word out of Clemson is that Spiller is too good not to see time early and get his share of carries. The line is the top unit on defense, with the secondary needing to make strides. (Previous rank: 19)
21. Arizona State 7-5
After a near mutiny over the quarterback situation resulted in the job going to sophomore Rudy Carpenter, can coach Dirk Koetter get everything under control and get the Sun Devils ready for the season? The defense returns only four starters, though a couple of Division I transfers figure to step in and help. The schedule opens easily enough with Northern Arizona and Nevada at home, but then comes a gauntlet at Colorado, at Cal, Oregon and at USC. If ASU survives that stretch, a 10-win season is a possibility. (Previous rank: 23)
22. Nebraska 8-4
The Huskers appear on an upswing with a bevy of starters returning, but is there enough to compete with Texas and Oklahoma? QB Zac Taylor appears to have settled in and had a good fall camp. There is plenty of talent at the other skill positions, and the offensive line has added a couple of new starters while staying on track. Nebraska's biggest problems are in the secondary, where the search continues for a corner to replace the injured Zackary Bowman. The game at USC on Sept. 16 could be a real eye-opener. (Previous rank: 21)
23. Texas Tech 9-3
Highly touted QB Graham Harrell gets his chance to chuck it all over the yard and ice his arm afterward. The Red Raiders have a solid group of receivers led by Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, and the line has four starters back. The problem area is the secondary, which lost three starters. You'd think they'd get better just by practicing against Hicks, Filani & Co. The schedule isn't particularly loaded, but that Sept. 16 matchup at TCU could be a trap game. (Previous rank: 25)
24. South Carolina 7-5
Steve Spurrier jumped back into the college game and was an immediate hit in Columbia, propelling the Gamecocks to victories against SEC East rivals Tennessee and Florida. You know this team will be putting the ball in the air a lot - and why not with Sidney Rice there to go get it? But the passing game could be hindered by new starters at both offensive tackle positions. The defense also has its share of problem areas with only five starters returning from a year ago. The schedule isn't too bad, with three of the five road games against lesser lights Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. (Previous rank: 24)
25. UCLA 10-2
Is Ben Olson the second coming of Drew Olson? For the sake of the Bruins, he had better be. The losses on offense are significant, with QB Drew Olson (34 TD passes, six interceptions), running back Maurice Drew (914 yards, 13 TDs) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (58 receptions, 741 yards, 10 TDs) all gone. But the new Olson has a world of potential, and the running game should be in good hands with Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell. The concerns surround the defense, which will be inexperienced at linebacker and in the secondary. (Previous rank: 22)

Also receiving votes: TCU, Tennessee, Utah, Boston College, Fresno State.

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