One of the great pleasures of the college football preseason is the dissecting of the Top-25 rankings. On Monday, the Associated Press finally released its national rankings.
The AP often gets a handful of teams in the right area. For example, last year the poll had Alabama at No. 2, Oregon at No. 5, Georgia at No. 6 and South Carolina at No. 9. Each of those rankings was within at least three spots of where the teams ended the campaign.
However there were also eight teams that finished the year in the Top-25 that weren't in the preseason poll, as well as seven teams that moved 10 or more spots in either direction.
Without further ado, here is a look at how the rankings will shift come January.
No. 25 - Oregon State - Lower
The Beavers raised some eyebrows with a 6-0 start to the 2012 season. They then proceeded to drop four of their final seven games. Losing All-American safety Jordan Poyer and still having a quarterback battle between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion means they will probably regress.
No. 24 - USC - Higher
The AP picked this squad fairly well. Lane Kiffin really needs his team to improve or his job may be in serious jeopardy. There is big talent on both sides of the ball, notably receiver Marqise Lee and defensive end Morgan Breslin, but replacing a quarterback like Matt Barkley won't be easy.
No. 23 - Wisconsin - Lower
This was an 8-6 team a year ago. That was before long-time coach Brett Bielema left for Arkansas. New head coach Gary Anderson is dedicated to running the ball on offense, which fits the Wisconsin mold. However, with just five starters returning on defense and very few skill players with experience, another finish outside the rankings seems about right.
No. 22 - Northwestern - Higher
Evanston may just be the new Big Ten football hotbed. The Wildcats were a 10- win team a season ago. With an exciting offense led by Kain Colter and Venric Mark, these Wildcats will score and win plenty. Getting Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State at home sets up the schedule rather favorably.
No. 21 - UCLA - Lower
What dooms an otherwise talented UCLA team is the schedule. The Bruins play Stanford, Oregon and USC on the road in league play, while also traveling to face Nebraska out of conference. Brett Hundley is a sensational playmaker, but those are four games the Bruins would be lucky to split.
No. 20 - TCU - Higher
The Big 12 is a bit more diluted this season which is good news for the Horned Frogs. Gary Patterson has nine returning starters on defense, an area he coaches as well as anyone. On offense, Casey Pachall returns for his senior season determined to prove his off-the-field issues are in the past.
No. 19 - Boise State - Higher
The definition of a mainstay in these rankings, the Broncos have a habit of finishing higher than they are ranked early on. In four of the last seven seasons they have accomplished the feat, including last year. A lot of that is due to the weakened schedule the Broncos play, and the slate of games this season isn't exactly daunting.
No. 18 - Nebraska - Higher
The Cornhuskers have many pieces in place to be a major contender. They have versatile starting quarterback Taylor Martinez back, as well as a number of other skill position players. Plus the schedule isn't extremely fearsome, with UCLA the lone non-conference challenge, and no contest with Ohio State. A lack of experience on defense could be Nebraska's pitfall.
No. 17 - Michigan - Lower
This is certainly a strong team that will put up eight wins and get to a bowl game. However, it's unclear whether the Wolverines are really a top-20 team. When push comes to shove, Devin Gardner isn't as dynamic as Denard Robinson, plus playing three of their final five games of the season on the road won't be easy.
No. 16 - Oklahoma - Lower
Like Michigan, this is a team that will compete and finish the season somewhere in the national rankings. The 16th spot is just a bit too generous. Bob Stoops' has taken quite awhile to name Landry Jones' successor at quarterback and the defense, which was ranked 50th nationally last season, has just four returning starters. The schedule is also brutal with bouts against Notre Dame, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all taking place on the road.
No. 15 - Texas - Higher
Trying to form a hard-nosed running attack at Texas these past few seasons clearly wasn't the answer. New offensive coordinator Major Applewhite will let the offense run loose with returning starting quarterback David Ash at the helm. The Big 12 title might be out of reach, but finishing in the top-15 is a real possibility.
No. 14 - Notre Dame - Lower
Everyone remembers the 42-14 trouncing Notre Dame suffered in the BCS National Championship Game versus Alabama, but few recall the three-point escapes the Irish had against Purdue, Pittsburgh and BYU that hinted at their weaknesses. UND is now without Heisman candidate Manti Te'o, and last year's starting quarterback Everett Golson. Expect regression.
No. 13 - Oklahoma State - Higher
If there is one thing that is certain, it's that Oklahoma State will be dynamic on offense. The Cowboys ranked fourth in the nation in total offense last season. Lead receiver Josh Stewart will help keep the attack humming and if the Cowboys win the games they should, they will crack the top-10 easily.
No. 12 - LSU - Lower
There is a tendency for the SEC to be given highly favorable rankings, and for good reason. The unquestioned top conference in the nation has a number of dominant teams. Les Miles' squad isn't one of them this year. With only 10 starters back and the numerous challenges (TCU, at Georgia, at Alabama, Texas A&M) on the schedule, expect the Tigers to fall.
No. 11 - Florida State - Higher
Florida State lost a lot in the offseason, especially to a defense that ranked second nationally (254.1 ypg) last year. The Seminoles are also putting a freshman at quarterback in Jameis Winston. On top of that, FSU plays Clemson and Florida on the road. However, the rest of the schedule is favorable and Winston projects as a major talent. This is a tentative higher.
No. 10 - Florida - Lower
The Gators face the same dilemma as LSU. The SEC is just so top heavy. Fortunately, Florida does not have to face Alabama or Texas A&M, but that is made up for in the non-conference schedule with games at Miami-Florida and against Florida State. While the defense should be solid again, the Gators are too weak offensively to be considered a top-10 team.
No 9 - Louisville - Higher
Can a team enter a season too hyped? Louisville is about to find out. Since a 33-23 win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the Cardinals and star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater have been the talk of college football. This Cardinals team has a real chance to go 12-0 with the weakest schedule of any team in the top-10.
No. 8 - Clemson - Lower
The Tigers have two legitimate Heisman contenders in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. They play offense as well as anyone in the country and aren't too bad on defense either. Their biggest rival for the ACC crown is Florida State, who they play at home. So why won't the Tigers push into the top-5? The non- conference schedule, which features games against Georgia and at in-state rival South Carolina.
No. 7 - Texas A&M - Higher
How high the Aggies rise really comes down to one man. That man of course being Johnny Manziel. If the defending Heisman Trophy winner is not suspended for alleged NCAA violations, the Aggies are one of the elite programs in the vaunted SEC and could be a permanent resident in the top-5. If he can't play? Well that's another story.
No. 6 - South Carolina - Higher
Jadeveon Clowney is the best player in college football. Having that kind of advantage makes Steve Spurrier's team a contender each and every week. Then there is the schedule, which could not line up better for the Gamecocks. Not having to face Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M, and the final four games of the season all taking place at home including against Florida and Clemson, sets things up rather favorably.
No. 5 - Georgia - Higher
It could have been the Bulldogs that routed Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game last season, as they came within eight yards of winning the SEC title against Alabama. Now senior Aaron Murray and Doak Walker Award contender Todd Gurley lead one of the best offenses in the conference on a revenge tour, one in which all 12 games the Bulldogs play, they should be favored.
No. 4 - Stanford - Higher
It's time for the Cardinal to stake its claim as the best team in the Pac-12. With one of the most punishing defenses in the country, thanks to an ability to create negative-yardage plays, the Cardinal are a fearsome group. The biggest hurdle is Oregon, which Stanford beat 17-14 in overtime last season and which the Cardinal get at home this year.
No. 3 - Oregon - Lower
If Stanford rises than that means a team has to fall. That squad is Oregon. There won't be much change for the Ducks with Mark Helfrich taking over for Chip Kelly. The offense will still be sensational with Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas, but the coaching change may be enough of a shake-up to clip the Ducks' wings.
No. 2 - Ohio State - Lower
Due to NCAA sanctions last season, the Buckeyes' 12-0 record was for naught. Now that they are postseason eligible the pressure is on to repeat the task. The offense will hold up its end of the bargain with Heisman candidate Braxton Miller at quarterback. The defense isn't as set, and with some tricky contests (at Northwestern, at Michigan) the Buckeyes may drop a game or two.
No. 1 - Alabama - Even
The Crimson Tide is even because you can't go higher than No. 1, and that's where this team will likely finish yet again. The two-time defending national champs have standouts across the board like C.J. Mosley, Amari Cooper and A.J. McCarron. Plus the schedule is as light as it comes. If it can survive a week- two matchup at Texas A&M, Alabama will stroll into the SEC title tilt. Until someone else proves otherwise, Alabama is hands down, the top team in the land.