Let me start by saying that I think preseason polls, when taken seriously and objectively, are a silly thing. There's some research involved, but they're still essentially guesses. Usually, a writer who has done his homework can get somewhat close: it doesn't take clairvoyance to know that Oregon is a better football team than Oregon State. But the idea that preseason rankings set up a perception that carries over for the entire season is a flawed one. The BCS system actually had it right in that they didn't start ranking teams until halfway through the season; however, the fact that it was made up of ranking systems that started before anybody played a snap nullified that positive.
Regardless, I've got a preseason top 25, though it isn't a list of the 25 best teams in college football. First, some background about me as a football-type person: I think NFL Blitz is a better video game than Madden; I thought the Alamo Bowl was a better game than the Game of the Century, and my two favorite football coaches of all time are Bill Walsh and Chip Kelly. Simply put, I like offense. More specifically, I like exciting offense; I'm not interested in watching teams like Iowa or Wisconsin pound the ball into the middle over and over again until I fall asleep because it's 10:30 AM on the west coast and no other football games are on and I've been drinking bourbon since Friday at 5. Fortunately for me, I'm a fan and an alum of the most exciting football offense on the planet, and college football is full of teams who can light up the scoreboard. Here's the 25 I think will be the most fun to watch.
#25 Texas Tech - The Red Raiders have a senior QB, and their top three receivers returning. Their defense is terrible, but you already knew that. That just means more offensive possessions, which is a good thing.
#24 Louisville - The Cardinals have everybody back; Big East Rookie of the Year Teddy Bridgewater at QB, RBs Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, and Senorise Perry, and receivers Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris. This group was below-average last year, but has the tools to make the leap in 2012.
#23 Oklahoma State - The Oregon of the Midwest replaces 28 year old Brandon Weeden at QB with true freshman Wes Lunt, who enrolled in Stillwater in January and won the starting job in spring practice. They return their top three rushers, and the Cowboys always seem to have an elite receiver waiting in the wings to replace the one that just left school. In this case, someone will have to step up to replace Justin Blackmon; could it be senior Tracy Moore, who caught 45 passes in 2011?
#22 Cincinnati - The Bearcats must have been hanging out in Eugene, because they've got a case of the Munchies. Qb Munchie Legaux, once a high school recruit coveted by Oregon, has the skill set necessary to be an elite dual-threat QB. If he can improve his consistency and decision making, Cincy will contend for another Big East title.
#21 Texas A&M - Head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Cliff Kingsbury bring their wide open passing attack to the SEC, and I can't wait to watch it. It isn't going to work, but I still can't wait to watch it.
#20 washington - Keith Price made a statement in last year's Alamo Bowl, matching Robert Griffin III blow for blow. He lost, but still. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is already a handful, and is still improving. And the huskies also get to introduce a new starting running back that will inevitably be better than LaMichael James. I don't see how they can lose. I mean, they will lose. Like, 4-6 times. But I'll have my eye on the pups nonetheless.
#19 Michigan - Denard Robinson, the best player in college football with no shot whatsoever at a long NFL career, can make any play exciting. The question for this offense is the rest of the skill positions: what happens to suspended RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, and who steps up to replace WR Junior Hemingway and TE Kevin Koger? Only the Wolverines' head coach, TV's Jeff Garlin, has those answers.
#18 Baylor - RGIII is gone, but senior Nick Florence is no slouch, and he'll have help from a deep corps of wideouts. There's also the matter of Lache Seastrunk. The former Oregon RB dazzled in Baylor's spring game; will he live up to his potential in a different shade of green and yellow?
#17 Toledo/Western Michigan - These two share a spot because of their Arena Football-esque tilt in 2011: over 1,400 yards of offense, 129 points, ten turnovers. A hot mess, in all the right ways. The Toledo Rockets put up 40 or more points eight times last season, and return quarterbacks Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens. The Broncos return their top four running backs, plus QB Alex Carder, an NFL-caliber talent. The MAC, once again proving its worth as a hotbed for sloppy and entertaining weeknight football.
#16 Arkansas State - Head coach Gus Malzahn brings his frenetic offense into Autzen on September 1st, and the Ducks better be prepared for a fight. Senior Ryan Aplin was the 2011 Sun Belt Player of the Year, throwing for almost 3,600 yards and 19 touchdowns while rushing for 588 yards and ten more scores. Giving him the keys to Malzahn's playbook will only make him more dangerous.
#15 South Carolina - Marcus Lattimore. He's my white whale, the one that got away. I'm sure he's happy as a Gamecock, but man, he would have been spectacular as a Duck. So much lamenting.
#14 Houston - The Cougars may have lost head coach Kevin Sumlin, but they've still got the Air Raid fully operational. Sophomore David Piland is the heir apparent to Case Keenum, and leading rusher Charles Sims is primed for a breakout year. They will have to replace 63% of their receiving production after losing four wideouts.
#13 Washington State - I've had an unconditional love for Mike Leach since his days at Texas Tech, and he's the perfect character to stir up some ruckus in Pullman. Jeff Tuel is the trendy darkhorse QB in the Pac-12, and Marquess Wilson might be the best receiver in the conference. They've also got an underrated running game. They might not win a lot of games in 2012, but I'll be tuning in every time the Cougs are on TV.
#12 Louisiana Lafayette - The Ragin' Cajuns have two talented quarterbacks in senior Blaine Gautier and sophomore Terrance Broadway, and perhaps the best RB in the Sun Belt in Alonzo Harris. ULL looks to build off a 9-4 campaign last season, and they should make a game of it in their non-conference games against Oklahoma State and Florida.
#11 Tulsa - The Golden Hurricanes return their top three running backs, who combined for over 2,000 yards in 2011, and three of their top four receivers, H-back Willie Carter and wide receivers Bryan Burnham and Jordan James. Their QB competition ended with junior Cody Green winning the starting job, and it will be his job to spread the ball around to Tulsa's wealth of talent.
#10 Nevada - The pistol, when run correctly and not all UCLA-ish, is fascinating to watch. There is no other offense in the country where the defense's frustration is that palpable. With 2011 WAC Freshman of the Year Cody Fajardo under center, the Wolf Pack should have no trouble annoying the hell out of folks in their inaugural season in the Mountain West.
#9 Ohio - The Bobcats return QB Tyler Tettleton, who passed for 3,306 yards and rushed for 666 as a sophomore in 2011. They're also making the transition to a no-huddle offense. Sign me up for some of that MACtion!
#8 LSU - The Bayou Bengals return all four running backs from 2011, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, and Kenny Hilliard. Receivers Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham are back too. If new QB Zach Mettenberger can be even a little bit better than last year's mediocornucopia of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers will be a national title favorite.
#7 Arkansas - QB Tyler Wilson and the return from injury of RB Knile Davis make the Razorback offense among the best in the SEC. Yes, that's kind of like being the least racist guy in the Aryan Brotherhood, but it's something.
#6 Oklahoma - The Sooners return QB Landry Jones, RBs Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch (both of whom sounds like the auto-generated recruits NCAA13 would make up), and WR Kenny Stills. True freshman WR Trey Metoyer is drawing rave reviews as well. Also, DOUBLE STOOPS! I wonder if Bob hops as well as his brothers...
#5 Louisiana Tech - Mike Leach disciple Sonny Dykes has brought a pass-heavy attack to the WAC, and it produced a conference title. QB Colby Cameron returns as a senior, and he gets to throw to three of his top four wide receivers from 2011. That's a recipe for fireworks.
#4 Clemson - They're chock full of weapons: Tajh Boyd might be the best dual-threat QB in the country, and Andre Ellington is NFL-ready after rushing for almost 1,200 yards in 2011. Plus, it's Clemson, so there's always a chance that things will go fantastically wrong.
#3 USC - Marqise Lee spells his name without a U after the Q. It bothers me, almost as much as the idea of the Ducks having to stop him, along with Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Curtis McNeal, George Farmer, and a veteran offensive line. You heard it here first: the first team to 40 points on November 3rd wins.
#2 West Virginia - Dana Holgerson: madman and visionary. Chip Kelly of the east. Documented party animal. He's got QB Geno Smith, who will be in the Heisman talks if the Mountaineers start hot, and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. They'll contend for the Big XII title with a decent defense; they'll contend for the national title with a good one.
#1 Oregon - Duh.