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Terry's preseason Sweet 16 rankings

Terry's preseason Sweet 16 rankings
By Terry Bowden, Yahoo! Sports
August 9, 2006

Terry Bowden
Yahoo! Sports
 Terry's Sweet 16
1. Ohio State
2. Notre Dame
3. West Virginia
4. Texas
5. USC
6. Auburn
7. Florida
8. Oklahoma
9. Miami (Fla.)
10. Florida State
11. California
12. Michigan
13. LSU
14. Virginia Tech
15. Georgia
16. Iowa
Finally, it's here!

College football season.

We are only weeks away from the greatest time of the year, and I can hardly wait. Let's take the month of August to get a handle on everything and give a preview of what I think you can expect. Then let's see what happens.

It all starts with my preseason Sweet 16, in honor of the 16-team playoff I wish college football had. The greatest thing about this season is that there are no clear-cut favorites. Everybody and their brother knew it was going to come down to USC and Texas last year, and it just was a matter of waiting to see if someone would stumble. Well, they didn't, and we got one of the greatest national championship games of all time. In fact, if you'll go back to this ol' boy's archives you'll see that I picked Texas – led by the legs and arm of Vince Young – to defeat the Trojans in a barnburner.

This year won't be so easy. Not only is there no clear-cut favorite but also each contender has an obvious flaw or obstacle to overcome. Each team has to replace a quarterback, replace a defense or even replace a few coaches. I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't any undefeated teams left standing when all the smoke clears. Nonetheless, it's going to be fun, so let's get started.

Ohio State1. Ohio State Buckeyes   Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Buckeyes have the most explosive offense in college football, with two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Troy Smith and sensational slash man Ted Ginn Jr. The defense must replace nine starters, but great defense is a constant in Columbus and nobody reloads better than Ohio State. Watch out for the Sept. 9 matchup against Texas.

Notre Dame2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Speaking of Heisman candidates, Irish quarterback Brady Quinn may be the very best of them all – and he has almost all his weapons back on offense. However, championships are won with defense – even if your head coach is Charlie Weis – and this remains the big question mark in South Bend. Nine starters are back but this unit gave up almost 400 yards per game last year to rank 75th in Division I-A.

West Virginia3. West Virginia Mountaineers   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Take one look at the Mountaineers' schedule, and you can see they may end up the only undefeated team in the country. They should be favored over everyone, with a possible toss-up against Louisville on the road. However, this is not just about the luck of the draw. Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton run the spread option better than anybody (just ask Georgia, which lost the Sugar Bowl to WVU last season).

Texas4. Texas Longhorns   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Even without Vince Young this team is loaded with talent. But when breaking in a new quarterback, I always try to factor in at least one loss due to his inexperience. But the biggest thing is that as long as Texas continues to have Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator (he is 27-0 in his last two years with Texas and Auburn), the Longhorns will play great defense and be in the hunt for the national championship.

USC5. USC Trojans   Team page | Schedule | Roster

You can't win at the extraordinary level that the Trojans have won and recruit at the extraordinary level the Trojans have recruited and fall too far from the top of the mountain. I'll move them up as soon as I get to know the names of all their new superstars.

Auburn6. Auburn Tigers   Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Tigers return a veteran quarterback, a thousand-yard rusher and a stingy defense, and that's the formula for another Tommy Tuberville SEC West title. What makes Auburn a dark horse for the national championship is a nifty schedule that includes eight home games and a made to order non-conference schedule that should allow just the right breaks throughout the season.

Florida7. Florida Gators   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Urban Meyer has made big things happen in the second year wherever he has been, and that is exactly where the Gators find themselves. The schedule is murderous and the pieces to his offensive puzzle are not entirely in place; I think they will be even better in the next few years that follow. Quarterback Chris Leak has been selected to the preseason all-SEC first team, and the defense returns a strong unit that only gave up 18 points per game. Look for Florida to be in the SEC championship game.

Oklahoma8. Oklahoma Sooners   Team page | Schedule | Roster

With quarterback Rhett Bomar's recent dismissal from the team I dropped the Sooners five places in my preseason poll. This is a severe blow to their chances to play for the national championship. The key is if they can rely on their defense and Heisman Trophy hopeful Adrian Peterson until the right signal caller emerges. Unfortunately, last year taught the Sooners what happens to the running game if you can't throw the ball. Still, if they get by Oregon early and survive Texas in the Red River Shootout, who knows?

Miami (Fla.)9. Miami Hurricanes   Team page | Schedule | Roster

For some reason I get the feeling the Hurricanes' biggest problem this year will be themselves. The natives are restless and whether it's right or wrong they are expecting an ACC title and BCS game this year – or else. The sad thing is that head coach Larry Coker has been one of the most successful coaches in the country during his tenure. The good news is that this Miami defense looks like it could be as good as any the team has had, and if they can iron out a few wrinkles on offense the points should roll in. A win over Florida State in the opener would go a long way toward shutting up the grumblers.

Florida State10. Florida State Seminoles   Team page | Schedule | Roster

For the first time since 2000 there seems to be real confidence in the quarterback position, and that is huge if you follow the program closely. Still, the offense must develop a running game and a balanced attack to have a chance to repeat as the ACC champion.

California11. California Golden Bears   Team page | Schedule | Roster

Cal looks to have the best chance to challenge USC for the Pac-10 title. The Golden Bears return 98 percent of their offensive firepower, and they will be able to score on anybody. Even more importantly, they return a rugged defense led by arguably the best front four in America and two lockdown corners. The season begins with Tennessee in Knoxville and ends with USC on the road. Those two games should decide just how far this season can go.

Michigan12. Michigan Wolverines   Team page | Schedule | Roster

After a disappointing 7-5 record last year, look for the Wolverines to rebound nicely. In order to shake up things head coach Lloyd Carr replaced both coordinators, and I think you'll see a sense of urgency with the way they play ball in Ann Arbor. Quarterback Chad Henne and running back Michael Hart lead an offense that has plenty of weapons, and eight starters return on defense. Michigan will see where it stands Sept. 16 at Notre Dame.

LSU13. LSU Tigers    Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Tigers finished last season with a sporty 40-3 shellacking of Miami in the Peach Bowl, and they should pick up where they left off. I might have even picked them to win the SEC West except for three road games at Auburn, Florida and Tennessee.

Virginia Tech14. Virginia Tech Hokies   Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Hokies must find a quarterback to replace Marcus Vick, but what makes VT a threat to win the ACC every year is the way the Hokies play defense. Last year they ended up leading the country in total defense and ranked No. 2 in scoring defense. Head coach Frank Beamer is the winningest active coach behind Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. They just keep on rolling.

Georgia15. Georgia Bulldogs   Team page | Schedule | Roster

The Bulldogs are coming off an SEC title season, and in the Mark Richt era they have proven to be the most consistent team in the SEC. They will reload. The big question is which one of three new quarterbacks will earn the starting job. With Richt being an old QB coach himself, I don't see much chance of him not having one ready to go.

Iowa16. Iowa Hawkeyes   Team page | Schedule | Roster

With a veteran quarterback in Drew Tate, a strong running attack and a defense with a front four who can stuff the run, this is the kind of team head coach Kirk Ferentz builds on. The Hawkeyes are a clear top-three choice in the Big Ten and a dark horse to take the conference crown.

Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column.

Updated on Wednesday, Aug 9, 2006 5:37 pm EDT

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