John Clay's Top 25

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 25, 2013 

Alabama Arkansas Football

Quarterback A.J. McCarron will try to cap his stellar career with a third straight national title for Alabama, which enters the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press pre-season poll.

APRIL L BROWN — AP

1. Alabama

Nick Saban is king of the world and has a nearly pathological drive to win championships. With A.J McCarron and T.J. Yeldon back on offense, and Saban's defensive acumen, the Tide won't be toppled.

2. Ohio State

Never mind the slow-footed Big Ten, the Urbinator is busy plotting world domination. After an unbeaten season in 2012, he has the Buckeyes nipping at the Tide's heels.

3. South Carolina

We know the Gamecocks have the nation's most freakish and best defensive player in Jadeveon Clowney, but what they're finding out in Columbia is that Steve Spurrier has a pretty fair passing quarterback in Dylan Thompson.

4. Stanford

The Cardinal has eight starters returning from a suffocating defense that specializes in getting to the football. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan is 5-0 as a starter.

5. Clemson

The Tigers' offense should keep ringing the register behind quarterback Tajh Boyd, and if second-year coordinator Brent Venables can keep the defense pointed in the right direction, Clemson could be in the national title conversation.

6. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys' defense may be a bit suspect, but Mike Gundy has superior firepower on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Clint Chelf will be the starter, but Wes Lunt could make a strong push.

7. Florida

The Gators boast a hit factory of a defense, but former UK offensive coordinator Brent Pease must squeeze some more sizzle out of a disappointing attack. Getting running back Matt Jones back from a viral infection would be a good start.

8. Georgia

The Bulldogs were oh-so-close to knocking off Alabama in the SEC title game. Quarterback Aaron Murray is back, along with the tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Now Todd Grantham must rebuild the Dawg defense. Eight starters departed.

9. Louisville

None other than Tim Brando has predicted that Teddy Bridgewater and Co. will win the national championship, but a marshmallow schedule will hurt Charlie Strong's club in the eyes of the voters.

10. Oregon

While Chip Kelly is putting his cutting-edge theories into NFL practice, the Ducks will try to prove their success wasn't all about their former head coach. Promoted assistant Mark Helfrich will be practicing plug-and-play.

11. Texas A&M

Maybe Johnny Manziel can wiggle out of his summer reign of error and make it on the field, and maybe the Aggies have been able to shut out all the bad pub and stay focused on the task at hand. But that may be too much to ask.

12. Michigan

Quarterback Devin Gardner earned some valuable experience last season subbing for the departed Denard Robinson. But head man Brady Hoke has some other holes to fill, especially on defense, where just four starters return.

13. Notre Dame

After serving as Alabama's punching bag in the BCS title game, Brian Kelly must overcome the loss of his best defensive player to the NFL and his starting quarterback to grades. At least the Irish know now what it feels like to get near the top.

14. Texas

The Longhorns appear to be emerging from their dark period back to the brightness of Mack Brown's best teams. Nineteen starters are back from last year's 9-4 team. All Brown needs is better play at quarterback.

15. LSU

A slew of early exits have cut into Les Miles' roster, but the head coach is hoping that new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will bring out the best in quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a hit-and-miss Tigers attack.

16. Baylor

The Bears are showing they were not just about Robert Griffin III. Art Briles' team reached a bowl game in the first year after RG3, and the expectations in Waco are that Baylor could be a beast again.

17. Florida State

The Seminoles must replace their defensive coordinator (some fellow named Mark Stoops) and their starting quarterback, but Jimbo Fisher does have four starters back on the offensive line and a deep backfield.

18. Boise State

Quarterback Joe Southwick came on strong at the end of last season, and the Broncos hope that momentum carries over to this year. Boise has won 61 games over the last five years.

19. UCLA

While Lane Kiffin has struggled across town, Jim Mora has given the Bruins a definite boost. Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley hopes to build on his dazzling debut when he passed for a school-record 3,745 yards.

20. Oklahoma

They're nervous in Norman mainly because head coach Bob Stoops has to solve a quarterback quandary, but his brother Mike needs to shore up a defense that was gashed too often a season ago.

21. Oregon State

The Beavers have plenty back — a loaded offensive line and good, tough running backs — from a team that won nine games a year ago, but head coach Mike Riley needs to iron out his quarterback situation.

22. Wisconsin

Low-key Gary Andersen replaces the bombastic Bret Bielema, and the Badgers shouldn't really miss a beat. There are personnel issues, but Andersen's fresh ideas should provide a good twist in Madison.

23. Mississippi

A sure sign you've unexpectedly boosted your talent base is when other teams start whispering about your methods. Rebels Coach Hugh Freeze doesn't seem to care, and if quarterback Bo Wallace has recovered from clavicle surgery, Ole Miss could make an SEC surge.

24. Nebraska

It's now-or-never for senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who will try to get Bo Pelini's team over the top and into the Rose Bowl.

25. Northwestern

The best coach not many know about, Pat Fitzgerald led the Wildcats to a 10-3 record a year ago. He has stud running back Venric Mark back, plus Northwestern may have the best special teams in the nation.

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