Friday, July 30, 2004 Updated: August 15, 8:34 AM ET
Trojans, Sooners top preseason poll
There are plenty of familiar faces at the top of the ESPN/USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll. Here's a breakdown of the Top 25.
1. USC (44 first-place votes, 1,500 points, 12-1 and No. 2 in '03 final poll)
It's not out of the question the Trojans could become the first repeat national champ since -- and stop us if you've heard this before -- the 1994-95 Nebraska Cornhuskers. After all, this was the season Pete Carroll and crew targeted for a national title run. They have a favorable conference schedule (Cal at home, no Oregon), but a solid non-conference slate (Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Colorado State) plus the sudden target on their back hardly make it a certainly USC will be in Miami in January.
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2. Oklahoma (12 first-place votes, 1,426 points, 12-2 and No. 3 in '03 final poll)
The chip on the Sooners' shoulder can be seen all the way from Norman. A two-game losing streak will do that. But like USC, this is the season Bob Stoops and Co. were targeting for their title run. Led by returning Heisman winner Jason White, the offense should be potent once again, especially if freshman RB Adrian Peterson can make an immediate contribution, and do you really need to ask about the defense? The Sooners don't leave Norman until October but must visit Texas A&M, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
3. LSU (5 first-place votes, 1,387 points, 13-1 and No. 1 in '03 final poll)
While everyone is touting the Trojans' chances at becoming the first repeat national champion in nearly a decade, LSU is flying under the radar. Well, as under the radar as the third-ranked team in the country can. Justin Vincent is a breakaway threat every time he touches the ball and sparks an underrated Tigers' offense. The Tigers will once again be strong on defense, but of all the title contenders, they face the toughest schedule (at Auburn, at Florida, at Georgia plus a possible SEC title game).
4. Georgia (1,328 points, 11-3 and No. 6 in '03 final poll)
There is so much talent at Georgia, it's tough to find a reason why the Dawgs can't make it to the BCS championship game. But that won't stop us from looking. While David Greene may be as good as it gets at QB, there are some questions at O-line and the receivers have yet to prove themselves as playmakers. Still, David Pollack anchors a defense that is as good as it gets in the SEC and the schedule, while tough, is in their favor with LSU and Tennessee at home. Don't be surprised to see Georgia in the mix.
5. Miami (1,246 points, 11-2 and No. 5 in '03 final poll)
Every year Miami loses a slew of players to the NFL and every year they just reload. This year should be no exception. There's so much talent at Miami that the Canes could charge for the scrimmage workouts without feeling guilty. Still, it will all hinge on QB Brock Berlin. The Canes are still trying to find a RB -- Frank Gore won't be back by the opener -- so Berlin needs to cut down on the mistakes. The defense should be solid, but the schedule is much tougher in the ACC (Florida State, at NC State, at Virginia).
6. Florida State (1,177 points, 10-3 and No. 10 in '03 final poll)
Is this the year Chris Rix's head finally catches up with his body? There's no disputing Rix's talent, but his inconsistency and the number of, well, dumb mistakes he makes is maddening. Armed with a very good offensive line, two of the best backs in the conference in Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker and a home run threat at wideout in Craphonso Thorpe, Rix just needs to be the consistent. The defense is solid, led by LBs A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims -- who may be two of FSU's best by midseason. The schedule is always tough, but this is one of Bobby Bowden's better teams in recent memory.
7. Michigan (1,128 points, 10-3 and No. 7 in '03 final poll)
It's worth the price of admission -- even for one of those sweetheart alumni suites -- just to watch the Wolverines' receivers. Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Tyler Ecker and Steve Breaston are poetry in maize and blue. Now the big question is who will throw the ball to them. Matt Gutierrez finally gets his shot at QB, but some questions at O-line and RB won't help. There are also some holes on the D-line, but the secondary will be among the nation's best. Michigan gets Iowa and Minnesota at home, but a trip to Columbus to likely determine its Big Ten and BCS fate.
8. Texas (1,087, 10-3 and No. 11 in '03 final poll)
Stop us if you've heard this one before -- Texas is as talented as anyone in the country and should make a run at the national championship. Really. The offense should put PlayStation numbers up with Cedric Benson running behind one of the nation's top lines. Vince Young is the starting QB -- really, there's just one this year -- and is just plain fun to watch. Derrick Johnson may be the nation's best player and anchors a very good defense. If the Horns can finally snap their four-game losing streak to Oklahoma -- and, of course, that's a really big if -- this could be the year they finally make escape the Holiday and Cotton Bowls and wind up in a BCS bowl.
9. Ohio State (1,030 points, 11-2 and No. 4 in '03 final poll)
The Buckeyes are as flashy as their coach's wardrobe, but winning never goes out of style. Ohio State will once again challenge for the Big Ten title because it does the little things right. It plays good defense. It doesn't make mistakes. It waits for you to get bored and do something dumb and then it takes advantage of your mistake. The Buckeyes won't score a lot this season, but they won't allow many points either thanks to a defense led by A.J. Hawk, one of the nation's top linebackers. The schedule is tough (at NC State, at Iowa, at Purdue), but they do get Michigan at home.
10. Florida (691 points, 8-5 and No. 25 in '03 final poll)
So good and so young. Ron Zook has loaded the Gators with great players, but they need to produce -- and soon. Chris Leak had a breakout freshman season and looks to be on his way to a special career. The wideouts show potential, especially if Andre Caldwell emerges as a big-play threat. The defense features a strong front seven, but some questions in the secondary. The schedule is always tough (at Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, at Florida State) and it should be interesting to see how the young players handle it.
11. West Virginia (684 points, 8-5 and unranked in '03 final poll)
Suddenly the big dog in the Big East, the Mountaineers hope to build on last year's stretch run when they their seven of their last eight games. With Rasheed Marshall at QB, Kay-Jay Harris at RB and everyone back on the O-line, WVU could earn its first BCS bowl bid.
12. Iowa (642, 10-3 and No. 8 in '03 final poll)
The Hawkeyes never get the big love, but they are too good to be ignored. Defense, led by arguably the conference's best trio of linebackers, will key any Big Ten title run Iowa makes.
13. Kansas State (639 points, 11-4 and No. 13 in '03 final poll)
Darren Sproles may be the best running back in the Big 12 -- and one of the best in the country. With the Big 12 North theirs for the taking, anything less than another trip to the Big 12 title game would be a disappointment.
14. Tennessee (598 points, 10-3 and No. 16 in '03 final poll)
Tennessee is going old school with a return to the power running game and a focus on defense to take some of the pressure off C.J. Leak at QB.
15. California (566 points, 8-6 and not ranked in '03 final poll)
The only team to beat USC last year looks like the Trojans' biggest challenger in the Pac-10 this year. Aaron Rodgers to Geoff McArthur is a dangerous combo.
16. Clemson (503 points, 9-4 and No. 22 in '03 final poll)
For all the hype FSU's Chris Rix and Miami's Brock Berlin receive, the best QB in the ACC may just be Charlie Whitehurst. The Tigers have a brutal schedule (at Texas A&M, at Virginia, at FSU, at Miami) but don't forget about them this season.
17. Missouri (502 points, 8-5 and No. 17 in '03 final poll)
Is this the year Brad Smith lives up to the hype? Smith, a dangerous threat running and passing, and the Tigers are talented enough to win the Big 12 North.
18. Auburn (473 points, 8-5 and not ranked in '03 final poll)
Pick your poison at running back -- Cadillac Williams or Ronnie Brown. Armed with two of the best backs in the SEC, Auburn is a sleeper in the SEC West.
19. Virginia (453 points, 8-5 and not ranked in '03 final poll)
Questions at QB may haunt the Cavaliers, but with a defense that features one of the best linebacker trios in the conference, this is still a dangerous team.
20. Maryland (443 points, 10-3 and No. 20 in '03 final poll)
Hmmm...all Ralph Friedgen has done is win at least 10 games in each of his first three years at Maryland. He's simply one of the best coaches around. Period.
21. Utah (438 points, 10-2 and No. 21 in '03 final poll)
Just because the Utes aren't in a BCS conference doesn't mean they're not as good. Keep an eye on QB Alex Smith. He's got some good receivers around him and makes this a fun team to watch.
22. Wisconsin (248 points, 7-6 and not ranked in '03 final poll)
Want a Heisman Trophy sleeper? Watch RB Anthony Davis. He could make a run at 2,000 yards.
23. Minnesota (187 points, 10-3 and No. 17 in '03 final poll)
With a group of running backs as good as any in the conference, the Gophers could move into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
23. Purdue (187 points, 9-4 and No. 19 in '03 final poll)
Kyle Orton is among the nation's best QBs and with a talented group of receivers around him, should put up Drew Brees-type numbers this season.
25. Oregon (175 points, 8-5 and not ranked in '03 final poll)
The Ducks have the offense to make a run at the Pac-10 title and they don't have to play USC this season. If the defense improves, who knows?
Others receiving votes: Nebraska (10-3) 151; Oregon State (8-5) 101; Boise State (13-1) 99; Washington State (10-3) 86; North Carolina State (8-5) 84; Louisville (9-4) 78; Virginia Tech (8-5) 62; TCU (11-2) 50; Oklahoma State (8-5) 41; Toledo (8-4) 33; Memphis (9-4) 27; Georgia Tech (7-6) 25; Notre Dame (5-7) 25; Bowling Green (11-3) 22; Brigham Young (4-8) 21; Miami (Ohio) (13-1) 21; Fresno State (9-5) 17; Michigan State (8-5) 16; Pittsburgh (8-5) 14; Marshall (8-4) 13; Alabama (4-9) 12; Arkansas (9-4) 12; Boston College (8-5) 10; Northern Illinois (10-2) 10; San Diego State (6-6) 8; Colorado State (7-6) 7; Mississippi (10-3) 7; UCLA (6-7) 7; Texas Tech (8-5) 6; Hawaii (9-5) 5; Texas A&M (4-8) 5; Southern Mississippi (9-4) 4; Penn State (3-9) 2; Air Force (7-5) 1; Arizona (2-10) 1; Arizona State (5-7) 1; Connecticut (9-3) 1; New Mexico (8-5) 1; Washington (6-6) 1.
The USA TODAY/ESPN Board of Coaches is made up of 61 head coaches at Division I-A institutions. All are members of the American Football Coaches Association. The 2004 board: Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin; Chuck Amato, North Carolina State; Gary Barnett, Colorado; Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Mike Bellotti, Oregon; Phil Bennett, Southern Methodist; Jack Bicknell, Louisiana Tech; Bobby Bowden, Florida State; Tommy Bowden, Clemson; Jeff Bower, Southern Mississippi; Gregg Brandon, Bowling Green; Mack Brown, Texas; Watson Brown, Alabama-Birmingham; Lloyd Carr, Michigan; Larry Coker, Miami (Fla.); Gary Crowton, Brigham Young; David Cutcliffe, Mississippi; Gary Darnell, Western Michigan; Darrell Dickey, North Texas; Bill Doba, Washington State; Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M; Ralph Friedgen, Maryland; Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee; Joe Glenn, Wyoming; Walt Harris, Pittsburgh; Dan Hawkins, Boise State; Fitz Hill, San Jose State; Pat Hill, Fresno State; Terry Hoeppner, Miami (Ohio); Brady Hoke, Ball State; Lou Holtz, South Carolina; Dirk Koetter, Arizona State; Jim Leavitt, South Florida; Rocky Long, New Mexico; Sonny Lubick, Colorado State; Dan McCarney, Iowa State; Andy McCollum, Middle Tennessee; Glen Mason, Minnesota; Les Miles, Oklahoma State; Joe Novak, Northern Illinois; Houston Nutt, Arkansas; Tom O'Brien, Boston College; George O'Leary, Central Florida; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Gary Patterson, TCU; Bobby Petrino, Louisville; Gary Pinkel, Missouri; Bob Pruett, Marshall; Mark Richt, Georgia; Steve Roberts, Arkansas State; Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia; Nick Saban, LSU; John L. Smith, Michigan State; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma; Mike Stoops, Arizona; Jeff Tedford, California; Jim Tressel, Ohio State; Tommy Tuberville, Auburn; Ron Turner, Illinois; Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe; Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame. The AFCA prohibits schools on major NCAA or conference probation from receiving votes.