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Monday, August 2, 2010
2010 College Pick 'em Preview

By Will Harris
Special to ESPN.com

College Pick 'em is a pick-the-winner game with a twist: Players must rank their picks in order of confidence. Log in to the College Pick 'em page on Mondays for the upcoming week's matchups and previews. We'll kick off the 2010 season with a look at the top 25 teams.

1. Alabama: The defense returns just three players with more than two career starts, but all are preseason All-Americans. Led by the backfield tandem of Heisman winner Mark Ingram and freshman All-American Trent Richardson, the Tide will field its best offense in decades.

2. Ohio State: Heisman favorite Terrelle Pryor leads a veteran offense that returns 95 percent of its 2009 yardage and four decorated starters on the line. The Buckeyes must travel to top contenders Wisconsin and Iowa, but are the favorites to capture their fourth Big Ten title in five years.

3. Florida: The Gators lose longtime defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, along with Tim Tebow and 10 other starters. Junior signal-caller John Brantley has given every indication that the post-Tebow offense is in good hands, and Florida still boasts the SEC's top defense.

4. Georgia: The Bulldogs are breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback, but are loaded everywhere else on offense. The defense is moving to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Todd Grantham, but that unit won't have to lead the way this year. Georgia will be a very powerful rushing team, and the special teams may be the best in the nation.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners are loaded, especially in both trenches. Expect uber-talented but oft-injured running back DeMarco Murray to be the bell cow for an improved rushing attack that will keep the pressure off still-developing quarterback Landry Jones. The Sooners will claim their fourth Big 12 title in five years.

6. TCU: The Frogs turned in an undefeated regular season in 2009, the team's fourth 11-win campaign in the past five years. Sixteen starters return to a roster stacked with all-conference players, and the schedule is lighter than last year's. Another 12-0 finish is on tap.

7. Wisconsin: Reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year John Clay headlines a group of 10 starters returning to lead the Badgers' punishing ground attack. The kicking game is solid and the defensive back seven is among the best in the league. This is Wisconsin's best team since the 12-1 edition in 2006.

8. Arkansas: Quarterback Ryan Mallett will throw to the nation's top receiving corps. The defense will not be among the best in the SEC, but will be substantially improved from the units that finished last in the league in each of the past two seasons. The Razorbacks are the biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC West.

9. Texas: Coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp's defense will again be top-notch, but the offense must be completely restructured around new and unproven playmakers. Texas will reach double-digit wins for the 10th year in a row, but this inexperienced group is second fiddle to Oklahoma in the Big 12 South this year.

10. Kansas State: An improved defense and favorable schedule complement Daniel Thomas and the top rushing attack in the Big 12, making the Wildcats a contender in the second year of Bill Snyder's second term with the team. An 11-win season is a legitimate possibility.

11. Virginia Tech: The Hokies return just four starters on defense, but coordinator Bud Foster's consistently excellent unit hasn't allowed 300 yards per game since 2003. Senior triggerman Tyrod Taylor is primed for his best season at the helm of an offense that returns its top five receivers along with the outstanding backfield duo of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans.

12. Stanford: Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart is gone, but the Cardinal is still among the contenders in a wide-open Pac-10 race. Star quarterback Andrew Luck has a pair of all-conference receivers at his disposal, and operates behind the league's best offensive line.

13. Nebraska: The Huskers will still be strong defensively, but the loss of dominating tackle Ndamukong Suh and four other all-conference starters means that there will be no repeat of last year's meager 10 points allowed per game. The offense will hang its hat on a strong ground game, but desperately needs better quarterback play.

14. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast depth and experience at every position except offensive line. Head coach Kirk Ferentz is a former NFL line coach and always develops a quality front, but the offense could still take some time to come together despite returning most of the key skill players. The defensive unit will again be formidable, led by pass-rushing terror Adrian Clayborn.

15. Washington: A difficult schedule prevented a much-improved Washington squad from breaking into the postseason in head coach Steve Sarkisian's debut. This year, the team returns quarterback Jake Locker, 18 starters overall and all of the key special-teams contributors. Sark has the Huskies poised to contend in the Pac-10 just two years removed from a winless season.

16. Connecticut: The Huskies' offense made big strides under new coordinator Joe Moorhead last year, and the defense remained solid despite facing the in-season death of starting cornerback Jasper Howard. Eighteen starters overall return in 2010. This is the best team in school history, and is a top contender in the wide-open Big East.

17. North Carolina: The Tar Heels' defense is loaded with NFL talent, boasting as many as five potential first-round draft choices. The offense has been a pedestrian unit under coordinator John Shoop, but returns 10 starters, including senior triggerman T.J. Yates. This is Butch Davis' best team yet, but the ACC Coastal is a loaded division and AgentGate has been a significant offseason distraction.

18. LSU: The Tigers struggled last year thanks to the worst offense in the SEC. This year's attack will be better thanks to more experience at quarterback and more talent at receiver, but it won't be enough of a leap to carry the team into SEC title contention alongside a lightly experienced defense that seems poised for another good-but-not-dominant campaign.

19. Boise State: The Broncos are 68-4 in WAC play in the past decade, and last year completed their third unbeaten regular season in head coach Chris Petersen's first four years. With 20 starters back, this is the most experienced team in the country, but it faces unprecedented expectations. The loss of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Tennessee is a significant blow.

20. Boston College: The only team to win the ACC Atlantic twice since conference expansion, Boston College again finds itself among the division's top contenders. Running back Montel Harris and a veteran offensive line spearhead what will be one of the nation's top rushing offenses. After a battle with cancer, star defender Mark Herzlich returns to his linebacker spot alongside freshman All-American Luke Kuechly.

21. West Virginia: First-year starting quarterback Geno Smith is just a sophomore, but Heisman dark horse Noel Devine and a veteran line will provide enough punch opposite the Big East's best defense to give the Mountaineers a good shot at a conference title.

22. Michigan State: The Spartans field coach Mark Dantonio's best team yet. Junior Kirk Cousins returns under center to lead what figures to be the Big Ten's top passing attack, while All-American linebacker Greg Jones headlines a mostly unsung defense that has been steadily solid throughout Dantonio's tenure.

23. Penn State: The Lions will have a solid rushing attack with Evan Royster and a veteran line, but none of the quarterback candidates have any experience and the linebacking corps was wiped out by graduation. Penn State misses Wisconsin this year, but must play Alabama, Ohio State and Iowa on the road.

24. Houston: Quarterback Case Keenum leads an experienced offense that will challenge for the nation's top spot in scoring, passing and total offense. The Cougars will not sweep a nonconference slate containing three BCS-league opponents as they did last year, but will be the runaway winner of Conference USA.

25. Navy: This year's squad returns an unusually high number of starters for an academy team, including eight on offense. Senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs & Co. have a schedule conducive to repeating last season's 10-win success.

Will Harris is a college football analyst for ESPN.com.