Taking into consideration which players are staying in school and which are headed to the NFL, Times' college football columnist Chris Dufresne offers a sneak-peek at his preseason top five:
Final 2008 record: 13-1.
Final AP ranking: No. 1.
Key loss: Receiver/running back Percy Harvin.
Key keepers: Quarterback Tim Tebow, linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Comment: Tebow and Spikes? Yikes. The return of the team's top offensive and defensive players makes Florida the clear-cut preseason No. 1. Tebow gets one more chance to prove to scouts that he's not a tight end in the NFL. He also gets a chance to win a third national title in four years. Spikes is the team's leader and leading tackler and his return means the Gators' entire defense comes back in '09.
Harvin, the speedy multi-threat, will be missed. Urban Meyer calls him the most dynamic player he has coached and Harvin also showed a ton of toughness when he amassed 171 total yards in the national title game playing with a hairline fracture in his ankle. The Gators won't slow down much, though, with the return of track star tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.
In terms of national titles under Meyer, 2009 has all the makings of Chomp III.
Final 2008 record: 12-1.
Final AP ranking: No. 3.
Key losses: Quarterback Mark Sanchez, linebacker Rey Maualuga, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Key keeper: Safety Taylor Mays.
Comment: We're starting the Trojans out this high so their fans can't squawk about unfair rankings for six months. Not sure why Pete Carroll was so bent about Sanchez leaving for the NFL when he has quarterbacks stacked up out to Figueroa. Will it be Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley, the fab freshman from Mater Dei? The Trojans have spring and fall to figure it out. Whichever guy gets the job will be surrounded by touchdown makers. Carroll should be doing back flips that Mays, his NFL ready safety (and fastest player), is coming back to anchor a defense that needs to be retooled.
Watch out for the schedule, though, as the Trojans play at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon and California.
Final 2008 record: 12-1.
Final AP ranking: No. 4.
Key loss: defensive end Brian Orakpo.
Key keepers: Quarterback Colt McCoy, receiver Jordan Shipley.
Comment: Mark this down as a Red River revenge year for the Texas, which lost the Heisman Trophy and a possible national title because of those Norman invaders from the north. Orakpo is a tough fill on defense, but no team will have a bigger Bevo chip on its shoulders, or make more national noise, than the Texas Longhorn honkers.
It was huge for McCoy that Shipley, his favorite target, got a medical redshirt.
And remember, Oklahoma fans, seasons may change but the final score in Dallas last October never will.
It was 45-35.
Final 2008 record: 12-2.
Final AP ranking: No. 5.
Key losses: offensive linemen Phil Loadholt and Duke Robinson.
Key keepers: Quarterback Sam Bradford, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Comment: What was Bradford thinking? He was ready for the pros, but now his return leaves the Sooners poised to lose a sixth straight BCS game (sorry). The offensive line loses Loadholt, but the roster is otherwise loaded.
In terms of wearing out its welcome in big BCS games, has Oklahoma become the new Ohio State?
Unfortunately, the answer is "maybe."
See you next year, but hopefully not in either game at the Rose Bowl.
2008 record: 10-3.
Final AP ranking: No. 10.
Key losses: Running back Jeremiah Johnson, defensive back Patrick Chung.
Key keeper: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Comment: Lose one Jeremiah, keep another. Truth is, no one wanted to play Oregon at the end of the year. The Ducks' offense scored 55, 65 and 42 points in closing wins against Arizona, Oregon State and Oklahoma State. Masoli is an emerging superstar. Oregon opens at Boise State followed by home games against Purdue, Utah and Cal. A 4-0 start against that lineup puts Ducks in serious national title contention -- plus they get USC in Eugene.