Alabama is considered by many to be the top college football team in the nation in 2013, but there is a surprise team atop my preseason power rankings.
As the season begins, inevitably we'll see some major upsets that will turn this list on its head.
No matter how good teams look on paper, the human element—physical and mental mistakes on one extreme and heroic efforts on the other—will determine the national power structure.
For now, however, the following teams are the best of the best heading into the first games of the 2013 college football season. Three teams in particular will be highlighted with italics for more in-depth analysis.
1. Ohio State
Urban Meyer's squad went undefeated last season, and this year's team has a chance to be even better.
Braxton Miller should improve upon his impressive sophomore campaign in his second season under Meyer. He'll be playing behind an offensive line that returns four starters and a group of skill players that received an impressive injection of talent this season.
Freshman running back Dontre Wilson and freshman wide receiver Jalin Marshall could become impact players this season. Expectations are high surrounding both young players.
Bradley Roby may be the best cover corner in the nation, and he'll lead a defense that lacks experience but has the potential to put together a strong season.
Which team should be ranked No. 1?
There are no real weaknesses on Alabama's roster. Nick Saban is the most consistent recruiter from year to year, and as one group of players leaves for the NFL in the winter, another always rises in its place to become the next wave of stars.
Marcus Mariota had a stellar freshman campaign, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 33 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He's expected to become even more of a passing threat in his sophomore season for Oregon, given running back Kenjon Barner's departure to the NFL.
The team's defense is always a bit underrated, thanks to the offense's ability to overwhelm teams.
But with four returning starters in the secondary and burgeoning sack artist Taylor Hart returning for his senior season, the Ducks should be able to dominate their opponents this upcoming season.
4. Texas A&M
The biggest question right now for the Aggies is whether or not the tumultuous offseason of Johnny Manziel will have a negative effect on his performance on the field this season.
This team has the players to make a national title run, but if Manziel suffers a slump of any kind, Texas A&M could be set up for a disappointing season.
Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal, folks.
In his second year as a starter, he led his team to an 11-2 record, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Perhaps the most impressive thing he did last year was lead his team over Florida—a team with one of the most ferocious defenses in the nation last season—in the Sugar Bowl.
He'll be joined by 18 returning starters this season—including his top two receivers from last year. There's no reason to believe the Cardinals won't improve upon last year's breakout performance, given the team's relatively easy schedule.
6. South Carolina
Steve Spurrier will need to rely on his defense—led by all-world pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney—to dominate this season. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will likely both see plenty of time on the field again this year, and the team's receiving corps isn't stacked with talent.
Stanford isn't a sexy pick this high, but there are stalwarts on both sides of the ball—especially in the trenches. Stanford beats teams by being more physical and disciplined, and at the end of the season the Cardinal will once again be a top team nationally.
The Wolverines may be a regular atop these rankings in the years to come. Brady Hoke is proving to be one of the nation's top recruiters, and Michigan keeps landing top recruit after top recruit.
This season, however, Michigan will be hard-pressed to keep up with Ohio State in the Big Ten. Devin Gardner still has a lot of maturing to do on the field, and the team's defense lacks firepower up front.
Tajh Boyd has a chance to put together a monster statistical season in his senior year at Clemson. All-American Sammy Watkins returns to campus for his junior season, along with four of Boyd's top targets from last year.
It's going to take a huge effort by quarterback Aaron Murray in order for the Bulldogs to emerge as SEC contenders this year. With defensive stars Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins playing in the NFL this year, Georgia's defense won't be as capable of shutting offenses down.
Florida will be a highly competitive team in the SEC, but offensive production could be a big issue this season. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is about as explosive as a wet firecracker, and he doesn't have much help at the skill positions.
But the Gators will be stout on defense once again, and you can expect Florida to win quite a few ugly games this season.
12. Notre Dame
Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are two of the most dominant interior defenders in the nation, and the two of them will lead a defensive attack that is capable of shutting down opposing offenses. Unfortunately, Tommy Rees doesn't inspire a ton of confidence on the other side of the ball.
With 20 returning starters, the Longhorns should have no trouble winning the Big 12 this year. David Ash is the team's unquestioned starting quarterback this year, and the stability that brings will help the offense develop some much-needed chemistry.
14. Oklahoma State
This team features two capable quarterbacks and an impressive collection of skill-position players. The Cowboys will score plenty of points, but it remains to be seen if the team's defense will be able to keep opponents from doing the same.
You can always count on the Tigers to feature a stifling defense, and this season will be no different.
Watching quarterback Zach Mettenberger grow in new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system will be fascinating. If he can catch on quickly, then LSU may be better than many expect on the offensive side of the ball.
16. Florida State
The Seminoles enter the 2013 season with lots of new starters on both sides of the ball—especially on defense. But new quarterback Jameis Winston will have many of last year's offensive playmakers returning to give him plenty of options.
The Bruins should continue to improve in Jim Mora's second year as the head coach. He affected great change last year, turning UCLA into a winning program, and if he can get his offensive line to play with more consistency, then the Bruins will shock some teams this year.
With nine returning starters—including cornerback Jason Verrett, quarterback Trevone Boykin, running back B.J. Catalon and receiver Brandon Carter—the Horned Frogs could shock some people by winning the Big 12.
The Cornhuskers are going to be one of the nation's most exciting teams to watch on offense. Dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez returns for his senior season, and it isn't a huge stretch to think that he could account for 4,000 all-purpose yards with 40 total touchdowns.
20. Boise State
The Broncos have won 10-plus games every season since 2006.
Losing cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins will be difficult to overcome, but this team will once again be among the top in the nation at the end of the season.
21. Ole Miss
Last season, the Rebels barely managed a winning record, at 7-6. But it was the first winning season the program had had since 2009, and all 11 defensive starters are returning to play again this year. Additionally, quarterback Bo Wallace will carry the team's offense, which also returns a handful of starters.
The Badgers will have a difficult task to replace running back Montee Ball, but James White appears ready to shoulder the burden and carry the team's offense this year. As usual, the offensive line is formidable, and the team's defense will be strong with plenty of returning starters.
23. Fresno State
Don't fall asleep on the Bulldogs.
The team's defense gave up just 23.8 points per game last year, and most of the starters are coming back this year.
Without Matt Barkley, nobody really knows what to expect from USC's offense. But Marqise Lee is the nation's best receiver, and he'll help his new quarterback tremendously.
25. Arizona State
With one of the nation's best defenders in Will Sutton anchoring the Sun Devils' defensive line, Arizona State could surprise a lot of people in the Pac-12. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is underrated, and he'll lead an explosive offense.
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