With many media outlets already releasing college football preseason top 25 polls, including more than a few here at B/R, it's time to take a look at some of the teams who will supposedly be challenging for their conference, if not the national championship crown.
Looking ahead to next year, no team emerges as one who has a clear path to the national championship. Every team will have their challenges, both on and off the field.
So, what are those challenges?
Well, here are the single biggest challenges facing every preseason top 25 team going into the 2010 season. Whether it's player suspensions, retiring coaches, or simply dealing with superior opponents, every team will have some obstacles to overcome next year.
Note: Preseason rankings were based on ESPN College Football Live's top 25 picks.
Challenge: Overcoming an inconsistent offense
Although North Carolina should have one of the stingiest defenses in the country next year, one huge question remains: can their offense keep up?
Last year, with quarterback T.J. Yates throwing more picks than scores, the running game ranking 76th in the nation with only 1,727 yards and 14 touchdowns, and with a terrible offensive line, the Tar Heels simply didn't have the offense to seriously compete for the ACC title.
If anything is going to change next year, all facets of the offense need to be more consistent.
Otherwise, Butch Davis and company will have a return visit to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Challenge: The loss of Toby Gerhart
Despite losing Heisman finalist running back Toby Gerhart, the Stanford Cardinals are in great position to win the Pac-10.
With quarterback Andrew Luck expected to lead the offense to another great year after showing what he's capable of last year (2,575 yards, 13 TDs, only 4 INTs), Stanford should easily compete for a shot at the Rose Bowl.
However, the big question is: Can Luck put up those same kinds of numbers with Gerhart gone?
With almost 2,000 yards rushing last year, Gerhart undoubtedly drew the defense's attention and took a lot of pressure off of Luck. With Gerhart now in the NFL, will Luck be able to shoulder the burden or will opposing defenses shut down the Stanford air attack?
Challenge: Beating Florida
Like always, the SEC East will probably come down to the game between Florida and Georgia in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
This year should be no different.
However, this year Florida is "rebuilding," giving the Bulldogs a great shot at a victory, despite losing some of their key players from 2009 themselves.
Georgia will be led by redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King. The Bulldog offense should be capable of going score for score with the Gators.
But, giving up over 26 points a game last year, can Georgia hold off Florida long enough to sneak out with a victory?
Last year they finished a disappointing 4-4 in conference play, but luckily for the Bulldogs, in 2010 their toughest true road game will be at Auburn and they don't have to face LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas.
Therefore, if their defense can hold up and Murray and the rest of the offense plays up to expectations, their Jacksonville matchup with Florida could be the only thing standing in their way from making the short trip to the Georgia Dome in early December.
Challenge: Overcoming their defense
While the loss of quarterback Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard certainly deals a blow to Cincinnati's potent offense, the real challenge for them in 2010 will be with their defense.
Although their defense was good enough for them to win the Big East last year, their Sugar Bowl loss to Florida was evidence enough that a Big East-winning defense may not be up to par when it comes to national standards. And after two consecutive BCS bowl appearances, the Bearcats want to compete at a national level, not just within the Big East.
This year's version is also without six of its starters from last year. That could be a good thing, but more than likely the inexperience will lead to another rough year on the defensive side of the ball.
With their offense, the Big East title may still be in reach, but a return to a BCS bowl would probably produce another blowout with the Bearcats on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Challenge: Bobby Bowden's retirement
Florida State is going to have a good team coming back.
With Christian Ponder at the helm, Jermaine Thomas taking the handoffs, and Bert Reed hauling in passes, the Seminoles, on paper, have one of the league's best offenses and should compete for the ACC crown.
But something is missing.
Oh yeah, the second-winningest coach in NCAA history: Bobby Bowden.
New coach Jimbo Fisher has been waiting in the wings for years and now he finally gets his shot. Although Fisher may have been the de facto coach for the past few years, Seminole players will still have to adjust to life without Bowden.
Some may say the Seminole defense is the bigger problem going into next year, but until Fisher proves he can lead the team to wins, dealing with a new head coach will certainly be a challenge for FSU's players and fans.
You can't just replace a legend.
Challenge: Win the Civil War
Although Oregon State lost starting quarterback Sean Canfield to the New Orleans Saints, the Beavers still return the dynamic Rodgers brothers.
Jacquizz should once again have a big year running the ball and, if Ryan Katz can step up at quarterback, brother James will be a force down the field as well. Needless to say, Oregon State should once again compete for the Pac-10 title.
So, what's stopping the Beavers from heading down to Pasadena in January? Well, most notably, in-state rival Oregon.
The last two years, with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, Oregon State has faltered in the Civil War. In 2008, it was a 65-38 blowout. Last year, it was a 37-33 heartbreaker. It could very well come down to this rivalry game in 2010 as well.
Not to say the rest of their schedule is easy, but if Oregon State wants a New Year's Day bowl, they will have to beat their waterfowl rivals.
Challenge: No quarterback
Although Penn State loses their top three linebackers, their biggest offseason loss comes on the other side of the ball: quarterback.
The Nittany Lions aren't called "Linebacker U" for nothing. They simply reload at the position.
However, they aren't as well known for their quarterbacks. And, with the loss of Daryll Clark, a huge question looms in Happy Valley: Who is going to take over at quarterback?
Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin appear to be the frontrunners, but true freshman Paul Jones impressed in Penn State's spring game. Whoever comes out as winner, he will have some big cleats to fill.
For PSU to have any shot at the Big Ten title, their replacement for Clark needs to create plays and limit turnovers.
Challenge: No pass defense
Although the return of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett virtually ensures that Arkansas will once again have one of the nation's best offenses, that wasn't the Razorbacks' problem last year.
It was their defense.
Arkansas allowed almost 26 points a game last year and ranked dead last in the SEC against the pass (allowing 22 touchdowns). With Auburn, LSU, and Alabama all competing with Arkansas for the SEC West crown, the defense will have to improve if Arkansas wants to go the SEC Championship Game, let alone the BCS.
Playing in a conference like the SEC, having a good defense is simply a must. For Arkansas to get over the hump, their challenge is to improve a pitiful pass defense.
Challenge: Keeping up in the ACC
Although Georgia Tech lost their top rusher (Jonathan Dwyer) and top receiver (Demaryius Thomas) in the offseason, with the return of quarterback Josh Nesbitt, the Yellowjackets should once again be running all over opponents in 2010.
No, it's not going to be anything Georgia Tech does internally that will pose a huge challenge in the 2010 season. Paul Johnson has never had problems plugging in newcomers to the triple-option offense.
It's the fact that the ACC should be much improved next year.
Last year, Georgia Tech benefited from playing in a very average ACC. Next year, they have to go to North Carolina, Virginia Tech and have a home bout with Miami; all three teams are in ESPN's preseason top 25.
Georgia Tech will once again have a solid team next year, but while they stayed stagnant, the rest of the ACC improved.
They'll need exceptional performances next year to repeat as ACC champs.
Challenge: Overcoming the Big East stigma
Although Pittsburgh lost quarterback Bill Stull in the offseason, they return a lot of their team, including last year's freshman phenom running back Dion Lewis.
Tino Sunseri will take over for Stull under center and defensive end Greg Romeus looks to anchor a solid defensive unit.
Simply put, there is no reason why Pittsburgh shouldn't win the Big East and be heading to a BCS bowl in January.
However, many believe that the Big East simply isn't as good as the other BCS conferences, with the evidence being Cincinnati's two consecutive losses in BCS bowl games.
Now, it's certainly anything but a guarantee that Pitt will run the table. They have a tough season opener against Utah, host Miami (FL) in a primetime non-conference showdown and have to take on two-time defending Big East champion Cincinnati.
But, if there's a "non-elite" team that could go undefeated, it's Pitt.
The Big East just isn't that grueling.
And, if they do get in that position, because of the perception towards the Big East, they may be punished by being left out of the national championship discussion.
Challenge: Adjusting to Lane Kiffin
Like Florida State, USC will be playing 2010 without their long-time coach.
Pete Carroll, during his time at SoCal, led the Trojans to one of their most successful eras in school history. But, just like that, Carroll took a job a thousand miles up the West Coast in Seattle and USC hired Lane Kiffin, a coach who couldn't succeed in the NFL and only coached one mediocre year at Tennessee.
However, unlike Fisher with Florida State, Kiffin is brand-new. Fisher coached for years at State before assuming the head job. Adjusting to an unfamiliar coach could derail a very talented team.
Other than quarterback Matt Barkley, USC lost much of their offensive production to graduation or the NFL, so Kiffin will be in a great position to mold his players how he wants.
Many have heavily criticized the hire before the season has even begun, but only USC's play on the field will determine whether Kiffin is a fit in L.A. However, with the kind of talent USC has, Kiffin's first year should be a great indicator as to how the Trojans will perform under his regime.
Barkley now has a year of experience after a good freshman year and a great group of wide receivers to work with. Although the secondary needs to be replaced, USC has a great defensive front.
There simply is no reason why USC shouldn't have a successful season.
In the minds of USC fans, a return to the Emerald Bowl would not be a good start for Kiffin.
One word for why LSU won't be playing in the SEC Championship: Alabama.
Despite losing running back Charles Scott and wide receiver Brandon Lafell, LSU's offense, led by quarterback Jordan Jefferson, should be more than adequate to compete for the SEC title next year.
As far as their defense, the Tigers also lose a few key players, but again, should be good enough to compete in the SEC.
However, that would be the case in almost any other year.
Games against Florida and Arkansas will also pose huge challenges, but, for LSU to win the SEC West, they would have to beat 'Bama.
There's no way around it.
If they can do that, and they do get the Tide in Baton Rouge, an SEC title is certainly within reach.
Challenge: Jacory Harris' inconsistency
Going into the 2010 season, the Miami Hurricanes may have their highest expectations since joining the ACC six years ago.
With the emergence of Jacory Harris as possibly the premier signal-caller in the ACC, much of Miami's optimism centers on the junior quarterback.
However, for Miami to compete for the ACC title, Harris' consistency must improve.
He threw 17 interceptions last year and completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Plus, he didn't even participate in spring practice while recovering from thumb surgery.
If in 2010, Harris is once again inconsistent, it will be a major obstacle in Miami's path to the BCS.
Challenge: The loss of four stars
Sam Bradford. Gerald McCoy. Trent Williams. Jermaine Gresham.
All Oklahoma Sooners in 2009. All NFL first-round draft picks in 2010. So, as you can tell, the Sooners have a little bit of rebuilding to do in 2010.
But, they're still ranked No. 12 in the preseason. Why? Because the word "rebuild" isn't in Oklahoma's vocabulary.
After Bradford went down last year, freshman quarterback Landry Jones filled in admirably, throwing for 26 touchdowns. So, the Sooners have proved that they can win without Bradford.
Now, can they win without the other three first-rounders?
And not just a Big 12 championship. No, that's child's play for the boys of Norman.
Can running back DeMarco Murray and the Sooners overcome their offseason losses to compete for a national championship?
Challenge: A questionable defense
With an offense that returns all but one of their starters, the Wisconsin Badgers should be one of the most high-powered teams in the country.
Heisman contending running back John Clay, few-mistake quarterback Scott Tolzien, and star-in-the-making wide receiver Nick Toon are all back for the 2010 season.
35 points a game is definitely a possibility.
But if anything will derail the Badgers' run at the Big Ten title, it's their defense.
With the loss of star defensive end O'Brien Schofield, leading tackler Jaevery McFadden, and secondary leader Chris Maragos, the Wisky 'D' will have its work cut out for it in 2010.
Chris Borland will anchor the linebacking corps and J.J. Watt should fill in for the loss of Schofield, but the secondary could be their downfall.
If Wisconsin can't defend the pass, their wins in 2010 will come in the form of shootouts.
Challenge: Jeremiah Masoli's suspension
With 17 returning starters from a squad that made a Rose Bowl appearance last year, the Oregon Ducks looked primed to start the year in top five and contend for the national championship.
Then, starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli stole a laptop from a frat house. And there went his 2010 season.
After dealing with LaGarrette Blount and the "punch heard 'round the world" last year, Oregon coach Chip Kelly had had enough. Masoli would be suspended for the entire season.
Simply dealing with life without Masoli will be the Ducks' biggest challenge next year.
If Nate Costa or Darren Thomas can step up at quarterback next year, the Oregon 'O' should be fine and Pac 10 title may still be within reach. But neither of them are Jeremiah Masoli.
A national championship may now be out of the question.
Challenge: Get more out of the passing game
Although the Cornhuskers lost their best defensive player (Ndamukong Suh) to the NFL, their defense should once again be one of the best in the nation.
It's their offense, specifically their passing game, that may hold them back from a Big 12 title. Winning the Big XII North shouldn't be a problem, but, as evidenced by their loss to Texas last year in the championship game, their offense needs to improve.
Quarterback Zac Lee needs to complete better than 58 percent of his passes and throw more than 14 touchdowns. Receiver Niles Paul and tight end Mike McNeill will also have to step up if the passing game is to improve.
With running back Roy Helu Jr. coming back, the running game should be fine.
If Nebraska wants a return to the glory days, a consistent pass attack is essential. These days, without being able to throw the ball, your team can only go so far.
Challenge: Replace the offensive line
Coming off an Orange Bowl win, Iowa expects nothing less than a Big Ten title and a possible trip to the national championship.
With Adrian Clayborn on the defensive line, Iowa will have the best defense in the conference, if not the nation.
They also have the talent on offense, with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and running back Adam Robinson all coming back.
They even get their top four contenders for the Big Ten title at home.
But they are missing something big, literally and figuratively: almost their entire offensive line. If they can't find consistency on the O-line, forget about any offensive consistency.
Defense may win championships, but not really.
Iowa will need some offense if they want to win it all.
Some teams may complain about the players they lost in the offseason, but after they take a look at Florida's losses, they have no reason to talk.
The Gators lost Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Joe Haden, and seven other players to the NFL. So, in total, Florida lost nine players to the NFL.
You can't easily replace that kind of talent.
John Brantley appears to be capable of stepping in for Tebow and they have a trio of wideouts that could put up some good numbers.
However, maybe the biggest loss is not Tebow as a passer, but as a runner. He led the team in rushing last year and Florida has yet to find a halfback in the offseason.
This will be a young team that could definitely make a run at the SEC, but their inexperience may be too much to overcome to make a national championship run.
Challenge: Overcoming the mid-major stigma
With almost their entire offense returning, TCU will have one of the most high-powered attacks in the country and should easily repeat as Mountain West champions.
But they don't want to just win the Mountain West. They don't even want to just get into a BCS game. They want a shot at the crystal ball.
However, with an unimpressive performance last year in the Fiesta Bowl, their first in a BCS game, the committee may be hesitant to put the Horned Frogs in the national championship.
But if they beat Oregon State in their opener and blow out the rest of their Mountain West opponents, TCU just may be able to overcome that small conference stigma.
Challenge: Avoiding a loss
Honestly, there aren't going to be many obstacles in front of Virginia Tech winning the ACC. They are simply the best team in the conference.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will anchor what should be a potent offense.
Their defensive line has to be rebuilt, but other than that, the defense that allowed only 16 points a game last year should once again be one of the best in the ACC.
The Virginia Tech Hokies are solid through and through.
However, they do have a tough schedule, getting Boise State in their opener and having to travel to both North Carolina and Miami, so having one loss may be inevitable.
But an ACC title and a return to a BCS bowl should keep fans in Blacksburg content.
Challenge: Establish a running game
Like their counterparts in Gainsville, Texas will be without some familiar faces in 2010, most notably Colt McCoy.
However, Garrett Gilbert, after an impressive spring game performance, seems capable of stepping in for McCoy. And it's not like he doesn't have experience.
He only took the helm for the Longhorns in the national championship after McCoy went down.
Their defense also loses some key parts, including star safety Earl Thomas. But they too should be in prime form come September.
Their running game is the only real question heading into next year. Leading rusher Tre' Newton is back, but he only had 552 yards last year and the Longhorns will be hoping for a little more production from him so the pressure isn't solely on Gilbert.
If the Longhorn running backs can produce, relieving some of the pressure on Gilbert, the offense should be running on all cylinders.
Another Big 12 title and a return to the national championship are certainly possible.
Challenge: Beating Virginia Tech
With the return of 23 of the 24 starters that beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, it's safe to say Boise State has some high expectations going into 2010. Cornerback Kyle Wilson is the only starting Bronco gone from last year.
With a relatively easy conference schedule, Boise State should run the table in the WAC. Plus, they get Oregon State at home in mid-September.
The one thing standing in their national title path? Oh, just a little matchup against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in their season opener.
And, this certainly isn't a minor obstacle.
VATech will give the Broncos all they can handle and if they fall short in week one, any shot at a national title would disappear.
Challenge: Winning road games at Wisconsin and Iowa
If Terrelle Pryor can repeat his Rose Bowl performance for all of 2010 and the defense can replace departed safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, Ohio State may just be the best team in the nation.
Pryor seems poised to finally live up the hype in 2010 and has more than enough weapons to work with on offense, including a duo of running backs, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine.
On defense, Cameron Heyward looks like he could emerge as one of the best defensive ends in the country and Ross Homan and Brian Rolle anchor the linebacking corps.
The only things standing in the way of another Big Ten title and a national championship berth are two road trips: Madison and Iowa City.
Not only will the Badgers and Hawkeyes challenge for the Big Ten title, but the Buckeyes will also have to go to into hostile territory.
Plus, Camp Randall and Kinnick Stadium are two of the toughest places to play in the country.
Challenge: Meeting Expectations
Although Alabama lost seven players to the NFL Draft, they are once again expected to not only win the SEC, but also run the table and win the national championship. Two years in a row.
In this day in age, it is simply not that easy.
Greg McElroy and Heisman winner Mark Ingram will run the offense and Donta Hightower should return from knee surgery to anchor the defense. Looking at the roster, this Crimson Tide roster is probably the most talented in the nation.
Their offense will once again be explosive and their defense will be stingy.
But repeating as national champions would be an incredible accomplishment even for coach Nick Saban. One hiccup and it's all over.
First off, in the regular season, they host Penn State and Florida and go to Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU. They must then beat their opponent in the SEC Championship, and finally, of course, win the BCS National Championship Game.
Easier said than done.