The Associated Press Top 25 preseason college football poll came out over the weekend and with it the news that Alabama will enter the season as the top-ranked team in the country just like the coaches poll.
There are a number of differences in the AP's Top 10 compared to the coaches' poll, but the question remains the same. What can we expect out of the preseason Top 25 and how will these teams fare during the 2010 season?
We break it all down by looking at whether the Top 25 teams deserved their ranking, could they drop and where each team is likely to finish come the end of the season.
The Mountaineers come off back-to-back 9-win seasons under Bill Stewart and could be in a position to grab a wide-open Big East now that Cincinnati is expected to take a step back without Brian Kelly. The Mountaineers are one of only two Big East teams in the preseason Top 25.
West Virginia will break in a new quarterback, relying on either Geno Smith or Coley White, but the Mountaineers retain a reliable piece with Noel Devine at tailback. Devine has seen his name tossed around among preseason Heisman contenders. He could make a run at New York considering how much the West Virginia offense will rely upon him.
West Virginia has the talent to hang in the Top 25 all season, but rising to the top of the conference and making a big jump in the rankings could be a tall order for this year's West Virginia team.
The Beavers have to believe now is their chance to make a run at the Pac-10 title. They have talent at the skill positions with the Rodgers brothers serving as the big playmakers who can take pressure off new quarterback Ryan Katz. Oregon State gets its preseason ranking challenged early in the season with matchups against TCU and Boise State.
Very aggressive scheduling by the Beavers, but it could cost them their spot in the rankings.
Oregon State enters the year with high expectations and could climb the rankings later in the year if the Beavers can grab big home wins over Cal and USC. This ranking reflects a bit of a wait and see approach with Oregon State. The quicker Katz improves, the faster they will climb if they can claim big conference victories.
Momentum is building behind the Georgia Bulldogs as a potential sleeper in the SEC Eest. The Bulldogs get right into their SEC schedule after a very winnable season opener.
How Georgia navigates the two-week stretch against South Carolina and Arkansas will determine how far they can go in the rankings. With two wins, the Bulldogs can grab the earlier momentum that will help them support the sleeper belief.
The Bulldogs finished unranked in both polls for the first time in Mark Richt's tenure in 2009. If new quarterback Aaron Murray can develop quickly (having A.J. Green helps), there should be no repeat of the Bulldogs finishing outside the polls in 2010.
Cam Newton, Auburn's 6-foot-6, 247-pound junior quarterback, gives the Tigers reason to believe they can climb the rankings in 2010. However, Auburn's defense must improve over the unit that gave up 27.5 points per game and finished 86th in the nation last year.
Returning four of the five starters on the offensive line should offer continuity in the running game that finished 13th in the nation last year.
The Tigers slip in the back of the poll as the lowest-ranked SEC team, but one that still can make noise if they snatch a few big victories on their conference schedule.
The Tigers slip five spots in the AP poll compared to the coaches poll. Junior quarterback Jordan Jefferson assumes full command of a Tigers team that faces an uphill task in a loaded SEC West with Alabama, Auburn and Arkansas.
LSU has youth on the defense which head coach Les Miles hopes will quickly mature. There are questions on both sides of the ball in Baton Rouge which makes a No. 21 ranking fair, but it would be even more surprising to see the Tigers fail to develop and finish ranked at the end of the season.
It's a new era in Tallahassee with Jimbo Fisher taking over for Bobby Bowden and Mark Stoops taking over as defensive coordinator. Thankfully for these two coaches they have a veteran returning quarterback in Christian Ponder, a wholly returning offensive line, running back Jermaine Thomas and a stable wide receiver corps.
In all, the Seminoles return 10 starters for a team could make a run at the ACC Championship Game as long as Ponder stays healthy.
Stoops is implementing a new defensive style with six returning starters. The FSU defense struggled numerous times last season and needs to step up to bring balance to the Seminoles if they are to make a serious run. The No. 20 preseason ranking is a solid spot for a team that has higher expectations, if not inflated ones.
Out goes quarterback Darryl Clark, in come the duo of Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin to battle for the position. At least the Nittany Lions still have senior running back Evan Royster who will be the guts and heart of the Penn State offense this season. However, the Penn State offensive line must stay healthy and play better than it did as a unit last year.
Penn State lost a number of blue chips from last year's defense including linebackers Novarro Bowman, Sean Lee and defensive tackle Jared Odrick. That will live space for defensive end Jack Crawford and linebacker Michael Mauti to grab some spotlight.
Essentially though, the Penn State will rest on whether either of the quarterbacks and new team leaders on defense can step up. This ranking may prove to be high if such growth does not occur, but a few clutch wins in conference on the road at Iowa and/or at Ohio State.
We know the Tar Heels are going to play defense this year. With six players like to high on the NFL Draft board next spring, DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant, LB Bruce Carter, CB Kendric Burney, and S Deunta Williams, the Heels are going to pressure the issue every week with their defense.
However, can the offense step up. Led by junior quarterback T. J. Yates, the Heels offense sputtered at numerous points last season. Senior wide receiver Greg Little is expecting to the guy in the UNC offense but they will need younger, unproven wide receivers to step up.
The Tar Heels can make a run at the ACC title if the offense can step up this season. Starting the year at No. 18 is an indicator that there are believers in head coach Butch Davis's team. But can the Tar Heels stay out from under the NCAA microscope and keep all their guys on the field?
Arkansas enters the 2010 as one of the more hyped teams across the country. With Ryan Mallett, potentially the top quarterback in the 2010 NFL Draft, under center the Razorbacks are being thought of as a potential threat to knock off Alabama in the SEC West. Is it likely?
One would be hard pressed to find a person willing to take Arkansas over the Crimson Tide, but Arkansas does get Alabama at home early in the year for one of the most intriguing September matchups anywhere in the country.
Eighteen returning starters and a veteran, big arm quarterback could make Arkansas one of the surprises in the SEC this year. Early tests at Georgia and home to Alabama in September will tell us a lot about this team and whether it can really move up the rankings as the season goes on.
Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt returns to lead the triple-option offense that will use the tandem of Anthony Allen and Roddy Jones to fill the void left by Jonathan Dwyer. Tyler Melton and Stephen Hill are looked upon to fill the spot left by Demaryius Thomas.
Former University of Virginia head coach Al Groh will now run the Yellow Jackets' defense. He is installing a 3-4 defense that will have to improve upon the nearly 360 yards per game the unit allowed last season.
In the end, the Yellow Jackets season will boil down to how effectively and efficiently they can run the triple-option with new pieces in place and whether or not the 3-4 defense will have an instant impact on defense.
The No. 17 ranking is a bit low for a defending conference champion with a returning quarterback. Questions on defense are a likely source for that drop.
Pittsburgh returns a potential Heisman candidate in running back Dion Lewis and national award candidate Greg Romeus.
However, the Panthers' season could hinge on the development of new quarterback Tino Sunseri. Sunseri will benefit from projected first round wide receiver Jon Baldwin in addition to Lewis.
The Panthers return nine starters on defense with only openings at cornerback needing to be filled. Romeus anchors a defense that simply needs make big stops and prevent the Panthers from losing so many close games like they have in recent seasons. Starting at No. 15 shows the coaches' faith in the Panthers ability to do that.
USC is ineligible for the 2010 coaches poll, but the Trojans check in at No. 14 in the AP Poll. It's a new era in Troy as Lane Kiffin takes over a Trojans team with sophomore Matt Barkley under center for his true sophomore season. How big of a jump Barkley makes in 2010 will determine if USC can overcome its rocky offseason, continued losses to the NFL draft and make another run at the Pac-10 title.
USC returns only five starters on each side of the ball from a team that scored significantly fewer points and gave up more points than previous averages in 2009. The Trojans need every bit of Matt Barkley to be the guy for the Trojans.
There is still enough pure talent on the roster to land USC another 9-win or 10-win season, but do they have enough firepower to get the big, conference-deciding win in the Pac-10?
The expectations are growing in Miami for a Hurricanes team expected to make a big jump this season. Quarterback Jacory Harris is looked upon to lead by example and get the Hurricanes back in the ACC title discussions.
There are murmurs that running back Graig Cooper, who blew out his knee in the Champs Sports Bowl last year, could be back early in the season but so far has been held out of recent scrimmages.
There is plenty of talent on the offense for the Hurricanes, but whether or not the team gels in time to land a big win in Columbus against Ohio State and other early tests against Pitt and Clemson.
On defense, the Hurricanes must do a better job after getting after the quarterback. The unit finished near the bottom of the ACC in sacks last season. If the defense cannot get pressure early in the season, and suffer early losses because of it, the feel-good mentality in Miami may begin to wane.
The pollsters put stock in Miami to continue their improvements under Randy Shannon, but at No. 13 it is still a bit of a wait-and-see approach.
The Badgers return quarterback Scott Tolzien and All Big-Ten batting ram John Clay. Tolzien, now a senior, will be required to do more with his arm than just handing off to Clay behind a massive, veteran offensive line.
Defensively, Wisconsin needs to improve against the pass and while they finished fourth in the conference in points per game allowed (24.3), improving that stat should help them avoid let downs like the ones the Badgers have suffered in recent seasons.
Nevertheless, this is a well-balanced team with upperclassmen leadership on both sides of the ball. The pollsters are believing in Wisconsin, but it may be tough to really buy stock until they score a landmark win over Ohio State and/or Iowa who the Badgers play in back-to-back weeks in October. Those two games will define Wisconsin's season and go a long way to determining their final spot in the regular-season polls.
The Ducks turn the keys over to (likely) new quarterback Nate Costa who steps in for the dismissed Jeremiah Masoli and running back LaMichael James will miss the season opener.
Nevertheless, the Oregon offense should still be capable of racking up huge chunks of yardage. The question is whether or not the Ducks can do it at the rate under Masoli which was good for over 400 yards per game.
The defense returns eight starters but has some holes in the pass rush. Either way, the Ducks shot at repeating as Pac-10 champs will hinge on whether or not the team can keep the offense humming.
A No. 11 ranking is a statement that the AP believes the Ducks can repeat, but is it an amibitious ranking given the turnover at quarterback?
The Hokies will need quarterback Tyrod Taylor to step up and make this offense an explosive element with returning running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin give Taylor weapons on the edge.
The Hokies defense and special teams is one of the most sure things in college football. Head coach Frank Beamer will have those units ready go to Week 1 against Boise State. Yet, the Hokies season will hinge on Taylor's consistency.
The coaches poll went very aggressive and ranked Virginia Tech as the sixth best team in the country. A No. 10 ranking feels more appropriate for a team with talent on both sides of the ball, but some questions under center.
The Hawkeyes and their fans are dreaming of a national championship game appearance this season, and justifiably so. Iowa returns senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi and a group of four running backs (1 senior, 3 sophomores) which should give the Hawkeyes very good balance on offense.
It is on defense though where Iowa hopes to really win ball games. Seniors Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christan Ballard lead one of the nation's best defensive lines that is rounded out by defensive end Broderick Binns.
Iowa returns nine defensive starters in all, but must replace two spots in the linebacking corps. Nevertheless, this is an Hawkeyes team that ranked in the top 10 nationally in five defensive categories. If the Hawkeyes can somehow manage to improve upon that, they could be looking at their first outright Big Ten title under Kirk Ferentz.
The pollsters put Iowa right down the middle at No. 9, but if the Hawkeyes can cruise their pre-conference schedule and the Big Ten unscathed it will not matter where they start the season.
The Cornhuskers return 15 starters on both sides of the ball, but it is at two positions that could dictate their season. Quarterback Zac Lee, who returns from arm surgery, but stake his unchallenged claim to the position while the defense must replace the crater-sized void left by Ndamukong Suh.
Jared Crick will be relied on to fill the mighty big shoes left by Suh, but this is a unit that should still be nasty enough to stifle opponents and lead Nebraska back to the Big XII title game.
Running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead will be relied on to bring balance to the Cornhuskers offense that will need to be more consistent than it was in the second half of 2009.
The pollsters are putting high stock in the Cornhuskers who face just one team ranked in the preseason polls. In fact, Nebraska's ability to get to a BCS game could hinge on what it does on October 16th when it welcomes Texas to Lincoln.
The Sooners can put the lost 2009 season behind them and start fresh with returning quarterback Landry Jones and a duo of offensive playmakers in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles. The offensive line, however, must step up and replace left tackle Trent Williams and Brody Eldridge.
Defensively, the Sooners return six starters including defensive end Jeremy Beal and defensive tackle Adrian Taylor.
This should be a very balanced Sooners team that may again have its conference fortunes rest on what it does against Texas. If Landry Jones exceeds expectations, it could be the Sooners and not the Longhorns advancing to the Big XII title game.
The Horned Frogs should again be in the driver's seat of the Mountain West Conference as they return conference player of the year quarterback Andy Dalton and a tandem of running backs Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley will be Dalton's go-to guy while offensive tackle Marcus Cannon is a bona fide NFL prospect.
Losing Daryl Washington and Jerry Hughes is a blow to the defense that allowed only 12.8 points per game last season (6th in the nation), but TCU has the skilled players in place to give the team strong enough balance to what should be an explosive offense.
No. 7 for TCU is no hype. This is a team that could easily play in another BCS game in January if not more.
A matchup against Oregon State in the first week of the season will test TCU's early rankings, but the veteran qualities of this team figure to keep TCU high on the ranking board throughout the season.
Like Oklahoma, the Longhorns head into a new season with a new identity under center. Garrett Gilbert takes the reins of the Longhorns who have plenty of strength on defense and at running back led by Tre Newton and Vondrell McGee.
The Longhorns have some question marks on the offensive line and need veteran receivers Malcolm Williams and James Kirkendoll to step up following the graduation of Jordan Shipley, but it's difficult to see Texas having a down year with the amount of sheer talent they have on the field.
The Longhorns made it to the title game last year and No. 4 is a bold statement with a team debuting a new quarterback, but it's tough to discount the Longhorns.
The Gators too enter a new era with quarterback John Brantley taking over for the venerable Tim Tebow. Behind Brantley will be junior running back Jeff Demps and wide receivers Deonte Thompson and Omarius Hines. The Gators offensive line will feature four seniors but sophomore left tackle Xavier Nixon will may have his hands full keeping Brantley clean.
Defensively, the Gators are led by senior strong safety Ahmad Black and four seniors in the front seven.
The Gators break in a new face of the team, but this still a squad with as much talent as team in the country.
No. 4? Tough to argue against it, but that's putting a lot of preseason stock in the Gators in the first year of the post-Tebow era. There is going to be a drop-off, yet how much will be on Brantley's shoulder.
The AP poll goes even more daring than the coaches poll by elevating the Broncos to the No. 3 team in the country. Granted the AP poll has no bearing on the BCS, but that is quite a statement for a team that could play for the national championship in January.
Quarterback Kellen Moore is a legitimate Heisman contender with NFL-caliber talent all-around him on the offense including running backs Doug Martin and D.J. Harper and wide receiver Austin Pettis.
The Broncos will rely on that offense to get them through their early showdowns and then blowout their weak WAC schedule en route to Glendale-this time for the BCS National Championship.
Can Boise State live up to the hype, finish the year undefeated and become the first non-BCS team to play for the BCS title?
Ohio State is already thinking about making its third trip to Glendale for a national championship appearance. Led by junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a stable of running backs in Brandon Saine, Dan Herron, Jamaal Berry, and Carlos Hyde, and wide receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher the Buckeyes return all of their offense weapons.
The OSU offensive line is anchored by center Mike Brewster, guard Justin Boren and tackle J.B. Shugarts.
Defensive, the Buckeyes return key cogs at every level including senior Cameron Heyward, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan and cornerback Chemdi Chekwa.
Ohio State is a preseason favorite because of its talent all over the field. If Pryor can make the jump many expect of him, the Buckeyes could very get their third crack at a national title in the last five seasons.
Nevertheless, a early home game against Miami plus late-season road tests at Wisconsin and at Iowa will be the biggest games of the year for the Buckeyes.
The defending national champions start at as the nation's top ranked team as they should. They return the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram and senior quarterback Greg McElroy. Junior wide receivers Marquis Maze and Julio Jones give McElroy the same weapons he had a year ago while the offensive line returns three starters led by left tackle James Carpenter.
The Alabama defense, however, returns only two starters and must replace leaders like Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody. How quickly that defensive unit gels, especially at the linebacker position, may determine if the Crimson Tide can repeat.
The Tide welcome Penn State to Tuscaloosa in Week 2 which should go their way, but battles with Arkansas and Florida to begin the SEC schedule will be the biggest SEC games of the season.