By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 31, 2001
1. FLORIDA: Everything is in place for Steve Spurrier to bring a second national title to Gainesville. The big games are at home and a young team that won the SEC last season has experience. How about a rematch with Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national title? Key game: Florida State, Nov. 17.
2. MIAMI: The 'Canes believe they should have played for the national title last season, perhaps a motivating factor. Quarterback Ken Dorsey is one of several weapons for new coach Larry Coker, who goes up against legend Joe Paterno in his first game. Key game: at Virginia Tech, Dec. 1.
3. OKLAHOMA: Can quarterback Nate Hyble replace the magic created by Josh Heupel? Can the Sooners avoid major injuries? The defending national champs are a good bet to be a big part of the mix again. Key game: Texas, Oct. 6.
4. OREGON: Coming off the school's first 10-win season, the Ducks look to be part of the national championship race. Quarterback Joey Harrington is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Key game: Oregon State, Dec. 1.
5. NEBRASKA: The Cornhuskers have a lot of question marks for a team with so much talent. But eight home games and senior quarterback Eric Crouch give Nebraska fans plenty of hope. Key game: Oklahoma, Oct. 27.
6. TEXAS: Coach Mack Brown continues to attract elite players to Austin, and a manageable schedule should mean a run at the national title. Quarterbacks Chris Simms and Major Applewhite give the Longhorns a lot of options. Key game: Oklahoma, Oct. 6.
7. TENNESSEE: A tough schedule likely will doom the Vols, who play at Arkansas, Florida, Alabama and Notre Dame. Yet they have the talent to survive. Key game: at Florida, Sept. 15.
8. FLORIDA STATE: Could this be the year the Seminoles finally topple out of the Top 5? Without a proven quarterback, it appears so, although another ACC title is within reach. Key game: Georgia Tech, Sept. 15.
9. VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies' lackluster non-conference schedule will kill them in the new BCS computer criteria, and replacing Michael Vick won't be easy. But Tech will still contend for the Big East title. Key game: Miami, Dec. 1.
10. GEORGIA TECH: A high-powered offense, led by quarterback George Godsey of Tampa, will have the Yellow Jackets contending for the ACC title. The offense will need to overcome some defensive deficiencies. Key game: at Florida State, Sept. 15.
11. KANSAS STATE: Once the laughingstock of the nation, the Wildcats are no longer taken for granted. A first-year starter at quarterback will make repeating as Big 12 North champs difficult. Key game: at Nebraska, Nov. 10.
12. MICHIGAN: Losing quarterback Drew Henson to baseball hurt, as did losing receiver David Terrell to the NFL. But the Wolverines still could challenge in an up-in-the-air Big Ten. Key game: Ohio State, Nov. 24.
13. UCLA: The Bruins never will finish this high unless their defense improves. They have lost 15 of their last 25 games, with the defense yielding 412 yards per game last season. The offense is strong, but strong enough? Key game: Washington, Oct. 13.
14. WASHINGTON: The Rose Bowl champs won't be back in Pasadena for the national title game, but six starters on offense and defense return. Another Pac-10 title is possible. Key game: at Oregon State, Nov. 10.
15. LOUISIANA STATE: The Tigers are favored in the SEC West because 17 starters return from last year's 8-4 team and seven games are at home. They also have been classic underachievers in recent years. Key game: at Tennessee, Sept. 29.
16. OREGON STATE: You have to give coach Dennis Erickson credit for the job he's done with the Beavers. After more than a quarter century of consecutive losing seasons, Erickson got Oregon State to consecutive bowl games and tied for the Pac-10 title last year. The Beavers should be in the running again. Key game: Washington, Nov. 10.
17. NORTHWESTERN: A shaky defense is the only thing that could stand in the way of a Big Ten title. Under coach Randy Walker, the Wildcats should have one of the best offenses in the country. Key game: at Purdue, Oct. 27.
18. MISSISSIPPI STATE: Coach Jackie Sherrill is second in tenure among SEC coaches to Florida's Steve Spurrier and has turned the Bulldogs into consistent contenders. An experienced offense will take them a long way. Key game: LSU, Oct. 20.
19. NOTRE DAME: The 41-9 thumping by Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl marred what was otherwise an excellent season for the Irish, who finished 9-3. The schedule is brutal, with three of the first four on the road. Key game: at Nebraska, Sept. 8.
20. CLEMSON: If quarterback Woodrow Dantzler is healthy, the Tigers will have a high-scoring offense. Coach Tommy Bowden needs to shore up his defense. Key game: Florida State, Nov. 3.
21. COLORADO: Coach Gary Barnett needs to make some progress after a disappointing 3-8 season. A friendlier schedule will help. Key game: Nebraska, Nov. 23.
22. SOUTH CAROLINA: From laughingstock to contender, the Gamecocks must now deal with the problems that come with expectations. Running back Derek Watson should help. Key game: at Georgia, Sept. 8.
23. ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide can't possibly be as bad as last year. New coach Dennis Franchione will see to that. Key game: at Auburn, Nov. 17.
24. PURDUE -- Drew Brees is gone, but the Boilermakers finally have a defense. And with no dominant Big Ten team, a solid season is ahead. Key game: at Michigan, Oct. 13.
25. GEORGIA: Former FSU assistant Mark Richt inherits a talented team, but one that will have a tough time making a move in the SEC East. And he could have just as much trouble as predecessor Jim Donnan in knocking off rivals Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. Key game: at Georgia Tech, Nov. 24.