Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?
The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.
Not the very top. Spoiler alert: Alabama was a pretty easy choice at No. 1 on my preseason ballot.
But deciding who to put second was tricky. Like most polls I've seen, Florida State and Ohio State were my next two teams. The question: What order?
The full top 25 will be announced Monday, and I'll share my ballot in the next few days. In the meantime, let's break down the Seminoles and the Buckeyes.
The case for FSU
*The defense returns almost every starter, including a fully healthy Derwin James. Sports Illustrated put four Seminoles defenders on their list of the nation's top 100 players and could have added a fifth (defensive end Brian Burns).
*Quarterback Deondre Francois was at least solid (if not better) in his first year as a starter. He's tough, and he showed signs of success in the important areas (third down, red zone). It's reasonable to assume he will continue to progress.
*The offensive line should be better, with Alec Eberle and Landon Dickerson recovered from injuries and Rick Leonard entering his second season after switching from defensive end.
*The running backs corps is loaded, even without all-time leading rusher Dalvin Cook.
The case against FSU
*Francois ranked 66th nationally in completion percentage. How much improvement is reasonable to expect in that area?
*What if the offensive line isn't that much better? It could get ugly against top-tier defenses Alabama, Miami, Clemson and Florida, and against a loaded line like North Carolina State. Or Ohio State, in a hypothetical matchup.
*The receiving corps is largely unproven and thin, no matter what coach Jimbo Fisher says. Auden Tate (Wharton High) and Nyqwan Murray have shown glimpses of being great players, but neither has done it consistently. And if they don't, who else on that roster will?
The case for Ohio State
*Urban Meyer is the best college coach not named Nick Saban. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
*Even if defensive coordinator (and former Bucs head coach) Greg Schiano was exaggerating about the talent on the Buckeyes' defensive line, he probably wasn't exaggerating by much.
*Quarterback J.T. Barrett is still around as a fifth-year senior. He's 26-4 as a starter with two top-10 finishes in Heisman Trophy voting.
The case against Ohio State
*Is Barrett that much better than Francois?
*The Buckeyes had three defensive backs chosen in first 24 picks of the NFL draft. No matter how well you recruit (and Meyer recruits very well), it's reasonable to expect some sort of a dip in production.
*Ohio State lost one of its defensive coordinators, Luke Fickell (new head coach at Cincinnati) and added Kevin Wilson at offensive coordinator. That's significant coaching turnover.
*The Buckeyes got crushed 31-0 by Clemson in their last game. That's the same Clemson team that needed two fourth-quarterback comebacks to edge FSU in October.
These were the final two spots I completed on my ballot, and I eventually decided on FSU at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 3.
What do you think? Did I make the right call?