St. Petersburg Times staff writer Antonya English selects our preseason Top 25 college football teams:
Comment: The Sooners have big holes to fill in the secondary and on the defensive line, and their running game might be an issue. But they return one of the best quarterbacks in the nation (Landry Jones, more than 4,700 yards passing in 2010), so they can probably just outscore their opponent and be fine.
Key game: Sept. 17 at Florida State
Comment: Defense wins championships, and the Tide has defense. Dont'a Hightower leads a full complement of NFL-caliber linebackers, and the secondary is loaded. QB Greg McElroy and WR Julio Jones are gone, but Heisman candidate RB Trent Richardson is capable of carrying the offensive load.
Key game: Nov. 26 at Auburn
Comment: The Ducks lost three starters on their offensive line and a chunk of their front four, but they still have QB Darron Thomas and all-everything RB LaMichael James, important elements as a lot of Pac-12 teams struggle to find themselves.
Key game: Saturday vs. LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington
4. Boise State
Comment: The Broncos move into the Mountain West led by QB Kellen Moore (3,845 yards passing and 35 TDs last season) and senior RB Doug Martin (1,260 yards). Still, Boise State remains a team trying to prove it belongs with the big boys.
Key game: Saturday at Georgia
Comment: The Tigers' national title hopes might have vanished at a Baton Rouge bar two weeks ago. A fight that involved players, including starting QB Jordan Jefferson (suspended Friday), threatens the season. Still, the secondary is outstanding, and TB Spencer Ware could shine.
Key game: Saturday vs. Oregon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington
6. Florida State
Comment: The Seminoles return more than a dozen starters from a team that stunned many with 10 wins last season. QB EJ Manuel remains the wild card, but speed and skill abound on this squad because of stellar recruiting by coach Jimbo Fisher.
Key game: Sept. 17 vs. Oklahoma
7. Texas A&M
Comment: Nine offensive starters return from a team that knocked off Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska last season. Fluke? Time will tell. QB Ryan Tanneyhill took over midseason and never looked back. The defense must overcome key losses.
Key game: Nov. 5 at Oklahoma
8. Oklahoma State
Comment: The Cowboys lost offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia, but QB Brandon Weeden (4,277 yards passing last season) and WR Justin Blackmon (20 TDs) remain threats. Their big problem is the loss of five starters on defense.
Key game: Sept. 24 at Texas A&M
Comment: The Cornhuskers leap into the Big Ten trying to make their presence known immediately, but they need more this year from QB Taylor Martinez so they aren't so run-predictable. If he produces, look out new conference foes.
Key game: Nov. 19 at Michigan
Comment: How much the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL hurts remains to be seen, but the good news for Cardinal fans is QB and Heisman contender Andrew Luck stuck around, along with key offensive players. The onus is on new coach David Shaw.
Key game: Oct. 29 at USC
Comment: The Badgers will be working with a new quarterback, but their stingy defense remains mostly intact and will benefit from a ball-control-type offense led by its strong rushing attack.
Key game: Oct. 1 vs. Nebraska
12. Virginia Tech
Comment: Logan Thomas replaced QB Tyrod Taylor, and the Hokies possibly won't miss a beat. Coach Frank Beamer's defense should be improved from last season, and the Hokies' schedule is in their favor.
Key game: Nov. 10 at Georgia Tech
13. South Carolina
Comment: The Gamecocks are the new darlings of the SEC East, and with two of the league's top offensive players — WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Marcus Lattimore — why not? In his final season, QB Stephen Garcia just needs to keep things steady.
Key game: Sept. 10 at Georgia
Comment: The Horned Frogs begin the post-Andy Dalton era, which won't be easy. They need to replace the quarterback's dual-threat presence and his leadership. In the school's farewell season in the Mountain West before heading to the Big East, the secondary and defensive front are issues.
Key game: Nov. 12 at Boise State
Comment: The loss of star running back Knile Davis to a fractured ankle is a serious blow to the Hogs, who will be led by unproven QB Tyler Wilson. With Davis out, the question might be whether last season's porous defense improves enough to help take pressure off the offense.
Key game: Sept. 24 at Alabama
16. Michigan State
Comment: Even though Alabama crushed the Spartans in last season's Capital One Bowl, their 11-win season and Big Ten title were impressive. QB Kirk Cousins has a new offense to further showcase his ability, and the top three rushers return.
Key game: Oct. 1 at Ohio State
17. Notre Dame
Comment: After a respectable start to Brian Kelly's first year as coach last season, expectations are high in South Bend again. Quarterback is a question mark, but the reinstatement of WR Michael Floyd after a suspension following a DUI arrest is a huge boost.
Key game: Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State
18. Mississippi State
Comment: The Bulldogs are coming off their best season since 1999 and return 15 starters, eight from an offense that scored 24 or more points in eight of nine victories. Senior RB Vick Ballard looks to improve upon a breakout season in 2010.
Key game: Sept. 15 vs. LSU
Comment: Many believe this is a must-win year for coach Mark Richt as the Bulldogs come off their first losing season since 1996. QB Aaron Murray, from Plant High, leads an offense that lost seven starters, so a strong recruiting class must produce fast.
Key game: Saturday vs. Boise State at the Georgia Dome
Comment: Coach Mack Brown revamped his staff with five new members after the Longhorns didn't even make a bowl game last season. QB Garrett Gilbert has to improve, along with the running game. A loaded defense can help keep things in check.
Key game: Oct. 8 vs. Oklahoma
Comment: Can QB John Brantley succeed under a new offensive system led by Charlie Weis, and can first-year coach Will Muschamp transform the defense into his aggressive, attacking style? A brutal three-game stretch in October against SEC West teams could take out the Gators or prove they're contenders.
Key game: Oct. 1 vs. Alabama
Comment: The Tigers return three starters on the offensive line, a wealth of offensive talent — including last season's top three rushers — and seven defensive starters. The only thing missing is a proven quarterback.
Key game: Sept. 24 at Oklahoma
Comment: QB Cam Newton has taken his trouble, and his talent, to the NFL, and adding fuel to the fire is the loss of 18 starters. But don't tell coach Gene Chizik he's rebuilding. RB Michael Dyer will be key, but only three defensive starters and a new quarterback in the SEC West? Brutal.
Key game: Oct. 8 at Arkansas
24. West Virginia
Comment: New coach Dana Holgorsen brings his high-powered offense to the Mountaineers, but WVU lost seven defensive starters, so the transition most likely will equate to a rebuilding year. And will the messy departure of former coach Bill Stewart affect the team?
Key game: Sept. 24 vs. LSU
25. Ohio State
Comment: The Buckeyes are filled with drama and left without QB Terrelle Pryor and coach Jim Tressel, part of the fallout from an NCAA rules-violation scandal. Interim coach Luke Fickell is left with the loss of eight defensive starters but a lot of young talent.
Key game: Oct. 1 vs. Michigan State