CFB Countdown II

20 days 'n counting....


ESPN's Top 5 in the Power Rankings after the jump....

(Unrec the old thread and rec this baby up. Thanks!)

#5 - Oregon

Oregon welcomes back 14 starters from a team that beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished 12-2 and No. 4 in the nation. Two headliners, however, are gone in RB LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas. While James was often spectacular, experienced backup Kenjon Barner is a proven commodity, and everyone saw what De'Anthony Thomas can do in the Rose Bowl. The more intriguing question is replacing Darron Thomas, with Marcus Mariota surging with a strong spring game in his competition with Bryan Bennett. But it is the Ducks' defense, not their fancy-pants offense, that makes this squad a national title contender. With A-list talent at all three levels, word in Eugene is this could be the program's best unit since the days of Gang Green.

#4 - OU

Oklahoma opened up as ESPN's preseason No. 1 last year. Then running back Dominique Whaley broke his ankle, receiver Ryan Broyles tore his knee and the Sooners nosedived in November. But in the offseason, Landry Jones decided to quarterback the Sooners one more year, and coach Bob Stoops brought brother Mike back to resuscitate a defense that ranked outside the top 50 the past two seasons. Jones will operate behind a veteran offensive line, and have a pair of talented wideouts to throw to in Kenny Stills and freshman Trey Metoyer, the star of the spring. If Whaley comes back healthy to help balance the attack and Mike Stoops cures a secondary guilty of surrendering too many big plays, OU will be a team in the hunt. And a far cry from the one that nosedived.

#3 - Alabama

The championship shine has already worn off. Alabama's crystal football trophy was shattered during the offseason, and the metaphor holds up, as coach Nick Saban must piece together a championship contender. The nation's No. 1 defense was raided by the NFL, surrendering six starters. The offense was hurt as well, losing a Heisman Trophy finalist at running back and all four of the team's top pass-catchers. But all is not lost in Tuscaloosa. The Tide return AJ McCarron at quarterback, and will have more depth and talent on the offense than in several years. Eddie Lacy is an explosive tailback, and the offensive line is poised to be one of the best in the country. The test will be how a young, gifted defense establishes its own identity.

#2 - LSU

A team that came so close to having one of the great seasons in the BCS era in 2011 might be more talented this time around. Four defensive starters, including defensive end Sam Montgomery, are projected first-round NFL draft picks. There is, however, a lingering question: After last season's 21-0 BCS title game debacle against Alabama, will this team generate the passing offense to beat an elite defense? For that, an LSU team so full of veteran stars rests its hopes on a player who has never taken a meaningful SEC snap: new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, whose powerful right arm delivers perfect passes to receivers and, LSU hopes, a crystal trophy to Baton Rouge.

#1 - no surprise, seeing this ESPN we're talking about here - U$C

The Trojans return from a two-year bowl ban with a team many people think is capable of winning the national title. There is a lot of offensive firepower, led by Heisman Trophy-favorite quarterback Matt Barkley, who is joined by pair of 1,000-yard running backs (counting the recent transfer of Silas Redd from Penn State), a pair of 1,000-yard receivers and four offensive line starters. The back seven of the defense also returns intact. Depth issues could be a factor due to sanctions-imposed roster limits, but with 19 total returning starters (including kickers), there still is plenty of talent to make a run. USC faces Oregon at home Nov. 3 and could play the Ducks again in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 1.

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