Ivan Maisel

2002-03 Bowls
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Tuesday, January 7
Updated: May 27, 2:15 PM ET
Oklahoma, Miami top early look at 2003

By Ivan Maisel

Consider this top 25 a cliff from which to dive into the 2003 season. This will change as early as next week, when we find out who's coming out for the NFL draft, and change some more in the spring, and some more in August. But we do have to start somewhere, right?

No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners

Sooners, 'Canes only teams to finish in the top 10 the last three seasons. Sooners get edge here because defense returns nearly intact.

No. 2 Miami Hurricanes

Still deep in talent. Road games at Florida State, Virginia Tech are never easy.

No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes

Offense loses virtually no one. Defense is hard-hit by graduation, but will still be hard-hitting.

No. 4 Auburn Tigers

Seventeen starters return from a team that closed the season by knocking off two top-ten opponents (Alabama, Penn State).

No. 5 Texas Longhorns

QB Chance Mock will be a surprise. If not, redshirt freshman Vincent Young will step in. Simms-Applewhite II?

No. 6 USC Trojans

Good news: offensive line is full of veterans. Bad news: backfield is untested. Can Matt Cassel get the ball to Mike Williams?

No. 7 Michigan Wolverines

Wolverines are a playmaking tailback away from contending for a national championship. Cornerback or two wouldn't hurt, either.

No. 8 Virginia Tech Hokies

Kevin Jones gets all the carries after two seasons of sharing the ball. Defense needs shoring up after problems in the second half of the season.

No. 9 Virginia Cavaliers

An optimistic pick? You bet. No team improved more from the beginning of the season to the end. If they continue to improve at this rate, Cavs will take the ACC.

No. 10 Kansas State Wildcats

After this season's near-miss, Wildcats should be hungry. Ell Roberson -- again, this is a hunch-- will continue to get better every week.

No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils

Andrew Walter loses WR Shaun McDonald, but if the Sun Devils can find any semblance of defense, they'll challenge for the conference title.

No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs

Offensive line must be rebuilt. Defensive losses at linebacker are big. But coach Mark Richt will get it done.

No. 13 Florida State Seminoles

Chris Rix will bounce back from the ups and downs of 2002 to play well. But with nearly the entire offensive line departing, he better learn to throw on the move.

No. 14 Maryland Terrapins

In Ralph We Trust. In Ralph We Trust. In Ralph We Trust.

No. 15 Penn State Nittany Lions

Big holes on offensive line and at tailback. But the Nittany Lions are solid on defense. Like Kansas State, narrow losses should serve as a motivator next fall.

No. 16 Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols are down, not out. If Casey Clausen finds a receiver he can depend upon, the Vols will take off.

No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies

Dennis Franchione is a turnaround specialist, and the Aggies don't have far to turn.

No. 18 North Carolina State Wolfpack

Philip Rivers as a senior. Should be fun to watch.

No. 19 Pittsburgh Panthers

Panthers crossed the bridge in 2002 from wannabe to genuine force.

No. 20 Alabama Crimson Tide

Offensive whiz Mike Price gets a veteran offense and some blocks on which to build a defense. Transition, probation and the schedule will take their tolls.

No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes

Seniors depart en masse on offense. But the Hawkeyes have learned how to win.

No. 22 Washington Huskies

If the Huskies find a defense, bump them up 10 spots.

No. 23 Toledo Rockets

Lose very few players from perennial MAC West champ.

No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers

Badgers lost a lot of close games in '02. Showed in the Alamo Bowl that they learned how to win one.

No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Irish lose a lot of seniors, especially on offense, but go ahead and rank them because of coach Ty Willingham and the team's renewed ability to finish off a game.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

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