|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?
Sooners, 'Canes only teams to finish in the top 10 the last three seasons. Sooners get edge here because defense returns nearly intact.
Still deep in talent. Road games at Florida State, Virginia Tech are never easy.
Offense loses virtually no one. Defense is hard-hit by graduation, but will still be hard-hitting.
Seventeen starters return from a team that closed the season by knocking off two top-ten opponents (Alabama, Penn State).
QB Chance Mock will be a surprise. If not, redshirt freshman Vincent Young will step in. Simms-Applewhite II?
Good news: offensive line is full of veterans. Bad news: backfield is untested. Can Matt Cassel get the ball to Mike Williams?
Wolverines are a playmaking tailback away from contending for a national championship. Cornerback or two wouldn't hurt, either.
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.
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.
After this season's near-miss, Wildcats should be hungry. Ell Roberson -- again, this is a hunch-- will continue to get better every week.
Andrew Walter loses WR Shaun McDonald, but if the Sun Devils can find any semblance of defense, they'll challenge for the conference title.
Offensive line must be rebuilt. Defensive losses at linebacker are big. But coach Mark Richt will get it done.
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.
In Ralph We Trust. In Ralph We Trust. In Ralph We Trust.
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.
The Vols are down, not out. If Casey Clausen finds a receiver he can depend upon, the Vols will take off.
Dennis Franchione is a turnaround specialist, and the Aggies don't have far to turn.
Philip Rivers as a senior. Should be fun to watch.
Panthers crossed the bridge in 2002 from wannabe to genuine force.
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.
Seniors depart en masse on offense. But the Hawkeyes have learned how to win.
If the Huskies find a defense, bump them up 10 spots.
Lose very few players from perennial MAC West champ.
Badgers lost a lot of close games in '02. Showed in the Alamo Bowl that they learned how to win one.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.