Mandel: Boise State. The Broncos have gone 36-3 the past three seasons, and this is probably Dan Hawkins' best team yet. QB Jared Zabransky is a dangerous dual-threat, and any of four running backs can bulldoze opposing defenses. If they can manage to knock off Georgia on Sept. 3, watch out, BCS.
Schecter: Boise State. If the Broncos can upset Georgia in Athens (I think they can) and then win at Oregon State and beat Bowling Green at home, they should vault into the top 10. Boise opponents beware: This is a dangerous team.
Winn: The obvious answer is Boise, but look at the Broncs' Temple-esque schedule: at Georgia, at Oregon State, vs. Bowling Green and at Fresno State. There are two, maybe three losses in that gauntlet. Instead, meet UTEP, your new Conference USA champ. Mike Price's team, led by QB Jordan Palmer and a lethal passing attack, could put together a special season.
McCartney: Boise State. Is there even a debate here? Bowling Green has the best non-BCS player (Omar Jacobs), but with Jared Zabransky and nearly everyone back from last year's 11-1 team, the Broncos will be Utah 2004 all over again.
Heisman Trophy Winner
Mandel: Reggie Bush, RB/KR/WR, USC. For the first time in his career, Bush will be the Trojans' primary ballcarrier, and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin spent the offseason finding more ways to get him the pigskin. Bush's electrifying moves will overshadow the steady exploits of reigning Heisman winner and teammate Matt Leinart.
Schecter: Bush. Mr. President can turn a game around with a single touch -- and he'll get plenty of them this season. He was the best player in the nation last year, and he'll show why he still is by putting up even more spectacular numbers.
Winn: Vince Young, QB, Texas. Tough to win when you're sharing the spotlight, Mr. Bush. The one-loss (to OSU) 'Horns will get shut out of the BCS title game, but a win over Oklahoma, a Big 12 title and a stunning highlight reel will put the hardware in Young's hands.
McCartney: Bush. Voters soured on Jason White's repeat bid, and they'll do the same with Matt Leinart's. But they can't deny his running mate. Bush has speed, quickness, power and even an arm (threw a 52-yard TD pass in '04). Is there anything college football's most exciting player can't do?
Preseason Heisman Candidate Who Will Pull A '2004 Brad Smith' (and fall out of the race)
Mandel: Young, Texas. Though he'll rebound to have a fine season, here's guessing a lackluster performance Sept. 10 against Ohio State will doom any chances for the trophy.
Schecter: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. Last year Maroney and Marion Barber formed the best 1-2 punch in the Big Ten. But with Barber and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq gone, teams will be stacking nine in the box to stop Maroney.
Winn: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma. I fully supported young A.D. as the trophy winner last season, but a number of factors will be working against him in '05 -- an inexperienced QB (either Paul Thompson or Rhett Bomar) who won't be the focus of opposing Ds, a reworked offensive line and perhaps most of all, a team that likely isn't headed back to the BCS title game.
McCartney: Maroney. He'll start off strong, but the Gophers' Big Ten schedule opens with a five-week stretch of Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Badgers' and Wolverines' defenses are questionable, but it's still a campaign-killing run.