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Posted: Tuesday August 26, 2008 12:17PM; Updated: Wednesday August 27, 2008 7:25AM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

Loaded with NFL talent, Ohio State kicks off the year at No. 1

Story Highlights
  • Ohio State may have six players drafted in the first two rounds in April
  • An injury to Georgia's left tackle dropped the Bulldogs to No. 3
  • Seven of the top 10 teams are from the SEC or Big 12
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I realize many of you have already written off the 2008 Ohio State Buckeyes as frauds based on the season-ending performances of their 2006 and '07 teams. That's certainly your prerogative.

But here's the thing: I've studied the depth charts of the various contenders frontward and backward. I've spoken with people who know far more about evaluating football talent than I do. And all of it leads me to the same, inescapable conclusion that, presumably, will induce groans from coast to coast.

Ohio State is the most talented team in the country this season. NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline, who runs TFY Draft service, projects nine Ohio State starters to be selected in the first three rounds next April, including three sure first-rounders (RB Chris Wells, CB Malcolm Jenkins and LB James Laurinaitis) and three others who could join them (DT Doug Worthington, LB Marcus Freeman and WR Brian Robiskie).

In all, TFY considers 16 junior or senior Buckeyes worthy of being drafted (though one of them is Michigan transfer Justin Boren, who won't play this season). Pauline hasn't posted every team's report yet, but says Ohio State's is, "hands down," the most talent-stocked roster.

"You could basically set up shop in Columbus and [draft] a really good team," said Pauline. "USC probably has more impact players on defense, but when you're comparing the two programs, the Trojans fall short of overall elite talent. There's a lot of talent on LSU's roster but not the large number of elite players as Ohio State's."

And that's before even adding Terrelle Pryor to the mix.

For most of the past seven months -- right up until a couple of weeks ago, in fact -- there was one team I considered better than Ohio State. That was Georgia. But then the Dawgs lost their starting left tackle, Trinton Sturdivant, for the season. It was a costly blow both because Sturdivant manned an extremely important position and because of the ripple effect it will have on the rest of the offensive line, which was already inexperienced. That dropped Georgia behind both the Buckeyes and Oklahoma, which returns all five starting offensive linemen.

Note that while AP voters' preseason ballots were due by Aug. 1, I received permission to revise my top three following Sturdivant's Aug. 12 injury. These rankings differ slightly from that ballot, mostly because I've had nearly a month to think about it. I assure you that for the rest of the season, my AP ballot and Power Rankings will be identical.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: --
Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2 in 2007)
All eyes Saturday will be on ... well, Pryor, if he gets in the game, but also DE Lawrence Wilson. The highly touted junior, who broke his leg in last year's season opener and missed the rest of the year, steps in for departed star Vernon Gholston.
First game: Saturday vs. Youngstown State.
2Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: --
The Sooners' defensive line is impressive. DE Auston English was a dominant pass rusher when healthy, DT DeMarcus Granger was an All-Big 12 honoree prior to his Fiesta Bowl suspension and DT Gerald McCoy was the Big 12's top defensive freshman.
First game: Saturday vs. Chattanooga.
3Georgia Bulldogs
Last Week: --
Assuming the Dawgs put away Georgia Southern early Saturday, star tailback Knowshon Moreno will likely give way to a pair of backups already being touted as the next in line -- redshirt freshman Caleb King and true frosh Richard Samuel.
First game: Saturday vs. Georgia Southern.
4USC Trojans
Last Week: --
It will be interesting to see how the Trojans' tailback rotation plays out early in the season. It's no secret Joe McKnight will see the field often, but will offseason standout Allen Bradford supplant the more experienced C.J. Gable and Stafon Johnson?
First game: Saturday at Virginia.
5Missouri Tigers
Last Week: --
Despite returning a largely veteran team, eighth-year coach Gary Pinkel plans to play as many as eight true freshmen this season, the most of his tenure. High-flying receiver Jerrell Jackson has attracted the most attention so far.
First game: Saturday vs. Illinois.
6LSU Tigers
Last Week: --
LSU Tigers (12-2)
It speaks to the level of LSU's recruiting these past few years that a team can lose as many veteran standouts as the Tigers did -- 13 starters -- and still appear to be loaded at nearly every position. QB and cornerback are the concerns.
First game: Saturday vs. Appalachian State.
7Florida Gators
Last Week: --
The Gators may well contend for the national championship, but their preseason standing took a hit due to the season-ending injury of TE Cornelius Ingram and the fact that star WR Percy Harvin missed most of fall camp recovering from a heel injury.
First game: Saturday vs. Hawaii.
8Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last Week: --
The bar gets set pretty high for Mike Leach's quarterbacks. Having thrown for 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns last season, Leach says of third-year starter Graham Harrell: "We expect him to do the same thing -- a few more yards perhaps."
First game: Saturday vs. Eastern Washington.
9Auburn Tigers
Last Week: --
Is it a good sign or a bad sign that offensive coordinator Tony Franklin has yet to choose a starting quarterback between sophomore Kodi Burns and juco transfer Chris Todd? Burns is more of a dual threat but Todd is a veteran of the spread.
First game: Saturday vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
10Clemson Tigers
Last Week: --
There's technically nothing at stake in Saturday's opener, but is this the biggest game of Tommy Bowden's tenure? All the momentum of a contract extension and preseason ACC favorite status could go out the window were he to get upstaged by Nick Saban.
First game: Saturday vs. Alabama.
11Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: --
By all accounts, Tennessee's offense will look different than at any time during Phillip Fulmer's 16-year tenure thanks to innovative new coordinator Dave Clawson. TE Brandon Warren, a freshman standout at Florida State, was ruled eligible just in time.
First game: Monday at UCLA.
12Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: --
Three years after setting the Kansas State freshman passing record (1,365) as a six-game starter, Allan Evridge -- now a fifth-year senior -- has finally reclaimed a starting quarterback job. He is one of the few new faces for a team that returns 19 starters.
First game: Saturday vs. Akron.
13West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: --
It seems hard to believe now that Steve Slaton was once a more-touted Heisman candidate than Pat White. With all due respect to Slaton and current tailback Noel Devine, White is the unquestioned heart and soul of the Mountaineers' offense.
First game: Saturday vs. Villanova.
14Texas Longhorns
Last Week: --
It's hard to remember the last time the Longhorns entered a season with such unknown tailbacks. Looking to follow in the footsteps of Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Jammal Charles are sophomore Vondrell McGee and freshman Fozzy Whitaker.
First game: Saturday vs. Florida Atlantic.
15Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: --
The Jayhawks lost several of their most important players from last season -- RB Brandon McAnderson, T Anthony Collins, DT James McClinton and CB Aqib Talib -- but I wouldn't expect a drastic drop-off. The schedule is much tougher, however.
First game: Saturday vs. Florida International.
16Penn State Nittany Lions
Last Week: --
The more I read about it, the more I think Jay Paterno's "Spread HD" will be a hit. I liked what I saw of QB Darryl Clark in last year's bowl game, we know all about Derrick Williams and the receivers, and I'm told freshman RB Stephfon Green is the real deal.
First game: Saturday vs. Coastal Carolina.
17Arizona St. Sun Devils
Last Week: --
ASU could field a potent passing game with the return of four-year QB Rudy Carpenter and top WRs Michael Jones and Chris McGaha, along with the addition of touted freshman WR Gerell Robinson. But the O-line can't allow 55 sacks again.
First game: Saturday vs. Northern Arizona.
18Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: --
The Cougars seem to be nearly everyone's projected "BCS buster." Personally, I have my doubts BYU will make it through the season undefeated, and it remains to be seen whether the pollsters would consider ranking a one-loss mid-major in the top 12.
First game: Saturday vs. Northern Iowa.
19Oregon Ducks
Last Week: --
It appears the Ducks will be without expected starting QB Nate Costa for at least the first week with an as-yet undiagnosed knee injury. While unfortunate for Costa, Mike Bellotti has to feel in pretty good hands with his backup, Sun Bowl MVP Justin Roper.
First game: Saturday vs. Washington.
20South Florida Bulls
Last Week: --
We know Jim Leavitt's team has talent (see QB Matt Grothe, DE George Selvie) and can play with the big boys (see last year's upsets of Auburn and West Virginia). What I'd like to finally see this year is some consistency -- no three-game losing streaks.
First game: Saturday vs. Tennessee-Martin.
21Illinois Fighting Illini
Last Week: --
Ron Zook says this team will be better than last year's, and QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn are the primary causes for excitement. I will remain skeptical, however, until we see how the Illini plan to replace Rashard Mendenhall's 1,681 yards.
First game: Saturday vs. Missouri.
22Oregon St. Beavers
Last Week: --
Two names to know prior to the Beavers' Thursday-night opener: Redshirt freshman RB Ryan McCants, who's been dubbed a smaller Steven Jackson, and speedy, 5-foot-7 true frosh Jacquizz Rodgers, cut from the same cloth as older brother James.
First game: Thursday vs. Stanford.
23Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: --
After watching a recent Panthers practice, I'm convinced that this is a bona fide top-25 team, with a superstar tailback (LeSean McCoy), a stud freshman receiver (Jonathan Baldwin) and a dominant D. But the O-line will keep them from rising much higher.
First game: Saturday vs. Bowling Green.
24Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: --
Just how young are these Hokies? More than 40 percent of the travel roster for Saturday's opener against East Carolina in Charlotte consists of guys who have never played a college game. At least they have a solid, veteran QB in Sean Glennon.
First game: Saturday vs. East Carolina.
25Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Last Week: --
Could this be Jim Grobe's best team yet? He's got a proven quarterback (Riley Skinner) and tailback (Josh Adams), nine returning defensive starters and an All-America kicker (Sam Swank). Finding some new playmakers on offense will be a key.
First game: Thursday at Baylor.

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