Tuesday September 1st, 2009

Some snarkier e-mailers read my column last week about attempting to obtain coaches poll ballots through public records requests and fired back, wondering why I don't reveal my own ballot. I do, right here in the weekly Power Rankings.

This year, I've taken over SI.com's Associated Press Poll vote so Stewart Mandel can spend more time interviewing buxom premium-cable starlets. (How awesome is it that East Bound and Down star Katy Mixon is genuinely pumped about John Chavis' arrival at LSU?) Most weeks, the Power Rankings will be identical to the AP ballot I send on Sunday morning. If a starting quarterback's spleen explodes on a Sunday night, I may make an adjustment, but I'll let you know when that happens.

It happened this week. In my defense, the first AP poll was due Aug. 3. That's 74 years in Internet time. A knee injury ended Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans' season. A cracked bone turned USC's Aaron Corp into a second-teamer and true freshman Matt Barkley into a full-blown national curiosity. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy banned his players from interviews with all but "friends of the program," a classic pucker move that probably has Georgia coach Mark Richt tenting his fingers and chuckling like a James Bond villain. Some of the news caused rankings tweaks. Some did not.

Fortunately, teams finally will take the field for real on Thursday, and I can turn my out-and-out guesses into educated ones. I'm also more than happy to consider your suggestions, whether you submit them through the e-mail widget on this page or on Twitter. Check back every week to see if I followed your sage advice or if I struck out on my own.

No records request required.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Florida Gators
Last Week: --
The Gators will have two warmups (against Charleston Southern and Troy) to work out any offensive kinks in the post-Percy Harvin era. While Florida deserves to be dropped from the poll for starting the most anticipated season in the program's history with a world-class stinker of a matchup, the fact that the Gators bring back the entire two-deep depth chart on defense makes that impossible.
 
2Texas Longhorns
Last Week: --
The Longhorns have had 10 months to stew over their exclusion from the Big 12 and BCS title games. Now begins the revenge tour. Colt McCoy already had plenty of receivers to throw to, but the Texas offense could reach another level if former quarterback John Chiles can translate his boundless athleticism to his new position.
 
3Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: --
The Sooners' defense will get a great test Saturday against BYU, but the Cougars' defense won't offer the same challenge to the Oklahoma offense. That's good, because a revamped offensive line will have a chance to work out a few kinks. Leadership shouldn't be an issue, though. It seems left tackle Trent Williams, the lone returning starter, has that part under control.
 
4USC Trojans
Last Week: --
Matt Barkley is stoked that Pete Carroll is jacked about starting the true freshman at quarterback. Is this a risky move? Absolutely. But it's right up Carroll's alley. He never has worried about seniority. In Troy, the best player plays, and the best player right now is the one former Trojans assistant Lane Kiffin offered a scholarship to as a high school freshman.
 
5Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: --
On my AP poll ballot, I ranked Virginia Tech in this spot, but the season-ending injury to tailback Darren Evans necessitated a slight drop. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, will have to prove they belong here when they face USC next week. Navy's Flexbone should test the discipline of Ohio State's defense, but the Midshipmen should have no answer for Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The most common question asked this offseason by those who haven't seen Pryor play: Can he throw? It's the same question people asked about Tim Tebow when he took over the starting job at Florida in 2007. The answer is identical, too.
 
6Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: --
The Hokies didn't deserve too steep a drop. After all, they should have an excellent line led by guard Sergio Render. Besides, redshirt freshman Ryan Williams and true freshman David Wilson will have a chance to prove their mettle as ballcarriers against one of the nation's best run defenses. If they can stand up to Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody and his colleagues, no one in the ACC will compare.
 
7Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Last Week: --
The Cowboys, No. 6 on my AP ballot, drop a spot due to the aforementioned shenanigans from Gundy. Plenty of coaches restrict interviews, so that's not a big deal. It's the act of switching from an established routine before a big game that's troubling here. Gundy should have the confidence in his team to allow his players to trot out a few well-worn platitudes ahead of Saturday's matchup with Georgia. Oklahoma State boasts the talent to beat anyone in the country, so the Cowboys need to treat the Georgia game like business as usual, not like the Super Bowl.
 
8Ole Miss Rebels
Last Week: --
The Rebels stay in the same spot, because they do return a ton of talent from a team that beat the national champ and finished strong. But in spite of that and a favorable schedule, Ole Miss has TRENDY PICK written all over it. Those doubts will linger at least until a revenge game Sept. 24 at South Carolina, but if the Rebels thrash Memphis on Sunday, it'll help ease the nerves of those of us who voted them ahead of LSU and Alabama.
 
9LSU Tigers
Last Week: --
I originally ranked TCU in this spot, but I thought it only fair to the trio atop the SEC west to bunch all three together. Mandel's pal Mixon is rightfully excited about the arrival of Chavis, whose Tennessee defenses had a knack for bringing pressure in myriad ways. The Chief's decision to move Chad Jones to free safety should produce immediate results.
 
10Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: --
The Crimson Tide will make a huge leap next week if they crush another ACC foe in Atlanta. Thanks to Cody, linebacker Rolando McClain, cornerback Javier Arenas and a host of others, Alabama's defense will be stingy. Greg McElroy has the physical tools to be better than departed starter John Parker Wilson at quarterback. The glaring question mark is a revamped offensive line that had to replace stars Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell. If the line answers those questions against Virginia Tech, watch out.
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