By Andy Staples
August 10, 2011
2011 Preseason Top 25
The Power Rankings will have a different look this season. Frankly, I got bored writing 3,000-word explanations for why I voted a certain way in The Associated Press poll, and I imagine you got bored reading those explanations. For the most part, you don't care why I vote the way I do. If I rank your team to your satisfaction -- or too high -- you smile, nod and go about your business. If I rank your team too low for your tastes, you send me a blistering e-mail questioning my lineage, mental faculties and weekend proclivities.

Sending those e-mails is a little like arguing balls and strikes with an umpire. This is a subjective exercise, and you probably aren't going to change my mind. Don't waste your time e-mailing to ask why I ranked Team X above Team Y. The answer is obvious: I think Team X is better than Team Y. You're still welcome to complain to me by e-mail, but the preferred medium is Twitter, where I'll be happy to debate you if I'm in the mood.

So to spice things up this season, each week's rankings will have a different theme. This week, I'm ranking each team alongside its corresponding musical act. (Sorry, Florida fans. Gainesville's own Tom Petty doesn't make an appearance because the Gators went Free Fallin' out of the rankings last year.) After Week 1, I might rank teams alongside corresponding sitcom characters. Or foodstuffs. Or historical events. It goes without saying that I reserve the right to rank the Top 25 as Muppets. Before the season is out, that will happen.
Oklahoma Sooners
2010 record: 12-2 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles, WR Kenny Stills, LB Travis Lewis, S Tony Jefferson

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Tulsa

The Beatles: No one would confuse Bob Stoops with John Lennon, but the greatest band of all time should be at No. 1. Besides, Sooners quarterback Landry Jones would look great with a bowl cut. Week 3 at Florida State will be Oklahoma's Ed Sullivan Show. Knock out that performance, and the Sooners will get All the Poll Lovin' for as long as they keep winning. Still, there could be trouble on the horizon. Linebacker Travis Lewis will be sidelined for up to eight weeks after breaking a bone in his left foot this week. Has anyone spotted Yoko in Norman?

Alabama Crimson Tide
2010 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 16 (7 offense, 9 defense)
Key returnees: RB Trent Richardson, OL Barrett Jones, C William Vlachos, OT D.J. Fluker, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont'a Hightower, S Mark Barron, CB Dre Kirkpatrick

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Kent State

Notorious B.I.G: The late Christopher Wallace had a gift for bringing rhymes in unexpected spots. While most rappers were content to use a simple A-A-B-B scheme with a rhyme at the end of each line, Biggie practiced lyrical gymnastics. It wasn't enough to say, "Believe me sweetie, I've got enough to feed the needy." Biggie also had to throw in "No need to be greedy" and then squeeze in one more rhyme ("I've got mad friends with Benzes") before the end of the line. Biggie's rhymes were not unlike Nick Saban's pass rush. Will Saban's defense line up in an even front or an odd front? Will Courtney Upshaw put his hand down and come off the edge, or will Saban bring Mark Barron from God knows where? And am I completely sure Dre' Kirkpatrick is going to drop into coverage? Just when an opposing quarterback thinks he's comfortable, Things Done Changed.

Oregon Ducks
2010 record: 12-1 (9-0 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: RB LaMichael James, QB Darron Thomas, OT Mark Asper, CB Cliff Harris, S John Boyett, S Eddie Pleasant

First game: Sept. 3 vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas)

The Ramones: Ducks coach Chip Kelly provides his team with a soundtrack every week at practice. If Oregon is playing Cal -- the favorite team of Adam Duritz -- Kelly might sprinkle some Counting Crows into the mix. But if he wanted to match the beats per minute of his breakneck offense, Kelly would fire up The Ramones. (Or possibly Chamillionaire, the rapid-tongued rapper who hails from Houston, the home of Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas.) Though Oregon prefers thousands of uniform combinations and The Ramones preferred one (black), the Ducks and Ramones agree on one thing: pure speed. In less than two minutes, everyone gets rocked.

LSU Tigers
2010 record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)
Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Jefferson, WR Reuben Randle, WR Russell Shepard, LB Ryan Baker, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Morris Claiborne

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Oregon (in Arlington, Texas)

Guns N' Roses: A frontman so tortured by his genius that he loses track of time. Immense talent capable of staggering achievements or inexplicable apathy. When everything comes together, it's Paradise City, where the grass is tasty and the Golden Girls are pretty. When it goes sideways, it feels like cold November Rain. The Tigers and GNR belong together. But Les Miles wouldn't have needed 15 years to make Chinese Democracy. He could have written and recorded it in the final two seconds of a game.

Stanford Cardinal
2010 record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Andrew Luck, RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Chris Owusu, OT Jonathan Martin, LB Shayne Skov, S Delano Howell

First game: Sept. 3 vs. San Jose State

My Morning Jacket: This comparison worked a lot better before Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck shaved off the beard.

Texas A&M Aggies
2010 record: 9-4 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray, RB Christine Michael, OT Luke Joeckel, LB Garrick Williams, LB Damontre Moore

First game: Sept. 4 vs. SMU

The Strokes: The Aggies are The Strokes, circa 2001. They recently blew away the critics with a dazzling EP (the close of the 2010 regular season), and if they can duplicate that magic in a full-length album, they might be on the verge of superstardom. Superstardom never came for the Strokes. It still might for the Aggies, who have a fine defensive coordinator in Tim DeRuyter and an offense led by a quarterback who hasn't reached his ceiling (Ryan Tannehill), an underrated receiver who should terrify cornerbacks (Jeff Fuller) and a pair of seasoned backs (Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael). But just as The Strokes emerged alongside other great bands that eventually overshadowed them, the Aggies decided to release their debut album in a top-heavy year for the Big 12. Not everyone can top the charts, so a few key battles of the bands will have huge effects at the top of the poll.

Florida State Seminoles
2010 record: 10-4 (6-2 ACC)
Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: RB Jermaine Thomas, OT Andrew Datko, OT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Greg Reid, CB Xavier Rhodes

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana-Monroe

U2: In 2001, Bono stood on stage in London and -- under the guise of a boast -- admitted U2 had allowed itself to slip after almost two decades of dominance. "We're back to reapply for the job. We love that job," Bono said. "And the job is 'Best Band in the World.'" For nearly two decades, Florida State was the best program in college football. But the tail end of the Bobby Bowden era was FSU's Zooropa and Pop period. In other words, an outfit that had produced nothing but quality for years suddenly produced shockingly mediocre products for several years. If FSU is following the same trajectory, it means Jimbo Fisher's second Seminoles team could be the pigskin version of All That You Can't Leave Behind. So provided they don't get Stuck in a Moment They Can't Get Out Of, the Seminoles are due for a big Elevation. If all goes well, it will be A Beautiful Day in Tallahassee. (And if FSU flops, it might be a good time to remind everyone that Creed formed in Tallahassee.)

South Carolina Gamecocks
2010 record: 9-5 (5-3 SEC)
Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Alshon Jeffery, C T.J. Johnson, DE Devin Taylor, S DeVonte Holloman, CB Stephon Gilmore

First game: Sept. 3 vs. East Carolina (in Charlotte)

Hootie and the Blowfish: Sure, laugh all you want about the band that formed in Columbia. While you're at it, laugh all you want at the Gamecocks, who have rarely had to deal with success or high expectations. But last year was only Hold My Hand. This season looks more like Only Wanna Be With You, which was a bigger hit. Plus, the video for Only Wanna Be With You featured Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick in their Big Show prime. Don't be shocked if freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney treats opposing quarterbacks the way Olbermann treats ESPN and MSNBC executives in his favorite dreams.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
2010 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 14 (9 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, OT Levy Adcock, S Markelle Martin, LB Shaun Lewis

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Garth Brooks: Like Brooks, an Oklahoma State alumnus, the Cowboys have the potential to put up huge numbers and captivate the nation. Also like Brooks, Oklahoma State is capable of throwing in a total stinker. For some reason, the Cowboys turn into Chris Gaines whenever they see Crimson and Cream. For Oklahoma State to reach its potential this season, it can't leave Bedlam In Pieces.

Boise State Broncos
2010 record: 12-1 (7-1 WAC)
Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, S George Iloka, DE Shea McClellin, DT Billy Winn

First game: Sept. 3 vs Georgia (in Atlanta)

Rage Against the Machine: Broncos coach Chris Petersen probably wouldn't know Zack de La Rocha and Rage from Zack Morris and the Zack Attack, but Petersen runs the most subversive outfit in college football. Boise State isn't positioned as well to rock the power structure as it was last season, but the Broncos have already made waves without even playing a game in the Mountain West. The MWC made a rule that forbids Boise State from wearing its all-blue home uniforms, because other coaches complained that the blue uniforms combine with the blue turf at Bronco Stadium to give the Broncos an unfair advantage. I suggested on Twitter that for Boise State's conference opener at Colorado State, the Broncos should wear all-white unis, storm-trooper style, and Petersen should coach the game in a Darth Vader costume. I'm amending that suggestion. When Boise State goes to Fort Collins, the Broncos should wear all green. Rage would approve. Now testify.

Wisconsin Badgers
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: RB Montee Ball, RB James White, C Peter Konz, LB Mike Taylor, CB Antonio Fenelus, S Aaron Henry

First game: Sept. 1 vs. UNLV

AC/DC: A few months ago, the Badgers found themselves in the same position as AC/DC after the untimely demise of Bon Scott. They had a kick-ass team/band, but no dynamic frontman. Enter Russell Wilson in the Brian Johnson role. We all know the power of AC/DC is Angus Young's guitar and schoolboy outfit. We all know the power of the Wisconsin offense is an offensive line fortified by all-you-can-eat bacon at Wando's clearing a path for no-frills, downhill-running backs. But it was Johnson who allowed AC/DC to record Back In Black. It may be Wilson who gets the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl -- or maybe even to New Orleans.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2010 record: 10-4 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, DT Jared Crick, DE Cameron Meredith, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga

Trapt: I could try to construct some parallel between the Los Gatos, Calif., faux-metal band and the Cornhuskers, but that would be dishonest. I picked Trapt because Headstrong provides a nice soundtrack to this megamix of Bo Pelini working the sidelines as only he can.

This is not to poke fun at Pelini. Most fan bases wish they had a coach who cared this much. For a little tamer Pelini musical fare, click here.

Arkansas Razorbacks
2010 record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: RB Knile Davis, WR Greg Childs, WR Joe Adams, WR Jarius Wright, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, S Tramain Thomas

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Missouri State

Johnny Cash: Like Cash, who grew up in Dyess, Ark., Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino seems to embrace the Man in Black role. Also like Cash, the Hogs have had some trouble in Starkville. Cash once got arrested for picking flowers at 2 a.m. and spent the night in jail. The Razorbacks needed two overtimes last year to survive Mississippi State. At the moment, Arkansas must feel like early-career Cash, who was often overshadowed by contemporaries Elvis Presley (Alabama) and Jerry Lee Lewis (LSU). But on a given night, Cash could outperform either one.

Ohio State Buckeyes
2010 record: Vacated
Returning starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
Key returnees: RB Boom Herron, WR DeVier Posey, OT Mike Adams, C Mike Brewster, DE Nathan Williams, LB Tyler Moeller

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Akron

The Dead Schembechlers: With an NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing later this week and four key players suspended for the first five games, the Buckeyes face uncertain times. They should take inspiration from Bo Biafra, the lead singer of the Best Damn Punk Band in the Land. Biafra is never uncertain. To him, every day is a struggle against the International Wolverine Conspiracy and the New Wolverine Order. If Ohio State coach Luke Fickell is smart, he'll pump a few classic Dead Schembechlers hits into practice. May we suggest their seminal hit, Bomb Ann Arbor Now.

Michigan State Spartans
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, G Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, CB Johnny Adams

First game: Sept. 2 vs. Youngstown State

Rick Derringer: Now that Ricky Stanzi has graduated at Iowa, someone has to inherit the rights to Hulk Hogan's old entrance song. After his speech at Big Ten media day, it's clear the Real American we seek is Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins.

TCU Horned Frogs
2010 record: 13-0 (8-0 MWC)
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: WR Josh Boyce, RB Ed Wesley, LB Tank Carder, LB Tanner Brock, DE Stansly Maponga

First game: Sept. 2 at Baylor

Death Cab for Cutie: Death Cab was an indie darling for a long time before the success of Transatlanticism led to a contract with Atlantic records. TCU was a non-AQ darling for a long time before the Big East came calling. Last year's Rose Bowl run was TCU's Transatlanticism. The Horned Frogs don't begin Big East play until 2012, but for all intents and purposes, they're already at the grown-up table. TCU has to replace a lot, but just as Death Cab pumped out critically acclaimed material as an indie power, Gary Patterson has pumped out winning teams for a long time. Since 2002, TCU has averaged 10.2 wins a season. Maybe the Horned Frogs are in the studio now making their version of Plans. Death Cab's major-label debut produced the hit Soul Meets Body, which, contrary to popular belief, is not about getting tackled by TCU linebacker Tank Carder.

Missouri Tigers
2010 record: 10-3 (6-2 Big 12)
Returning starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: WR T.J. Moe, TE Michael Egnew, DE Brad Madison, LB Zaviar Gooden, S Kenji Jackson

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Miami (Ohio)

Van Halen: Sure, Blaine Gabbert (David Lee Roth) is gone. But as long as Gary Pinkel (Eddie Van Halen) is still in charge and T.J. Moe (Michael Anthony) is still slapping out first-down catches, the chains will keep moving. Besides -- and I know this is sacrilege to say -- Van Halen improved musically after Roth left the band. There is a reason Sammy Hagar can sing all the Roth-era songs in concert but Roth can't sing all the Van Hagar songs. Maybe James Franklin has some Sammy in him. Maybe this season will be Missouri's 5150.

Auburn Tigers
2010 record: 14-0 (8-0 SEC)
Returning starters: 6 (3 offense, 3 defense)
Key returnees: RB Michael Dyer, RB Onterrio McCalebb, TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, OT Brandon Mosley, DE Nosa Eguae, CB Neiko Thorpe

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Utah State

Drake: The kids seem to think Drake will someday sit in the pantheon with Jay-Z and Eminem. Right now, it's tough to forget that the Canadian MC is only a few years removed from a role on a Nickelodeon soap opera. That's Auburn right now. The Tigers' recent recruiting success suggests massive untapped potential, but aside from the players listed above, we don't know how these Tigers will perform against stiff competition in the SEC West. Like Drake, they need to unleash a few hits to make us believe.

Virginia Tech Hokies
2010 record: 11-3 (8-0 ACC)
Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense)
Key returnees: WR Danny Coale, WR Jarrett Boykin, OT Blake DeChristopher, LB Bruce Taylor, S Eddie Whitely, CB Jayron Hosley

First game: Sept. 3 vs. Appalachian State

Metallica: Yes, the Hokies take the field to Enter Sandman, so that made Metallica an obvious choice. But the comparison goes deeper than that. All Metallica does is produce technically sound, adrenalin-pumping rock with little drop-off in quality. All Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer does is produce technically sound football teams with little drop-off in quality. Virginia Tech hasn't been able to rise into the nation's elite, but it's almost always good enough to win the ACC, I mean, the Virginia Tech Conference.

West Virginia Mountaineers
2010 record: 9-4 (5-2 Big East)
Returning starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)
Key returnees: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, OT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DB Julian Miller, CB Keith Tandy

First game: Sept. 4 vs. Marshall

Fleetwood Mac: Bill Stewart is gone, but several of his former assistants remain on new coach Dana Holgorsen's staff. The drama that attended Stewart's dismissal ranked right up there with the drama that hit Fleetwood Mac in the mid-70s. Mick found out his wife was having an affair with bandmate Bob Weston. The McVies broke up. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were always fighting. This is the kind of creative tension that can blow up a group -- or inspire the group to record Rumours or win the Big East title.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2010 record: 8-5
Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Dayne Crist, WR Michael Floyd, OG Trevor Robinson, DE Ethan Johnson, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta, S Harrison Smith

First game: Sept. 3 vs. South Florida

Freekbass: Because once you put it on YouTube, it lives forever. Only a return to the BCS can make the world forget this atrocity.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
2010 record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, OG Quentin Saulsberry, DT Josh Boyd, CB Corey Broomfield

First game: Sept. 1 at Memphis

Robert Johnson: Legend has it that at a crossroads somewhere in West Mississippi -- it might have been U.S. highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, or it might have been in Rosedale where Highway 8 intersects Highway 1 -- Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for the musical gifts that spawned the Delta Blues. The Bulldogs may need to seek out that crossroads. They've improved by leaps and bounds under Dan Mullen, but the SEC West is so tough that a Faustian bargain may be the only way to get over the top.

Arizona State Sun Devils
2010 record: 6-6 (4-5 Pac-10)
Returning starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense)
Key returnees: QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, RB Cameron Marhsall, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali

First game: Sept. 1 vs. UC Davis

Bob Marley: Marley's music evokes images of tanned hardbodies sweating in the summer heat. Sounds like an Arizona State cheerleading practice. And just as Legend plays in every college dorm room in America, every college football pundit has the Sun Devils penciled in somewhere in the Top 25. A major conference team that returns that many starters has to be good. Doesn't it? This group has yet to prove that, but it certainly has some nice pieces. Still, one question remains. Aside from linebacker Vontaze Burfict, are the Sun Devils a little too chill to take advantage of a wide-open Pac-12 South? We'll see.

Maryland Terrapins
2010 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Key returnees: QB Danny O'Brien, RB Davin Meggett, DT Joe Vellano, DT A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate

First game: Sept. 5 vs. Miami

Pete Yorn: Like first-year Terrapins coach Randy Edsall, Yorn is a Syracuse grad. Also like Edsall, Yorn is sneaky good. Lost in all the hullabaloo about Maryland's decision to bypass Mike Leach and make the safe hire with Edsall is the fact that Edsall took Connecticut from I-AA to an AQ-conference title. (Granted it was the Big East, but it's still quite an accomplishment.) Edsall will have much better players at Maryland. People forget that. Just like people forget Yorn. And then Life on a Chain comes on and they remember. Yeah, that guy is pretty good.

Utah Utes
2010 record: 10-3 (7-1 MWC)
Returning starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Key returnees: QB Jordan Wynn, WR DeVonte Christopher, OT Tony Bergstrom, LB Brian Blechen

First game: Sept. 1 vs. Montana State

The Goo Goo Dolls: I blame my friend Daryl Presgraves for turning the Goo Goo Dolls into elevator music. In high school, we wrote for the teen section of The Orlando Sentinel. That section was called Rave. It was Section X of the newspaper. (And people wonder why my generation has allowed newspapers to die.) In 1995, Daryl reviewed A Boy Named Goo, which was a decent, straight-ahead rock effort with one glaring exception. Daryl's review can be summarized thusly: "All the songs sound the same except Track 6. It's called Name. The boys might be on to something here." They probably never read the review, but I blame Daryl for ruining a decent band anyway. Sixteen years later, the Goo Goo Dolls continue to crank out minivan-friendly fluff. What does this have to do with the Utes? Everything. They were a plucky non-AQ that shook up the system not once but twice. In fact, they were so successful as a plucky non-AQ that they got invited to an AQ conference. Utah sold out, just like the Goo Goo Dolls. But guess what? The Goo Goo Dolls have sold millions upon millions of albums. And now Utah can actually win the national championship. OK, maybe not this year, but look at the Pac-12 South. USC isn't eligible for the Pac-12 title game. That leaves Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and Utah. Someone please make a convincing argument why the Utes can't win the division. I'm waiting.

Next five: Texas, Florida, Iowa, Central Florida, Northwestern

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