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TGS backing Oregon over 'Bama

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Editor’s Note: Bruce Marshall’s college football selections and award-winning analysis can be purchased weekly on VegasInsider.com. Click to win!

The college football regular season starts at the end of the month and we’re ready to kick off the season. Below is a look at our top five schools in this year’s preseason rankings, plus a Top 25 comparison from "The Gold Sheet" and USA Today Coaches' poll.

1) OREGON...Blasphemous not to pick an SEC team on top? Maybe. But the Ducks didn't lose any more games than Alabama last season, only to have the misfortune of suffering their loss (to Stanford) a week after the Crimson Tide endured its only setback, which allowed ‘Bama to leapfrog the Webfoots and get ahead in the queue for the BCS title game. We don't worry too much about HC Chip Kelly's departure to the NFL, either; the last time Oregon switched coaches (from Mike Bellotti to Kelly, promoted from offensive coordinator as was new HC Mark Helfrich), the Ducks merely reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 15 years. And Helfrich has been prepped for the head job the past couple of years.

Most of the key weapons on offense return, led by a couple of legit Heisman hopefuls in QB Marcus Mariota & RB De'Anthony Thomas (watch true frosh RB Thomas Tyner, too), while last year's stop unit might have been d.c. Nick Aliotti's best in Eugene since his "Gang Green" platoon in the Rose Bowl year of 1994. The return of the entire starting secondary also suggests the Ducks can withstand expected aerial bombardments in the Pac-12. Although the Stanford showdown in the Pac-12 North will be at Palo Alto, remember that Oregon has broken the half-century mark twice in the last three vs. the Cardinal, and will have plenty of revenge motivation on The Farm.

Moreover, if the Ducks get to the Pac-12 title game, they project as decent-sized favorites for a game likely to be played at Autzen Stadium. But best of all for Oregon fans, the long-awaited NCAA penalties related to the Willie Lyles case amounted to not much more than a slap on the wrist. Who knows, we might finally get to see the Crimson Tide-Ducks matchup that we were denied last January.

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2) ALABAMA...
What fun would it be to forecast a ‘Bama three-peat, anyway? Although we suspect the joyless Nick Saban will have the Crimson Tide back in the title hunt as usual, remember that Alabama has needed results from elsewhere to break its way late in the regular season and conference title games the past two seasons to qualify for the BCS championship tilts. Similar challenges vs. the capable sides that dealt Saban his regular-season losses the past two years (Texas A&M & LSU) await in the regular season, and while memories of the Tide's dominating title game win over Notre Dame remain fresh in everyone's memories, last season's loss to Johnny Football and extremely narrow escapes vs. LSU and Georgia (in the SEC championship) suggest that ‘Bama really didn't outclass the field as much as it might have seemed a year ago.

Yes, the Tide is loaded with quality depth across the pitch, and should easily compensate for last year's graduation losses. And the more Katherine Webb sightings the better as boyfriend A.J. McCarron tries for his third national title as a starting QB (and maybe a Heisman), too. Don't worry, Bama will still be in the title mix, and can really jump-start its bid for a three-peat if avenging last year's loss to A&M when Eli Gold is at the microphone for the rematch at College Station on Sept. 14.

3) OHIO STATE...Had the Buckeyes decided to take their medicine a year earlier and ban themselves from a bowl in a forgettable 2011 season, Urban Meyer's first team in Columbus (and not Alabama) might well have been playing Notre Dame for the BCS title last Jan. 7 in Miami. Whatever. Meyer still hasn't lost a game at OSU and might not lose one in the upcoming regular season, either, especially vs. a suspect Big Ten slate and a non-conference schedule in which San Diego State might be the most difficult test.

That schedule and the returning talent intersect nicely once again, especially jr. QB Braxton Miller, a Heisman hopeful whose work with passing guru George Whitfield resulted in quite a sneak preview in the spring game. Questions revolve around a defense which lost seven leaders from a year ago, but replenishments are at the ready. Now, would OSU rate this highly if it played in the SEC? And would the Bucks have dare dreamed about an unbeaten season last year if faced with the sort of demanding four-game gauntlet (at Florida, South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Alabama) that LSU had to run in midseason last fall? Heck no. But OSU plays in the Big Ten and doesn't have to worry about an SEC team until perhaps the BCS final. And if it comes down to another Meyer vs. Nick Saban matchup as in the old days when Urban was at Florida, the Buckeyes would at least have the more likeable (if only slightly) coach.

4) GEORGIA...Truth be told, I voted for Georgia to win the conference at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, but the masses at the Wynfrey Hotel preferred Alabama once more, so putting the Bulldogs down a couple of notches from the top is no problem in the summer months. Besides, Georgia's BCS hopes are in danger of taking a huge hit before we reach September if the Dawgs can't survive their dangerous opener at Death Valley against Clemson. But HC Mark Richt knows what's coming (the tough early-season slate also includes South Carolina and LSU in the first month), and let everyone in Birmingham know that UGa won't be caught off guard. "We'll be ready," said the coach.

Meanwhile, longtime o.c. Mike Bobo must feel like a kid in a candy shop with sr. Heisman candidate QB Aaron Murray and a collection of established skill-position weapons that includes RB Todd Gurley, who has made Dawg Nation forget about Isaiah Crowell (he's now at Alabama State, by the way). SEC sources also suspect the loss of eight starters from last year's sometimes-underachieving defense might actually be a plus, with a mix of experienced backups and hungry blue-chip recruits ready to step into the fray. True, there are plenty of trip wires as usual in the slate, and a possible SEC title game rematch vs. ‘Bama looms in December. But remember that many SEC powerhouses have made BCS title games before with one loss (or even two, as was the case with 2007 LSU).

5) STANFORD...Once the Cardinal uncovered a playmaker at QB late last fall with now-sophomore Kevin Hogan, the Tree added the sort of extra dimension it lacked earlier in the season when losing at Washington and Notre Dame. With Hogan and most of the latest road-grading OL back in the fold, Stanford can avenge those defeats this fall and probably navigate around most of the other land mines on the schedule except for perhaps a revenge-minded Oregon, which visits Palo Alto for a Thursday night ESPN special in early November.

While the offense has garnered plenty of headlines the past couple of seasons, it has been a granite-like defense that has placed the Tree in three consecutive BCS bowls, and this fall's platoon might be the best of those recent editions. As for HC David Shaw, we think he's proven he knows what he's doing. Now what they have to worry about on The Farm is if the NFL comes calling again for the latest Stanford coach (John Ralston, Bill Walsh, Dennis Green, Jim Harbaugh...see the pattern?).

2013 Preseason Rankings
The Gold Sheet USA Today Coaches
Rank School Rank School
1 Oregon 1 Alabama
2 Alabama 2 Ohio State
3 Ohio State 3 Oregon
4 Georgia 4 Stanford
5 Stanford 5 Georgia
6 LSU 6 Texas A&M
7 South Carolina 7 South Carolina
8 Clemson 8 Clemson
9 Boise State 9 Louisville
10 Florida State 10 Florida
11 Texas A&M 11 Notre Dame
12 Texas 12 Florida State
13 Northwestern 13 LSU
14 Louisville 14 Oklahoma State
15 Michigan 15 Texas
16 Florida 16 Oklahoma
17 Wisconsin 17 Michigan
18 Oklahoma State 18 Nebraska
19 Oklahoma 19 Boise State
20 Notre Dame 20 TCU
21 Arizona State 21 UCLA
22 TCU 22 Northwestern
23 UCLA 23 Wisconsin
24 Baylor 24 USC
25 Georgia Tech 25 Oregon State
Conference Breakdown Conference Breakdown
SEC (6) Big 12 (5) Big 10 (4) Pac-12 (4) ACC (3) MWC (1) AAC (1) Ind (1) SEC (6) Pac-12 (5) Big 10 (5) Big-12 (4) ACC (2) MWC (1) AAC (1) Ind (1)


Looking above, you can see that the TGS and USA Today Coaches Poll have 22 similar schools in our rankings, including the Top 5 as well but not in order.

Despite the similarities, we do have some differences, a couple glaring ones as well.

We feel stronger about Arizona State (21) , Baylor (24) and Georgia Tech (25), while the coaches have backed Nebraska (18), USC (24) and Oregon State (35).

If you’re looking for teams that we have rated higher, we’re buying LSU (6), Boise State (9) and Northwestern (22).

The coaches are buying Notre Dame at No. 11 while we have them ranked 20th in our preseason poll. We’re also not believing the hype just yet, on two schools (Texas A&M, Louisville) that arguably boast the two best quarterbacks in the nation.

  
HEADLINES
Nelson: Texas A&M at South Carolina
Edwards: Friday's Tip Sheet
Williams: ACC Report - Week 1
ASA: Big Ten Report - Week 1
Williams: Pac-12 Report - Week 1
Hunter: Top 5 Win Totals
News: Final Four Consensus Picks
Edwards: 2014 Big Ten Predictions
ASA: Win Totals to Watch
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