And now, the conclusion ...
No. 5 FLORIDA
The Gators lose their beloved quarterback (Tim Tebow), their top rusher (Tebow), four of their top five receivers as well as a good chunk of a dominant defense from the last two seasons.
And they're still expected to be a top-five team. A top-10 outfit at minimum.
That speaks volumes about the juggernaut Urban Meyer has built, regardless of whether it has or has not endangered his health in the long-term.
The last time the Gators brought back less than seven starters on either side of the ball (2007), they went 9-4 but still had a Heisman Trophy winner in Tebow. The Gators should be better this time around, and few players will receive as much scrutiny as quarterback John Brantley.
Brantley threw at a 75 percent clip in limited work last year, and owns 10 career touchdowns against a single interception. He won't be that good --- not even Tebow was --- but he should be solid enough to lead the Gators to their fourth 10-win season in five years.
What he might not be good enough to do: Maintain the Gators' winning streak in true road games. A visit to Tuscaloosa beckons on Oct. 2.
LONGEST ACTIVE WINNING STREAK, TRUE ROAD GAMES
12: Boise State
6: Texas Christian
No. 4 NEBRASKA
The Cornhuskers have a yahtzee of good things going for them this year.
1. Four offensive line starters return. That bodes well for an improved offense. Couple that with a decent stable of running backs, and Nebraska could manage to hide its instability at quarterback (Zac Lee? Cody Green?) reasonably well.
2. The nonconference schedule is manageable. After home-and homes with Southern California and Virginia Tech over the last four years (netting four losses), Nebraska's only truly dangerous non-league game is a trip to Washington on Sept. 18.
3. Much of the front six/seven on defense are back. Granted, that doesn't include Ndamukong Suh, but the Blackshirts should rank among the best units in the country again.
4. There's no frightful road trip. The Huskers don't play Oklahoma, and they get Texas and Missouri at home. There's virtually no reason to believe they won't the Big 12 North.
5. In a close game, Nebraska has an edge at kicker. Alex Henery was 22-for-23 inside of 50 yards last year and is 45-for-47 in that range for his career. That's ridiculous for an NFL kicker and off-the-charts amazing for a college specialist.
Yes, the passing game leaves much to be desired, and the Cornhuskers inevitably will have their hoped dashed by Texas (more on that momentarily). Yet even without Suh, this has a chance to be the best team in Lincoln since the 2001 outfit that lost to Miami in the national title game.
No. 3 TEXAS
Texas' spot as the feudal lord of the Big 12 was solidified last month (how's serfdom feel, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State?), but the reshaped league does come at a cost.
The Longhorns will no longer be able to find ways to defy defeat against Nebraska on a semi-regular basis.
TEXAS-NEBRASKA SERIES, 1996-2009
1996: Texas 37, Nebraska 27 (Big 12 title game)
1998: Texas 20, Nebraska 16 (ends Nebraska's home winning streak at 47)
1999: Texas 24, Nebraska 20 (lone loss in 12-1 season)
1999: Nebraska 22, Texas 6 (Big 12 title game)
2002: Texas 27, Nebraska 24 (Jammal Lord runs for 234 yards in a loss)
2003: Texas 31, Nebraska 7 (Cedric Benson and Vince Young both roll up 160+ yards rushing)
2006: Texas 22, Nebraska 20 (Ryan Bailey's FG --- in his first career attempt --- with 23 seconds left wins it)
2007: Texas 28, Nebraska 25 (Jamaal Charles runs for 290 yards and three scores)
2009: Texas 12, Nebraska 10 (Big 12 title game; Texas kicks last-second field goal)
That's a ridiculous level of agony to inflict upon one team. But that's what happens when you crank out top-five teams year after year.
As for on the field, yes, BFFs Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley (if all those prime-time Texas games the last couple years imparted anything, it was how quarterback and wideout were such good buddies) are now gone. There's also some holes to fill on the offensive line and on special teams.
But just remember: The Longhorns clean up in recruiting in Texas. Every. Single. Year. They've won at least 10 games in nine years running, and it would be shocking if somehow that streak didn't reach 10.
Texas is more than fine in the secondary, and Sam Acho will again anchor a more-than-capable pass rush. The Longhorns leave the state exactly twice --- to visit Nebraska after a bye and to pay at Kansas State in the lone road game in the second half of the schedule.
As usual, Texas will be in great shape for a run to the national title game if it can vault over Oklahoma. Given the history, there's little doubt the Longhorns will dispose of Nebraska --- both in the regular season and in a possible Big 12 title game tussle.
No. 2 ALABAMA
Perhaps there's a little bit too much emphasis placed on the value of bye weeks.
But nonetheless, it's hard not to feel just a twinge of sympathy for the defending national champs.
South Carolina has a bye before playing the Crimson Tide. So does Mississippi. And Tennessee. And Louisiana State. And Mississippi State. And Auburn.
Yep, each of Alabama's final six conference opponents --- all of them legitimate bowl contenders --- will have an extra week to prepare.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, Alabama has a bye before it plays Louisiana State, and it will face start-up program Georgia State nine days before the Iron Bowl).
The Crimson Tide --- no matter how talented they are --- will lose somewhere along the way. They might have the country's best running backs (returning a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram helps with that) and one of the most exciting wideouts (Julio Jones) anywhere. They might even have a plethora of talent to replace a defense that was wiped out by graduation and departures to the NFL.
But that scheduling quirk is going to cost Alabama. Whether it denies them a chance to win another national title remains to be seen.
By way, here's a look at how the Tide fared in the seasons after their previous seven national titles:
1962: 10-1, won Orange Bowl (lost Game No. 9 to Georgia Tech)
1965: 9-1-1, won Orange Bowl and national title (lost Game No. 1 to Georgia, tied Game No. 5 with Tennessee)
1966: 11-0, won Sugar Bowl (ranked No. 3 behind 9-0-1 Notre Dame and 9-0-1 Michigan State)
1974: 11-1, lost Orange Bowl (lost Game No. 12 to Notre Dame)
1979: 12-0, won Sugar Bowl and national title
1980: 10-2, won Cotton Bowl (lost Game No. 8 to Mississippi State and Game No. 10 to Notre Dame)
1993: 9-3-1, won Gator Bowl (tied Tennessee and lost to Louisiana State, Auburn and Florida)
No. 1 OHIO STATE
Time to qualify a pick that understandably will receive some scrutiny.
Are the Buckeyes the nation's best team? Probably not. Head-to-head, Alabama, Florida and Texas all have a pretty good chance to win by double digits.
But are the Buckeyes the best bet to be playing in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10? Absolutely.
They play eight home games, including the only scary nonconference test (Miami).
All the significant skill players on offense, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, are back for another run.
The defense, while unlikely to be so stout against the run, hasn't yielded more than 14 points a game since 2005. That should probably continue.
Two of their four road games are against Illinois and Minnesota. Granted, the Buckeyes must go to Iowa and Wisconsin, but no path to perfection is completely ideal.
Pryor made progress last year, and consistency in the next step. Ohio State looks like the most likely team (besides, perhaps, Boise State) to go 12-0 and wind up 60 minutes away from a national title. The Buckeyes might not haul home the hardware, but few programs are more obvious candidates to at least have a chance to play for it all on the last day of the season.
And, in case you're wondering (and you probably shouldn't, since Alabama is a likely preseason No. 1) ...
OHIO STATE, PERFORMANCE IN SEASONS WITH No. 1 RANKING IN FIRST POLL
1942: 9-1, No. 1 (first poll was Oct. 12)
1958: 6-1-2, No. 8
1962: 6-3, unranked
1969: 8-1, No. 4
1970: 9-1, No. 5
1980: 9-3, No. 15
1998: 11-1, No. 2
2006: 12-1, No. 2
Guess that's a murky enough history for Buckeyes fans to be happy settling for No. 2 or No. 3 when the preseason polls are released next month.