The top 25 looms.
For now, here's five teams that, for whatever reason, just didn't make the cut.
No. 30 CINCINNATI
There's a traveling two-team experiment about to get underway in a couple months. I like to call it the Brian Kelly Effect.
People should already know how good a coach Kelly is. Please notice the absence of traditional D1scourse punching bag Notre Dame on the countdown to this point.
But Kelly's influence won't be seen in just how good Notre Dame is, but how much Cincinnati regresses this fall.
Remember, the Bearcats were a second away from playing Alabama in the national title game. Instead, Texas got life, then a last-second field goal against Nebraska and then a loss to Texas in Pasadena.
Kelly took a team with one returning starter on defense and souped up the offense to render average play on the other side of the ball fairly irrelevant. He also got Cincinnati to win its final three conference games by a combined six points.
The Bearcats will take a step back, in large part because they have to. But there's enough here for a chance to collect a third straight Big East title. With Louisville, South Florida and Syracuse to open league play, Cincinnati surely can extend its conference winning streak by a game or three. That would fit with history, which shows such skids come to an end in November.
LONGEST CONFERENCE WINNING STREAKS, BIG EAST
27: Miami (1999-2003) --- ended Nov. 1, 2003, by Virginia Tech (31-7)
14: Virginia Tech (1998-2000) --- ended Nov. 4, 2000, by Miami (41-21)
12: Miami (1991-93) --- ended Nov. 20, 1993, by West Virginia (17-14)
12: Cincinnati (2008-present)
11: Syracuse (1991-92) --- ended Nov. 21, 1992, by Miami (16-10)
10: Miami (1995-96) --- ended Nov. 16, 1996, by Virginia Tech (21-7)
10: West Virginia (2003-04) --- ended Nov. 13, 2004, by Boston College (36-17)
No. 29 UTAH
The Utes already have a fine head start on power conference membership.
No, no, no. It has nothing to do with stellar unbeaten seasons in 2004 and 2008 that exponentially raised the program's profile, though those perfect runs surely helped.
Instead, Utah has already mastered the art of getting credit with poll voters based on past performance rather than current production.
The Utes beat precisely two eventual bowl teams during the regular season --- Air Force (in OT) and Wyoming --- yet remained ranked almost the entire time. In many ways, the best thing Utah did all year was stay close to Brigham Young and Oregon on the road. A bowl defeat of a wounded Cal outfit was nice, too.
This year, expect a similar ranking with a better team. The Utes' offense should be, and the defense routinely keeps opponents below 21 points a game. That shouldn't change even with some personnel turnover.
Utah has a chance to overperform this projection. It gets Brigham Young and Texas Christian at home, and opens with Pittsburgh in Salt Lake City on a Thursday night --- one of the first weekend's most intriguing games. Whatever the Utes do, you can count on them earning it on the field rather than riding the coattails of a predecessor into top-20 standing for much of the season.
No. 28 SOUTH CAROLINA
In lieu of a preview of what could be Steve Spurrier's best team in six seasons in Columbia --- yet one that pretty much universally is considered the No. 3 team in the SEC East behind Florida and Georgia --- here's a look at the best winning percentages by coaching stint in the SEC since 1990 (minimum three seasons; only seasons since 1990 counted):
1. Urban Meyer, Florida, 2005-present (.851, 57-10)
2. Steve Spurrier, Florida, 1990-2002 (.817, 122-27-1)
3. Gene Stallings, Alabama, 1990-96 (.810, 70-16-1)
4. Nick Saban, Alabama, 2007-present (.805, 33-8)
5. Mark Richt, Georgia, 2001-present (.769, 90-27)
6. Les Miles, Louisiana State, 2005-present (.773, 51-15)
7. Nick Saban, Louisiana State, 2000-04 (.750, 48-16)
8. Phil Fulmer, Tennessee, 1992-2008 (.745, 152-52)
9. Terry Bowden, Auburn, 1993-98 (.731, 47-17-1)
10. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn, 1999-08 (.680, 85-40)
11. Jim Donnan, Georgia, 1996-2000 (.678), 40-19)
12. Ron Zook, Florida, 2002-04 (.622, 23-14)
13. Houston Nutt, Arkansas, 1998-07 (.610, 75-48)
14. Billy Brewer, Mississippi, 1990-93 (.609, 28-18)
15. David Cutcliffe, Mississippi, 1998-2004 (.603, 44-29)
16. Ray Goff, Georgia, 1989-95 (.574, 46-34-1)
17. Gerry DiNardo, Louisiana State, 1995-99 (.571, 32-24-1)
18. Pat Dye, Auburn, 1990-92, (.559, 18-14-2)
T19. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina, 2005-present (.556, 35-28)
T19. Tommy Tuberville, Mississippi, 1995-98 (.556, 25-20)
Spurrier's accomplishments with the Gamecocks are nothing to be embarrassed by. He's the only South Carolina coach to have a winning overall record since Joe Morrison's run in the mid-1980s. The Gamecocks have reached four bowl games in five years. With a 2-12 record in that span against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana State in that span and a 16-8 mark against everyone else in that span, the Gamecocks have taken their rightful place in the SEC's pecking order.
But something seems wrong. And that something is that Spurrier was such a successful character during his coaching incarnation in the Swamp. Sure, he fizzled with Washington in the NFL, but he wasn't in a cult of one there.
Five years into Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina, it seems the old Fun-N-Gun magic will never return, at least not for his teams. None of his Gamecock outfits have averaged 400 yards total offense; as a point of reference, that total would have ranked 45th nationally last year.
This isn't an indictment of Spurrier, whose reputation will remain strong even if it is a bit tarnished by an inability to turn South Carolina into a power. It's more a reminder to the rest of us that the past is difficult to duplicate, and the single greatest ingredient in coaching success is a surplus of talent.
He had it at Florida, which is why only one of his successors has done better in the SEC in the last two decades. And he does not at South Carolina, which explains why he's swimming around with the Ray Goffs and Gerry DiNardos of the world during his time with the Gamecocks. If ever there was a chance to rewrite his South Carolina legacy, it's this year.
Spurrier's history, though, hints at a remarkable level of predictability. Duke improved in his first season and continued to do so. Florida went 9-2 in 1990, then hauled home the first of six SEC titles the next year. The Redskins stunk both seasons under the Ol' Ball Coach. And South Carolina spent the latter half of the last decade stuck in 7-5 Land.
Things could get better this year, though it's difficult to say with a straight face the Gamecocks will be vastly improved. What you see is what you get, and that's a hard thing to finally acknowledge about Spurrier's stint at South Carolina.
No. 27 HOUSTON
Some perspective, if you will, on the top fivepassing seasons in Houston football history:
5,671: Case Keenum, 2009
5,140: David Klingler, 1990
5,020: Case Keenum, 2008
4,699: Andre Ware, 1989
3,809: Kevin Kolb, 2006
Basically, he's a ridiculous talent for a ridiculous system. And while he probably isn't quite as absurd as Klingler was (Klingler averaged 467.3 yards a game as a senior, while Keenum checked in with "just" 405.1 yards; Ware's Heisman season included 427.2 yards a game), he'll still be one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in college football this fall.
But a Heisman candidate? There's two things holding him back.
One is schedule. Houston beat Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in September last year. This time, they open with Texas State, nemesis UTEP, UCLA, Tulane, Mississippi State and Rice. Besides perhaps the trip to L.A., the star power is lacking.
The second is a fairly consistent unwillingness of late for voters to reward quarterbacks in pass-heavy schemes. Ware and Ty Detmer won back-to-back in 1989 and 1990, but it's been considerably tougher for similar quarterbacks to land in contention thanks to a presumably wary electorate.
Of course, there's one other thing (for better or for worse) that will impact Keenum's candidacy, and that would be winning. If Houston can overcome its porous defense and run the table, his name will be heard in many plays. But considering the Cougars had the nation's No. 1 offense last year and still lost four games, here's guessing Keenum's Heisman hype dries up before November (if not a little sooner).
No. 26 LOUISIANA STATE
Great defense. Bad offense. That about sums up the Tigers.
And if neither of those change, another 9-4 season (or perhaps 8-5) could be in the offing.
It's difficult to explain how a team that got outgained by more than 23 yards a game could wind up 9-4. A major part of it was Trindon Holliday, who ranked second nationally with 18.1 yards per punt return.
Holliday's gone, and with him is an easy way to cover up some offensive inefficiencies. The Tigers' offense should be better, but that will only help so much with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida and North Carolina to deal with.
There's a lot to learn about Louisiana State in its opener, a neutral-field date with North Carolina in Atlanta. Vegas would be wise to set the over/under at about 25, and that might not be the last time it's possible to say that about a game involving the Tigers this season.