The countdown will take at least a day (if not two) off. There's no reason to unveil the entire top 10 during a weekend when no one is paying attention.
As for the teams just outside that range? Seems like a good thing to run down on a Friday morning ...
No. 15 OREGON STATE
The most mysterious thing about Oregon State is not its success, but rather why a lot of folks don't seem to expect it on a regular basis.
And so it is again this year, with most of the preview magazines slotting the Beavers between 25th and 30th when they invariably play as well as anyone after Oct. 1.
The same will hold true this season, at least after Oregon State is done dealing with both Texas Christian and Boise State before September is through.
That will be quarterback adjustment time, and the Beavers could get off to the usual tepid start. But down the road, both Southern California and Oregon come to Corvallis. And Jacquizz Rodgers will be his usual pinball self. And Oregon State's veteran defensive line will make it tough (as usual) for opponents to run.
Orchestrating it all is Mike Riley, who has done what once was unthinkable --- make the Pac-10 standings over a four-year stretch look like this:
PAC-10 CONFERENCE RECORDS, 2006-09
Southern Cal: 27-9
Oregon State: 25-11
Arizona State: 17-19
Washington State: 8-28
Consider that Riley's unheralded teams have won as many league games in that span as UCLA and Washington combined. That's just crazy.
Southern Cal, despite its probation, remains the most talented team. Oregon is a popular pick, even down its projected starting quarterback. But Oregon State will be in the mix at or near the end of the season. It usually is.
No. 14 OREGON
The Ducks took a huge step toward taking a step toward a national title the day they released their 2010 schedule.
That's because Boise State doesn't appear.
Take out a loss to the Broncos, and Oregon is likely in the top 15 heading into its 2008 showdown at Southern California. And last year, the Ducks rattled off seven straight wins after losing on the blue turf in the infamous season opener thanks to LeGarrette Blount's postgame antics.
Of course, it would have helped Oregon tremendously if Jeremiah Masoli could have behaved himself and not got himself suspended for the season and later thrown off the team.
The Ducks survived Blount's absence nicely, with freshman LaMichael James stepping in to run for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns (yet again demonstrating the ease with which most running backs can be replaced). Their ability to cope without Masoli --- a reality Oregon has known about for months --- will dictate whether they can secure their first top-five national finish since 2001.
That's the great unknown, and it means the Ducks should be viewed with some caution. But they'll still be plenty scary, and a legitimate threat to make it back to the Rose Bowl.
No. 13 IOWA
When any team wins four games by a combined eight points, it is worthy of some suspicion.
Such is the case with the Hawkeyes, who rode a superb defense and an unspectacular offense to the Orange Bowl --- and (as anyone who watched the broadcast could tell you) the coldest Orange Bowl ever, at that.
The defense will remain excellent this season, with the line and the secondary both particularly strong. Whether Ricky Stanzi and the offense can improve remains to be seen.
But remember this. Iowa went to Penn State and Wisconsin and won last year, and nearly toppled Ohio State in the Horseshoe. All three Big Ten heavyweights (along with Michigan State) venture to Iowa City, leaving the Hawkeyes to visit Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota. Not exactly a perilous road.
Effectively, there's reasons to believe the Hawkeyes will again be a top-10 team (schedule, defense) and reasons to think they'll fade (luck evening out, offense). The smart play is to go somewhere in the middle and count on a comfortable trip to Florida for New Year's Day.
No. 12 GEORGIA
Five certainties about the Bulldogs' looming season.
1. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be more popular than his predecessor. That's a bar so low you can step over it.
2. The Bulldogs will have a better turnover margin than -15. Because it's pretty difficult to be that bad once, let alone twice.
3. Georgia will break in a new quarterback while relying on established running backs and the nation's most experienced offensive line (per Phil Steele).
4. The instant the Bulldogs lose a game, moaning about Mark Richt (he of a 90-27 career record) will escalate considerably. It won't matter if that loss comes in the season's second week or in the BCS title game.
5. The lock of the year: No fan at Sanford Stadium will ever witness another anti-drunk driving PSA featuring deposed athletic director Damon Evans.
No. 11 WISCONSIN
Somewhere in the great beyond, Woody Hayes nods approvingly at the Badgers.
MOST CONSECUTIVE SEASONS, 200+ YARDS/GAME RUSHING
28: Air Force
2: Texas Christian
The Badgers aren't exactly a relic of a bygone era, but they might be the least fancy elite team in the country. They'll ride their rushing game --- between tailback John Clay and his humongous line --- as far as possible, just like they usually do.
Wisconsin should breeze through its out-of-league schedule (though it does seem like a magnet for nonconference scares), draws Ohio State at home and doesn't have to deal with Penn State. It's difficult to foresee a perfect season, but a trip to the Rose Bowl isn't out of the question for Bucky Badger.