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College Football Countdown: Nos. 1-5

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Let’s wrap this thing up. …

No. 5: OHIO STATE

The vital statistics on the Buckeyes since the start of the 2005 season:

The Ohio State University vs. non-BCS conference foes: 10-0
The Ohio State University vs. Big Ten+Notre Dame: 30-3
The Ohio State University vs. Big East/Big 12/Pac-10/SEC: 3-5

And that about sums it up, doesn’t it?

The Buckeyes have won 10 games for four straight seasons. But everyone remembers the bowl game flops against the likes of Florida, Louisiana State and (to a lesser extent) Texas. That doesn’t even include laying a giant 35-3 egg at Southern California last year.

No team – big or small – is under the microscope to perform well in a specific game like Ohio State is on Sept. 12 against Southern California.

If the Buckeyes can win at the Horseshoe (much as they did in 2006 against Texas), then that preseason national title contention chatter is validated and Terrelle Pryor probably leaps into the Heisman conversation (if he hasn’t already been placed there by the talking heads).

And if not? Just get ready for another ho-hum 11-2 season in Columbus. There’s always next year to go try to beat one of those bigger and faster teams on a national stage.

No. 4: OKLAHOMA

There is no way – no way – the Sooners’ offense does any better this fall. After all, averaging 51 points in, for the most part, uncharted territory.

Scoring 60 points in five straight games – including three times against ranked opponents – isn’t going to be replicated.

Of course, the Sooners hope not to replicate the loss to Texas or the piddling 14-point performance against Florida in the national title game, either.

While Ohio State has a perception deficit to correct, so too do the Sooners. Five straight losses in BCS bowls will do that.

Having Heisman winner Sam Bradford back will help. Ditto for Mackey Award favorite Jermaine Gresham. And a couple 1,000-yard rushers will do the Sooners some good, too.

Oh, and the defense is loaded, too.

So assuming Oklahoma puts up the 11-1 or 12-0 it is capable of, the real evaluation begins on Dec. 5 at the Big 12 title game and continues on to whatever high-profile bowl the Sooners land in.

Everyone knows they’re good. What remains to be seen is just how great they are.

No. 3: TEXAS

Death, taxes and a Mack Brown-coached team winning 10 games.

In 10 of the last 13 seasons, Brown has presided over a 10-win team (in the other three, 1998-2000 Texas, his team managed just nine; the nerve!).

So yet again, the question with the Longhorns isn’t “Will they be good?” so much as it is “Are they going to be great?”

With Colt McCoy back to direct one of the best offenses not located in Norman, Okla., the Longhorns have a chance to be resplendent.

Here’s the nice thing about Texas: It has the defense to match the plethora of points McCoy and Co. will produce.

Aside from a four-game tour through the nastiest teams the Big 12 could send its way, Texas didn’t give up more than 21 points last year. Six opponents were held to two touchdowns or less.

Defense makes a difference. And that’s why the Longhorns are the favorite here to hook a Big 12 title for their trophy case.

No. 2: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

If not for Vince Young and a pesky tendency to bizarrely losing to an overmatched foe every year, the Trojans could be in the midst of a jarring dynasty.

Instead, they’ve simply won 11 games for seven years running and almost certainly will get there again this season.

Think about it; take away losses to UCLA (2006), Stanford (2007) and Oregon State (2008), and the Trojans probably were playing for at least a share of the national title six straight seasons.

If it happens this year, it will be because coach Pete Carroll has stashed away so much defensive talent that losing eight starters from a unit that yielded only 117 points all season won’t matter as much as it typically would.

There is the matter of breaking in a new quarterback, but rest assured the Trojans have enough depth and playthings at the other offensive skill positions to make it unlikely that QB will be a major issue.

Instead, it’s a matter of avoiding the head-scratching loss. The Trojans are 18-2 against top-25 teams over the last four seasons, and only one of the two losses truly cost them a national title. If Southern California shapes up and avoids a lousy day against a midpack conference team, it figures to be the greatest threat to. …

No. 1: FLORIDA

Yes, the Blessed Tebow returns to chase a third national title.

More importantly – yes, more importantly – the entire set of defensive starters returns intact to see if they can do better than yielding less than 13 points a game.

It really is sort of ridiculous that everyone on a unit that gave up 20+ points on a mere three occasions would decide to return for another go-round. Sort of like five underclassmen on a national champion basketball team choosing to return for another fun title run.

Funny how that works for Florida and no one else.

In any case, Tim Tebow’s return is crucial, too, and not just because it would probably break Thom Brenneman’s heart if Tebow wasn’t available to play at some stage in January’s BCS (Fox actually doesn’t have the national title game this season). Tebow really is quite good, even if the gushing done by others to virtually deify the guy grew tiresome more than a year ago.

Of course, you knew that already. As it stands, Florida has an excellent chance to join Nebraska (1994-95) and Southern California (2003-04) as the only repeat national champions since 1980. There are no obvious holes, and neither the defense nor Tebow seems likely to regress.

Toss in a favorable schedule, and the Gators might just march to their third title under Urban Meyer.

Patrick Stevens

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