One week from tomorrow night, the 2009 college football season will finally kick off. If the preseason pollsters are right, this season will be a very good one for the Florida Gators. Florida was the overwhelming number one team in both the USA Today preseason Coaches' Poll and the AP preseason sportswriters' Poll. Given that this team won the BCS National Championship last year (although I still think Utah really deserved the title) and is returning all of the starters on defense and most of the starters on offense, including Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, from last year's team, it's really hard to argue that anybody other than the Gators should begin the season in the top position. Whether the Gators, whose favorable schedule includes seven games in Gainesville, can end the regular season in with the same #1 ranking as they begin it may depend a lot on what happens when they travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU in October.
Although Florida is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as BCS national champs, there are plenty of other contenders in the mix as well. The Texas Longhorns come in second in both polls, as several pigskin pundits, including si.com's Stewart Mandel, foresee a Florida-Texas showdown in the BCS National Championship Game. The Longhorns return a potent offense including last year's Heisman runner-up, Quarterback Colt McCoy. UT's national championship hopes will most likely depend on how they handle a three-game October roadtrip to Dallas (Oklahoma), Stillwater (Oklahoma State) and Columbia (Missouri).
Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Alabama, Ohio State and Virginia Tech come in third through seventh, respectively, in both polls, while Mississippi (8th in the AP poll and 10th in the Coaches' poll), Oklahoma State (T-9th and 11th), Penn State (T-9th and 8th) and LSU (11th and 9th) occupy to one position or another the next four spots on both poll. California rounds out the top dozen in both polls. My guess is that any of these teams could, along with Texas, challenge Florida for the BCS championship, although I think USC will continue their annual tradition of losing to an inferior opponent sometime during the course of the season and I think LSU (coming off a disappointing 8-5, unranked season) might be starting the season off in an overrated position. I also continue to believe that the structure of the Big 10 season, wherein all of its teams complete their seasons the week before Thankgiving while schools from other conference continue to play for another couple of weeks (conference championship games included), put Ohio State and Penn State at a relative disadvantage in competing for a shot at the title game.
An amusing quirk of both preseason polls is the notable lack of any Big East (an automatic-qualifiying BCS conference) teams in either the AP or USA Today polls, while the non-automatic-qualifying Mountain West Conference has three. That the voters of these polls believe that the top teams in the MWC, whose champion can only go to a BCS bowl under certain conditions, are better than the top teams in the big East, whose champion automatically gets to go to a BCS bowl, is just yet another shred of evidence to the unfairness of the Bowl Championship Series system. Earlier this year there was a Congressional hearing regarding the injustice of the BCS system, but right now it's clear that Congress is not going to interfere, mainly becuase ofthe political influence of all the states whose schools are currently full BCS participants. That means that, for the foreseeable future, schools whose conferences who do not automatically qualify will have a much tougher road to the BCS championship than those that do, and the schools that have the potential to do so will continue to be patronizingly labelled "BCS Busters." There are four of them - the most ever - in the two preseason polls: TCU (ranked 17 in both polls), Utah (19 in the AP, 18 in USA Today) and BYU (20 and 24) from the Mountain West Conference, and Boise State (14 and 16) from the WAC.
A final note about the polls is the appearance of Notre Dame, which comes in 23rd in both polls. After a 7-6, unranked season last year? While the Irish may indeed have a better season in 2009, the only reason they're even ranked going into the season is because, well, they're Notre Dame. It certainly must be nice to be a program whose name counts for more than its recent accomplishments on the field.
So, who do I think is going to win it all this season? Although I think Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama and even Southern Cal all have a good shot, I'd be a fool to pick against Florida right now. The Gators are simply returning too many weapons from a team that won the BCS title last year.
The main thing is that the wait is almost over. Football season is finally here.