I submitted my ballot to the AP office earlier Wednesday, and it's posted below with comments on each team. I'll update with AP rankings (for comparative purposes) when the preseason poll is published Aug. 17.
In an attempt to limit the inevitable confusion (outrage?) about what you'll read below -- and what you'll read through the course of the season -- here's an overview of my voting philosophy:
My preseason poll is a projection of how I think the teams will finish in January. If the preseason No. 1 is your best team -- your pick to win the national championship -- then it seems to follow that all the teams should be slotted according to projected finish.
What you'll see below is an updated version -- similar but not identical -- of my January projections.
WILNER'S TOP 25 1. Alabama: Best coach in the land + superb QB (senior AJ McCarron) + NFL talent up and down the roster + favorable schedule (LSU at home, no Georgia or Florida) = Team To Beat. 2. Ohio State: Not sure I'd like the Buckeyes to reach the finals in a four/eight-team playoff, but a soft nonconference schedule and the mediocre Big Ten means they could run the table ... until they get run off the field in the national championship game. 3. Stanford: With a rugged defense, dominant offensive line and savvy quarterback, the Cardinal looks like a powerhouse SEC team ... and powerhouse SEC teams are title contenders. 4. Louisville: To name just one potential controversy in the final year of the BCS: If the Cardinals blast through the weak American Athletic (ex-Big East) and finish the regular-season undefeated, would they nudge a 1-loss SEC/B12/B1G/P12 team out of the title game? 5. Oregon: Dropped the Ducks three spots from their January placement, largely due to the departure of Chip Kelly. Then again, Oregon misses USC and Arizona State and gets UCLA at home. 6. Georgia: If the Dawgs survive a brutal opening month (Clemson, South Carolina and LSU), then the regular season comes down to one game: Florida. 7. Clemson: Tajh Boyd and the Tigers are the team to beat in the ACC, but bookenders vs. Georgia and South Carolina could put the BCS title game out of reach. 8. South Carolina: With Jadeveon Clowney and Co. obliterating opponents, the Gamecocks will have plenty of margin for error on the other side of the ball. 9. Nebraska: The Huskers don't leave home until mid-October and play just four road games. Two of them are Purdue and Minnesota. 10. LSU: From the can't-get-any-worse department: Tigers' ranking based on presumption that offense will improve under senior QB Zach Mettenberger and new playcaller Cam Cameron. 11. Oklahoma State: Best in the Big 12 might not mean as much this season. The league will be, at best, No. 3 in the conference pecking order (behind SEC and Pac-12). 12. Texas A&M: Difficult team to place because of potential suspension for Johnny Autograph. At this point, assumption is that he'll play. If that changes, so will the ranking. (And yes, there is precedent for the AP allowing voters to change preseason ballots: Honey Badger.) 13. UCLA: Moved the Bruins up five spots from January position. Brett Hundley, Brett Hundley, Brett Hundley ... and a little Anthony Barr. 14. Florida: Defensive-minded Gators will be more than capable of winning games 17-10 ... and they'll probably have to. 15. Northwestern: More than capable of winning games 45-40 ... and will probably have to. 16. Texas: Tough to make the case for Longhorns as a preseason top-10 team. But as a BCS dark horse, they're intriguing. 17. Fresno State: Difference between FSU and Boise State: The schedule. Boise State has Washington, Fresno, Utah State and BYU on the road. 18. Texas Christian: Casey Pachall is back from suspension, which means the Frogs have the potential to challenge for the Big 12 title. 19. Florida State: Suffered heavy personnel losses and far more likely to underachieve than overachieve. 20. Michigan: Impressed by what I saw of QB Devin Gardner last season. His style suits the strengths of playcaller Al Borges far better than Denard Robinson's ever did. 21. Notre Dame: The Irish would have been several spots higher with Everett Golson in uniform, but I expect Tommy Rees to be more than satisfactory due the confidence that comes from knowing the job is his. 22. USC: If the QB situation gets settled in training camp and remains settled, the Trojans could win eight or nine games -- they're plenty talented at the other 21 positions. 23. Oklahoma: Combination of new quarterback and difficult schedule -- it includes a trip to South Bend -- will make this a challenging season in Norman. 24. Georgia Tech: Paul (Triple Option) Johnson has won at least seven games in nine of the past 10 seasons. Look for the Jackets to make it 10 out of 11 for their underappreciated coach. 25. Washington: Now or never for the Huskies. The call here: Now. Also considered (in no particular order): Boise State, Kansas State, Northern Illinois, Vanderbilt, Arizona State, Rutgers, Miami, UCF, Wisconsin, Oregon State and Tulsa.
For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5716.