Nick Saban has his machine rolling and all signs point to the Crimson Tide starting the 2013 season where they finished Monday night, at the top. Preseason polls will likely have the Tide as an almost unanimous No. 1 team, even with their losses to the next level. No real surprise there, Alabama has proven that they reload like no one else in the college football world.
The real debate for 2013 will be who sits in the No. 2 spot. If I'm the Grand Puba making these decisions, I'd take the Oregon Ducks over the rest.
It was not an easy decision to arrive at, the Ducks are going to be losing some key players on their defense in 2013. They will also bid farewell to leading rusher Kenjon Barner. However, their returning pieces are enough to get excited about, starting with Marcus Mariota, the "other" redshirt freshman quarterback stud this year.
Johnny Football won the Heisman, beat Alabama and drew all of the accolades. He's not the quarterback who came within an overtime of winning his conference and guiding his team to a championship shot. No, that's Marcus Mariota.
Mariota did not get the national respect of Johnny Manziel, but he was the first team All-Pac 12 quarterback and the Freshman of the Year on offense in that conference. West coast folks, and those of us who stayed up late to watch the Ducks play, know all about this west coast kid. Whether he is running or throwing, Mariota is a treat to watch; look for his role in the offense to grow in his second year.
The youngster is a fluid athlete that put up big numbers on the ground and through the air. In fact, his 37 total touchdowns were more than Braxton Miller, a guy who helped lead his team to an undefeated season. Miller's team, Ohio State, is another squad that many folks are going to put high in the 2013 preseason rankings.
Texas A&M and Ohio State, along with Stanford, are the most likely teams not named Oregon that folks will elevate to the No. 2 spot. Stanford is an interesting case because they are the team who kept Oregon out of this year's BCS Championship Game.
However, of the teams that will be jockeying for positioning with the Ducks, Stanford is the one that should draw the biggest questions. Losing Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, plus some defensive-line pieces make playing good defense an issue in Palo Alto. Throw in the departure of Stepfan Taylor and Zach Ertz and David Shaw is going to have plenty to fix on both sides of the ball.
With Chip Kelly back, expect the Ducks to be sitting right behind the Crimson Tide when the rankings come out next season. Ohio State, Texas A&M and Stanford will likely round out the Top Five, but as we saw this past season with USC and Oklahoma, taking a tumble is never out of the question.