Let me start by saying that I do not care for preseason rankings one bit. While many college football fans can safely make educated guesses as to which teams are the best, nobody knows for sure until the games begin.
But despite the many issues I have with ranking teams that no one has seen before (in their current version), the polls are going to come out on schedule whether I like it or not.
So today we're taking an in-depth look at where the Ducks might fall in the preseason polls.
Alabama is going to start the season in pole position, and it isn't up for debate either. It is coming off a third national championship in four seasons, and the Crimson Tide return a number of top-level talents on both offense and defense. T.J. Yeldon may be the best running back in the country, Amari Cooper will be starring on Sundays in the near future and AJ McCarron, who has two seasons of experience under his belt, is coming off a 2012 campaign in which he threw 30 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
Okay, so with the top spot set in stone, how will the next few places shake out? Among the candidates vying for the preseason silver medal are Ohio State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Stanford and Oregon.
Remember, the question isn't where Oregon will be ranked but where should it be ranked?
I can understand the argument for Ohio State. It was the only BCS program to go undefeated last season (although the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason, unlike Notre Dame, which also went undefeated in the regular season), and the Buckeyes have Braxton Miller at quarterback. Urban Meyer would be the best coach in the country if not for Nick Saban, and the team has a very manageable schedule.
In my book, Ohio State belongs at No. 2 to begin the season.
But here's where things start to get real tricky.
Texas A&M ended 2012 on a high note by knocking off Alabama and, after a month of enormous hype which included Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman trophy, the Aggies entered 2013 and knocked the stuffing out of Oklahoma.
Can a team begin the season with momentum? If so, A&M has plenty of it.
Then there's Georgia, which nearly beat Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs are led by quarterback Aaron Murray and a pair of outstanding running backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The defense will remain quite salty, too.
And finally there's Stanford. The Cardinal also ended the season on a high note, achieving the near-impossible in knocking off the Ducks at Autzen and subsequently winning the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.
Should the win over Oregon play a factor in where each team begins 2013?
I submit that Oregon should be ranked No. 3 to start the season.
We saw a major mistake last year with USC's preseason ranking, and most of the hype came as a result of the Trojans' win over Oregon in 2011. This taught us not to rely too much on the previous season, which is why I have the Ducks ahead of Stanford.
The Cardinal have zero proven playmakers on offense aside from quarterback Kevin Hogan (or if you count the offensive linemen as playmakers). And Hogan, while solid in his starts, still relied a lot on playmakers around him and put up "game manager" type numbers. In order for the Cardinal to stay in national championship contention, Hogan has to become a big-time playmaker. Can he? Sure, but we haven't seen it yet.
Yes, Stanford fans, your team's defense is as good as they come. But the offense won't allow the Cardinal to run away from teams like the Ducks will. How Hogan develops as an all-around quarterback will be the key to success for the Cardinal.
Oregon is a more complete team than either Texas A&M or Georgia.
The offense is loaded at every position and the defense is talented and deep everywhere aside from linebacker. Much has been made of the coaching change too, but for those hoping to see a major drop off in year one, I'm sorry but it just isn't going to happen. There is too much talent for one guy (who has been on staff for several years now, by the way) to come in and ruin everything. And let's give Mark Helfrich some credit, because he waded through the recruiting waters with ease and his team put on a nice show in the Spring Game as well.
Of course, all of this could be for naught just several weeks into the season. Texas A&M gets Alabama early on and Georgia faces Clemson right off the bat. Any one of these teams could ultimately prove to be the greatest challenger to Alabama's current reign.
But the Ducks are coming off a dominating Fiesta Bowl victory and a thoroughly successful season aside from one night in November. And, in case that statement alone didn't convince you, consider that the Ducks led by more than 30 points in nine of their thirteen games last season. Everybody except for Kenjon Barner (who will be replaced by Byron Marshall, De'Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner) is returning on offense.
I mentioned earlier that you can't always take what a team did one season and apply it to your prediction of how it will do in the following one. But when the entire nucleus is returning, it's a safe bet that the wins will continue.
Ohio State has earned the right to start the season at two, but the Ducks should be close behind in the three spot when the preseason polls roll out.