After Notre Dame and Alabama determined the 2012 season's national championship in football, who's the team to beat next fall?
The champion coach still may be Gatorade-wet behind the ears and celebrating fans from the history-rich program that added another title may be insufferable this morning, yet now is a fair time to note that Alabama was preseason top-five and Notre Dame was unranked before starting its march to South Beach.
Preseason picks and polls — no matter how early or scientific -- are both spot-on and crazy. Plus, there still are a few big decisions to be made by key underclassmen before the Jan. 15 deadline to enter the NFL draft.
With that in mind, here's an entirely too early look at the 2013 Top 25:
1. Alabama: Yes, there will be some holes on the offensive line. But remember this was a rebuilding year for a defense that finished in the top five in almost every major category. And which offense welcomes back a quarterback-running back-receiver trio better than AJ McCarron-T.J. Yeldon-Amari Cooper?
2. Oregon: DeAnthony Thomas, the hiccup-quick Ducks back next in line to torture Pac-12 defenses, averaged 10.6 yards a touch and reached the end zone every 9.2 times he touched the ball this season. That's a pretty good backup plan, no?
3. Ohio State: After running the table this year while being in NCAA timeout, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are going to be better next year. Plus, the Big Ten is bad otherwise.
4. Stanford: Losing running back Stepfan Taylor and linebacker Chase Thomas hurt -- and tight end Zach Ertz may leave early -- but quarterback Kevin Hogan returns, as do four offensive linemen and two of the defensive linemen in the Cardinal 3-4.
5. Georgia: Aaron Murray said he's coming back to Athens, and who can blame a quarterback eyeing several school and possible SEC records for returning to run a play-action based system that will feature the best running back tandem around.
6. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the returning Heisman Trophy winner, "Johnny Football" Manziel, and a stocked recruiting class of big-play wide receivers. If draft-eligible junior tackles Luke Stoeckel and Jake Matthews return, which seems doubtful, Texas A&M could be higher than this.
7. Notre Dame: There will be top-five talent returning for coach Brian Kelly, who also has assembled a star-studded recruiting class. The biggest question will be whether the Irish can fill the leadership void left by Manti Te'o.
8. South Carolina: Steve Spurrier has two of the best six returning quarterbacks in the SEC and the best returning player (and name) in college football in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
9. Louisville: After thumping Florida in the Sugar Bowl, Charlie Strong and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started 2013 on a high note. The expectations in August will be equally as lofty.
10. Florida: Filling the shoes of stud duck running back Mike Gillislee will be job No. 1. Finding playmakers on the perimeter would help, too.
11. Clemson: If Tajh Boyd returns, the Tigers are the class of the ACC. If Boyd heads to the NFL, rebuilding the offense will be a chore.
12. Oregon State: Mike Riley's high-flying offense will return eight starters, including quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, each of who had multiple starts in 2012.
13. Texas: Mack Brown's Longhorns have talent, and that's a good thing since Brown will have one of the hottest coaching seats in the country.
14. Oklahoma: After what seems like a 15-year college career, quarterback Landry Jones is out of eligibility at Oklahoma. Seems like Barry Switzer recruited that kid. But there's still talent in Norman, and for the first time in years it's met with tempered expectations.
15. Florida State: Replacing quarterback EJ Manuel is the top task on the field. Replacing a staff raided by several other schools may be the more important chore.
16. LSU: No team was hammered by underclassmen defections like the Tigers. Six of last year's defensive starters elected to head to the NFL draft as well as punter Brad Wing, running back Spencer Ware and former star Tyrann Mathieu.
17. UCLA: Quarterback Brent Hunley had a nice debut season, and if linebacker Anthony Barr returns, the Bruins' front seven will be among the best in college football.
18. TCU: If quarterback Trevone Boykin continues to develop, the Frogs could be a great sleeper pick in 2013. They likely will return 10 defensive starters.
19. Southern California: Ah, the beauty of preseason polls. Ask USC, which went from preseason No. 1 to unranked in three-plus months in 2012. That said, and despite the brunt of the NCAA sanctions landing on the Trojans, there's still a load of talent on the roster, highlighted by Heisman candidate Marqise Lee
20. Oklahoma State: If running back Joseph Randle returns, the Cowboys' always high-firing offense again could be tough to handle.
21. Wisconsin: Eight offensive starters return for new coach Greg Andersen, who used more of a spread system at Utah State. The Badgers' defense will need to be retooled and the secondary rebuilt.
22. Miami: The Hurricanes return 11 offensive starters, including electric running back Duke Johnson. That's good. The Hurricanes return nine defensive starters from the worst unit across the board in the ACC. That's not.
23. Boise State: There are some defensive questions and the schedule has some nonconference hurdles, including trips to Washington and Brigham Young, but these Broncos will have a lot of experience back.
24. Michigan: Devin Gardner's growth as a quarterback helps the transition to the post-Denard Robinson era. The fact that four new offensive linemen will be trying to protect him is a bit troubling.
25. Washington: The talent is there to build on an up-and-down '12 season that ended with a 7-5 record but featured upsets of Stanford and Oregon State. Quarterback Keith Price and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will have big senior seasons.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...