The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.
No. 9 Louisiana St.
Rankman has seen enough of Louisiana State this decade to know that last year's 8-5 abomination was only a ready-set-hike hiccup on the highway back to redemption.
"I can tell you that coming off last year, eight victories and a bowl win was not enough," Coach Les Miles says. "Our football team's a little more wanting, a little more ambitious."
Think of it as a reset period after winning the national title in 2007 -- it happens to the best of them.
Texas, the year after it capped a perfect season with a victory against USC in the Bowl Championship Series title game, lost consecutive games to Kansas State and Texas A&M.;
Florida, after winning it all in 2006, followed with a 9-4 season that ended with a bowl loss to, of all conferences, the Big Ten (Michigan).
So while Alabama and Mississippi are earning most of the attention in the Southeastern Conference's West Division, LSU is probably the team people should fear most.
Just because Ole Miss went into Baton Rouge last year and left with a 31-13 win doesn't mean that's going to happen every year.
"LSU is going to be good," Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt predicted. "I tell you, when I look down their stretch lines they're going to be three deep and they're going to look beautiful."
What happened to LSU last year can be divided into two areas of breakdown: signal callers and defense.
Miles played three freshmen at quarterback and paid the price before finally settling on Jordan Jefferson, who sent LSU fans into the off-season on a conga line with an offensive MVP performance in a 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
If that wasn't a fluke, the offense should hit this year with speed in many places. Jefferson is surrounded by 1,000-yard runner Charles Scott, a lunar eclipse of a left tackle in Ciron Black and a top-flight SEC receiver in Brandon LaFell.
And then there's secret weapon Trindon Holliday, all 5 feet 5 and 161 pounds of him, who is billed in his bio as "the fastest player to ever play college football."
Holliday is the reigning NCAA outdoor champion in the 100 meters, checking in at 10.00 seconds. Holliday is particularly valuable on special teams -- he's the only player in school history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns.
The other thing about the SEC: The coaches don't hold town hall meetings before making difficult personnel decisions.
Last year's defense wasn't very good, giving up 24.2 points a game while finishing only 77th nationally against the pass.
"Defensively, we got a new staff," Miles said.
The new coordinator is John Chavis, who ran Tennessee's defense for 14 years and is moving chess pieces around now in the hopes of calling checkmate against SEC offenses.
The schedule is interesting. There are basically four tune-up games, starting at Washington on Sept. 5, before a serious gantlet that starts Oct. 3 and runs to Nov. 21, with opponents including Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.