The most wonderful time of the year is finally here. Christmas? Close. College football season.
We’ve got the countdown clock in motion here at Star Tribune World Headquarters. To celebrate the new season, Joe Christensen and myself will have a daily look at the Gophers and national college football scene on our blogs with a series of Top 5 lists. Everyone loves a good list, right?
Joe will post his first Top 5, an inside look at the Gophers, around lunchtime, so look for that later today on his Gridiron Gold blog.

My first installment will focus on five teams that can win the national championship.

1.    Ohio State. The Buckeyes enter the season as the overwhelming favorite after winning the inaugural College Football Playoff with a third-string quarterback.
The Buckeyes returned three quarterbacks who could be Heisman Trophy candidates. They have a running back (Ezekiel Ellliott) who is my preseason favorite to win the Heisman. They have a fast and physical defense and one of college football’s two best big-game coaches in Urban Meyer.
Easy pick, here.

2.    TCU. The Horned Frogs find themselves in a different position this season. They carry a bull’s-eye and big expectations now.
I saw TCU in person last season when they crushed the Gophers. I was amazed at their overall team speed, especially on defense.
Gary Patterson’s decision to overhaul his offense proved to be smart. TCU ranked second nationally in scoring at 46.5 points per game. That offense returns 10 starters, led by quarterback Trevone Boykin.
TCU has holes to fill on defense and must prove that it can handle the weight of expectations. But they should be in the mix at the end.

3.    Alabama. Remember them? The Tide’s annual motto remains, national title of bust, which is why the past two seasons have ended in disappointment for Nick Saban’s crew.
Ohio State had its way with Saban’s defense in the semifinals last year, taking a wrecking ball to Bama’s invincibility.
The guess here is that all the questions and criticism will serve as motivation for Saban and his players.
Most programs would celebrate a spot in the national semifinals, even if it ends in a loss to the eventual champions. Alabama isn’t most programs.

4.    Oregon. Seriously? After losing Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and watching them get steamrolled by Ohio State in the national championship game?
The answer is yes.
The Ducks have enough talent to return to the playoffs, and they’ve found Mariota’s possible replacement in Vernon Adams, a graduate transfer from Eastern Washington. Adams is in a battle with Jeff Lockie for the starting job in camp.
The Ducks are good enough to win the Pac-12. But are they good enough to knock off Ohio State, or even TCU or Alabama? That remains an IF for now.

5.    Auburn or Georgia. How’s that for [SEC] fence-sitting?
Truthfully, I’m having a hard time deciding between those two teams. I love Georgia running back Nick Chubb. He could win the Heisman as a sophomore. He’s terrific.
The Bulldogs also should be tough defensively. But they have questions at quarterback. That gives me pause.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made a bold hire in bringing in Will Muschamp to fix his defense. The Tigers should be vastly improved on that side after crumbling down the stretch last season.
Malzahn’s offense has some big unknowns, but the Tigers should be able to run the ball and put up points.
The SEC West is a beast, but the Tigers should be in the mix if the defense makes a significant leap.

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