Broaden your focus for a moment, past the nitty-gritty details of the schedules and two-deeps and likely storylines for the 2013 college football season, and ask yourself this: Which programs are most likely to be successful, not just this year, but over the next three?
That's exactly what we asked our panel of experts, and below we offer you the fruits of their labor: A top-25 ranking of the teams most likely to compete for and win championships over the next three seasons. Or, as we like to call it, the College Football Future Power Rankings.
Will resurgent programs like Notre Dame, Texas A&M and UCLA continue to climb the national title pecking order? Will struggling powers like Oklahoma, Texas and USC be able to stop their respective declines? And does anyone have a chance of taking over Alabama's throne as the top program in college football?
Our panel of experts -- Travis Haney, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill, Todd McShay and Mark Schlabach -- found answers to these questions by rating programs in five different categories (Coaching, Current Talent, Recruiting, Title Path and Program Power) to generate an overall score. (For more information on how these rankings were put together, click here.) They then weighed in with their analysis on each team.
Here you have it: The top 25 college football programs for the next three seasons.
The bar graphs reflect the average rating given by the voters for each category.
Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.
Coaching: There was no doubt among our panelists as to which program has the best coaching situation in the country going forward. "Nick Saban's 'process' is the envy of every other team in the country," says Schlabach. "As long as he's there, they're going to be at the very top." And our panel is betting that Saban will continue to be on the Crimson Tide's sideline the next three seasons. "I don't think he's at an age where he's looking to seek out a new challenge," Luginbill says of the 61-year-old Saban. "I think he wants to see if he can create, quite possibly, the greatest dynasty in the history of college football."
Current Talent: In addition to established stars like QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, LB C.J. Mosley and FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, there is young talent ready to step in after them. RB Derrick Henry, WR Chris Black, FS Landon Collins and LB Ryan Anderson are among the guys to keep an eye on. As is tight end O.J. Howard. "If there's one position where they haven't had a true difference-maker since Saban has been there, it's at tight end," says Luginbill. "Howard could be that guy."
Recruiting: The anatomy of a perfect 10 rating: The Crimson Tide haven't finished outside the top three in ESPN's recruiting class rankings since 2007, and they're coming off back-to-back No. 1 classes. They currently own the No. 2 class for 2014 on the strength of highly ranked pocket passer David Cornwell's recent commitment.
Title Path: This was the only category in which the Tide slipped a little, a credit to the ultracompetitive SEC West. But as Alabama has shown in the past two seasons, it's possible for an SEC team to withstand a conference loss and still make it to the national championship game.
Program Power: As important as Saban is, our experts agree that Alabama's facilities, resources and institutional support contribute greatly to the program's success. "You have every resource at your disposal there to win long term. It's what separates them from everybody else," says Luginbill. "Everybody's heard the 'all-in' slogan when talking about college football programs. But when Alabama uses the phrase 'all-in,' they're not just talking about the football program; they're talking about the university as a whole. Whether you're the track coach or the assistant professor in the sociology wing, everybody there understands that when football drives the bus, everybody wins."