If there ever was a sure thing in college football, it would be Alabama’s hold on the top spot after this weekend’s round of season openers. Other than that, expect at least a few changes because eight ranked teams are set to go head-to head, beginning this Thursday when Pitt seeks revenge in Utah. The other three marquee match-ups are TCU vs. Oregon State and LSU vs. North Carolina this Saturday, and Virginia Tech vs. Boise State on Labor Day.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide. Defending national champions. Until someone defeats them, they deserve to remain on top. Returning 8 starters on offense, but only 2 on defense … don’t worry, Tide fans, Saban is a master at reloading quickly from his depth chart. Next: Sept 4 vs. San Jose State.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes. Fourteen starters return and Terrelle Pryor seems to be reaching his potential after the Bucks’ impressive New Year’s Day win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten. Next: Sept 2 vs. Marshall.

3. Boise State Broncos. Twenty starters (10 on D, 10 on O) return from last year’s undefeated squad. The biggest question: Can the Broncos handle the huge expectations to be the first non-BCS team to play for a national title? Next: Sept 6 vs. Virginia Tech.

4. Oklahoma Sooners. QB Landry Jones gained valuable experience last season with Sam Bradford sidelined. Sooners have 6 returning on offense and 5 on defense, but their depth chart is loaded with blue-chippers. They have one of the toughest non-con schedules with Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati. Sept 4 vs. Utah State.

5. TCU Horned Frogs. Their “home” opener vs. Oregon State in Dallas Cowboys Stadium will be telling. Senior QB Andy Dalton is a stabilizing force for the team and needs to stay healthy. He’ll be surrounded by eight returning starters, while the defense brings back seven. Look for TCU to play in the BCS title game this season if they manage to go undefeated.  Sept 4 vs. Oregon State.

6. Nebraska Cornhuskers. After two weak non-con games, the crystal ball for the Cornhuskers’ season can be read in Seattle on Sept. 18 against Washington. Nebraska returns 10 on offense and 7 on defense and could seriously be in the national title hunt this year. Next: Sept 4 vs. Western Kentucky.

7. Florida Gators. Florida is in the same boat as Oklahoma. They have 6 back on offense and 5 on defense, and they are nose-deep in talent. They have a respectable non-con schedule with USF, Florida State and their season starter on Sept 4 vs. Miami (Ohio).

8. Iowa Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz has been waiting for the planets to align over Iowa City for several years and this season looks like the true convergence could happen. Not only do the Hawkeyes have 15 returning starters (7 on offense, 8 on defense) they also get Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State at home. Sept 4 vs. Eastern Illinois.

9. Miami Hurricanes. Explosive QB Jacory Harris leads a potent Miami offense with 6 returning starters and a lot of speed. The defense returns 8 for 2010.  The ‘Canes have a grueling 4-game stretch that could derail their BCS hopes by the fifth week. They travel to Ohio State on Sept 11, then they’re at Pitt, on the road to Clemson and finally a home game vs. Florida State on Oct. 2. Next: Sept 2 vs. Florida A&M

10. Texas Longhorns. QB Garrett Gilbert was tossed into the frying pan vs. Alabama in the BCS title game and showed a lot of poise and promise. Right now, though, he’s still only the fourth best D-1A college signal caller in the state of Texas. The Longhorns return just 4 offensive starters and six on defense. Sept 4 at Rice.

11. Florida State Seminoles. The Seminole Nation hasn’t seen a new head coach guide their team in 33 years. Fortunately, Jimbo Fisher is a known commodity and he’s got 10 starters on his offense returning and 6 on defense. We’ll find out how far his squad can go when they visit Oklahoma on Sept 11. But first, they get to calibrate all their bells and whistles at home against Samford on Sept 4.

12. Arkansas Razorbacks. Ryan Mallett is the real deal. And with Bobby Petrino’s offense, and 8 other returning starters, it could be a record-setting season for the Hogs. Seven starters return on defense, too. But they’ll have to get through one of the toughest 4-game stretches in the country beginning on Sept 18 at Georgia, followed by Alabama at home, Texas A&M at home and Auburn on the road.  Next: Sept 4 vs. Tennessee Tech.

13. Virginia Tech Hokies. V-Tech can look to last year’s quasi-neutral site season opener vs. Alabama (in Atlanta) for inspiration when they take on Boise State on Labor Day evening in Landover, Maryland. The Hokies return 8 on offense and 5 on defense. Tech needs to rule the turf with their running game if they hope to have a chance to win their Sept 6 season opener against BSU.

14. Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have an exceptional cast of characters (10 O/6 D) returning from a team that surprised the nation last year with a huge win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Can they surprise again in 2010? Their Big Ten schedule is favorable this year with Ohio State coming to Madison and Penn State out of the picture. Sept 4 at UNLV.

15. Auburn Tigers. Fifteen returning starters (7 O/8 D) and a favorable schedule (Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina at home) could be just the right mixture for a very hungry Tiger team. The SEC’s West Division title could very be on the line when Auburn tangles with Alabama the last game of the regular season. Sept 4 vs. Arkansas State.

16. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. There’s a season defining three-game stretch starting on October 23 where the Yellow Jackets have back-to-back road games against Clemson and Virginia Tech followed by a home game vs. Miami. If G-Tech can enter this trio of contests with just one loss and emerge unscathed, it’s a guarantee they’ll be in the ACC title game. Paul Johnson’s squad boasts 7 offensive returnees and 8 on defense. They open their season on Sept 4 vs. South Carolina State.

Best of the Rest

17. North Carolina Tarheels. Next: Sept 4 vs. LSU

18. Arizona Wildcats. Next: Sept 3 at Toledo

19. LSU Tigers. Next: Sept 4 at North Carolina

20. Oregon Ducks. Next: Sept 4 vs. New Mexico

21. USC Trojans.  Next: Sept 2 at Hawaii

22. Utah Utes. Next: Sept 2 vs. Pittsburgh

23. Pittsburgh Panthers. Next: Sept 2 at Utah

24. Penn State Nittany Lions. Next: Sept 4 vs. Youngstown State

25. Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Next: Sept 4 vs. Purdue