Well, the first Coaches’ poll is out, premature and self-serving as it may be to the powers that be.
I say that it is both of these things because there is not a single team out here that is returning every starter. If a team is returning 2/3 overall, it is an extra-ordinary thing, by the definition of the word. So, each of these teams has to, at minimum, prepare a third of its starters to fill that role. Keep in mind that they don’t have professional work weeks to do this in, and are dealing with young men who are, on average, still very immature. So, that makes it pretty safe for me to assume, that we don’t know how good these teams are.
Yes, we can make some assumptions based on past performance and the immense amount of scouting and player assessment that has already been done on these players by the time they make it to college. What we cannot do, is know how the pieces are going to fit together and how these new starters are going to handle their new roles. After all, they weren’t good enough to start last year. Are we sure that they have progressed to the point where we think they have?
I know, I know, it’s fun to talk about it. To predict and see if we were right. After all, what’s wrong with having a little fun talking about the sports we love.
Well, generally I would say that there is nothing wrong with it all. This is an exception though. I know, you want to know why the guy who loves sports so much that he bludgeons you with his opinions on it as well as any other article he thinks you should read, would say that we shouldn’t have preseason polls.
Well…I would go one further. We should not have a poll till the first month is over.
Because it affects the rest of the season. To put it simply, it leads to a nasty cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The polls feed public opinion -> public opinion drives coverage -> coverage influences pollsters -> pollsters votes determine who lands at the top of the polls.
So, if a team is rated at the top and wins all there games, it is nearly impossible for them to be overtaken. It doesn’t matter if there is another team that comes out of nowhere with a brilliant series of performances, #1 is likely to stay #1 as long as they keep winning. So, I say, let’s make the teams play there out of conference schedule before we start publishing the polls.
But, since we are stuck with the first poll, let’s have some fun poking holes in everyone’s dreams…..one team at a time.
1. LSU Tigers: The Tigers were not a balanced team last year. When they came up against a team that could move the ball against their loaded defense, and stand up against a power running game, they were toast. They just didn’t have an attack that was setup to take shots, and didn’t have the QB who could have done it regardless. They have one with the cannon to stretch the field now, but Zach Mettenberger is going to have a lot to prove after getting booted from Georgia. Throw in losing 3 starting DB’s from their sterling secondary and a handful of other studs, and LSU has holes to fill. They are talented, no doubt, and will bring a power rushing game and an opportunistic defense. Sorry, make that 4 starting DB’s.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide: Shall we count the starters gone? 2 cornerbacks, 1 safety, 2 linebackers, 2 Wide Receivers, and the best Running Back in the country. And those are just the guys I can think of off the top of my head, most of whom were drafted in the first 2 rounds. Throw in that they weren’t sterling in the passing game before, and I think there are very real concerns, especially early in the season for the Crimson Tide. With Michigan and Arkansas both in the first 3 weeks, Nick Saban is going to have to do some of his best work to reload in time to not drop an early contest.
3. USC Trojans: We have been hearing all off-season about what the Trojans are bringing back. Matt Barkley to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. They will have a daunting passing game no doubt, and with Silas Redd defecting from Happy Valley, they will run the ball as well. They were not head and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-12 last year though. They have to beat the Ducks before anyone is going to care. Look for them to be an early-season number 1 if the SEC teams stumble at all out of the blocks because they are more likely to be in mid-season form early than some of the other foreseen ‘contenders’. Just one real question. Who is going to stop the other team from scoring? Their lack of depth has killed their defense’ noted physicality almost as much as losing Pete Carroll to the NFL did. They won games last year, but they won them in shootouts. They have 37 freshman on the roster as of today, and some of them are going to have to step up.
4. Oklahoma Sooners: They lost their linebacker corp and still insist on starting Landry Jones at QB. They are going to be good, and they will have games where their offense absolutely blows people out, but Jones gets tight when it matters. If he can’t shake that, they will be an also-ran in the Big 12, let alone on the national stage.
5. Oregon Ducks: They are fast aren’t they? But, they lost a lot. Best corner, QB, All-American RB, Tight End. When you throw in how poor they were on defense, and there are very real openings for them to stumble again. The problem for their opponents? Oregon is to the point that they just reload on offense. Kenjon Barner has been waiting for his turn and De’Anthony Thomas is as explosive as any player in the country. If whoever takes over at QB can give them some balance, they will good. But, the Pac-12 has it’s share of mine fields, like USC.
6. Georgia Bulldogs: Can someone tell me what Georgia did to get rated this high? Yeah, they recruit, and you have to love the arm that Aaron Murray leads the offense with, but……what have they done. Well, they have had their best running back arrested and kicked off the team. They have had most of their offensive line go pro. And, they have gotten whooped over and over….and over against by the western half of their conference. I will not deny, I will be rooting for them because I get so tired of hearing about the SEC west, just like everyone else outside the SEC west. I will get excited if they can go into Mizzou and blow out the tigers in Week 2, we can talk. Until then….meh.
7. Florida State Seminoles: Now, I will not deny, I have been an FSU fan since far before the great state I reside in would let me drive without flashing lights in the rear view. Well before they would put those lights there just because I was driving anyway. But, I am not falling for this again. They, much like Georgia, have been filling the cupboards the last few years, but they just haven’t done anything yet. They have talent all over the field, but it has to mature. That could happen this year, and that defense should be wicked, but that’s not new. That’s what we have said for 3 years. And each year, the talent has not matured on offense while the defense kept them respectable. That D-Line might be the best in the country, but unless they can get some help for EJ Manuel running the ball, he won’t be on the field enough to show the world what he can do. Just like the last few years.
8. Michigan Wolverines: Michigan is on its way back, but let’s be honest here and ask ourselves one thing: Do they have the horses? I tell you what, I love the coaching staff that they brought in, and I think they are on their way back to being a force, but they are going to have to take a big step to be a top 10 team this year. And if Shoelace takes a big shot….game over for the Wolverines.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks: Well on the bright side, Stephen Garcia is gone. On the dark side, so are 3 first round draft picks. That said, this is going to be a very good defense, and Connor Shaw showed some flashes after being thrown into the fire last season after Garcia was booted. We have to be honest though, Marcus Lattimore and his oft-injured body are the key to this season for the Gamecocks. If he is out, they are a good team led by one of the better D-Lines in the country. If he is in, they are probably the favorites for the SEC East.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks: My, my, my, what an off season. Let’s see, your top 3 Wide Receivers….gone. Your top Defensive End, Linebacker, and both starting safeties gone. Oh, and your head coach……yup, you guessed it. Gone. So, what’s left. Well, the guy who taught that coach how to build an offense is coming in to help out, oh and to get some cash to recover from his newly declared bankruptcy. You might have your stud running back on the team, if he gets healed up in time. What they do have, is their up-and-coming signal caller who just might be enough to make it all go. The Razorbacks have hope, but they have to replace an awful lot of what made them special. They might have to work to hold on the third spot in the SEC west. 10th in the country? Huh, well, I guess it could happen. Oh yeah, BTW, Bama is coming to town for your SEC opener this year. Have fun.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers: Boy can these boys score the ball. But they have never seen teams with offenses like they are about to see. They are riding high after shellacking Clemson to close out last season, but they are going to be hard presses to do that in the Big 12. Not because the defenses in the Big 12 will stop them, but because the offenses in the Big 12 will stay on the field and score some points too. It’s gonna be fun, but they were bad on defense before losing a couple of high draft picks from their front 7. I will admit though, I cannot wait for November 10th. West Virginia’s version of the Air Raid against Oklahoma State’s version. After all, Dana Holgerson basically built them both. Neither team is going to surprise the others, and the defenses will have the perfect practice squad (also known as their own starting offenses) to get ready against. It won’t matter. Over under could easily be 80.
12. Wisconsin Badgers: Ok, let’s play bad news/good news. The bad news is the Badgers lost 6 players to the NFL draft with another 7 starters leaving due to graduation. The good news. Montee Ball was not among them. They are trying to get another stud transfer QB from the ACC with Danny O’Brien jumping out of the Maryland ship to head to Madison. He is not Russell Wilson, but the boy can play, and should definitely be enough to keep the Badgers balanced and Montee Ball running wild. But the Badgers were barely this good with Russell Wilson, and like I said, O’Brien is no Russell Wilson.
13. Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans are a tough team without stars. Does that sound like a team that is top 15 in the country? It will be interesting to see which team has reloaded better in 4 weeks though, when Boise State comes to town. Michigan State lost less, but they started with less.
14. Clemson Tigers: Tajh Boyd is a stud and so is Sammy Watkins, but they are not going to be sneaking up on anyone this year. They got on a roll last year, and it carried for awhile, but it did not end well. As for the schedule, Auburn is not the kindest starting game, but it looks tougher than it should be as the Tigers aren’t exactly loaded for bear. The September 22nd game in Tallahassee is going to be huge for the ACC race, as those 2 with Virginia Tech are expected to be the class of the conference. I expect at least 2 losses for Tigers this year.
15. Texas Longhorns: Are they back? Oh hell, who knows? What I do know, they are looking to lean on Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray to carry the load while they figure out their Quarterback situation. I know this is a senior light team that returns a lot of experience, and I know that this team can run with anyone in the country. I am also fairly sure that they will lose 3 games in conference this year. Maybe as few as 2.
16. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Damn the huskers, that is all. Ok, that’s not all, I just have leftover resentment from growing up in rural Kansas before Snyder got to K-State. They have issues all over the field though. In the last 2 years, they have lost All-American candidates at all 3 levels of their defense including 2 starting corners and 2 starting D-Tackles. They are led by one of College Football’s Pre-Eminent nutcases in Taylor Martinez with his biggest challenger for that title being his own head coach. They are going to be one of the better rushing attacks in the country though because as petulant and Martinez can be, d@mn can that boy run. With him and Rex Burkhead in the backfield, they will get their 30 or so. But they will give up just as many way more often than the blackshirt faithful are accustomed to. And they better not sleep on their non-conference with Southern Miss, @UCLA, and Arkansas State there. Those are games they should win, but I would not be surprised at all if they drop one of them as each of those teams has schemes on a bowl trip this year.
17. TCU Horned Frogs: I was really surprised to see this after all of the off-season trouble. I don’t know that it’s wrong, but this is probably peak position for the Horned Frogs. They have a good QB coming back and Patterson will find a way to trot a solid defense out there. But, you can’t lose starters you were expecting to have and be better for it.
18. Stanford Cardinal: I think the cardinal is in trouble this year. They didn’t just lose Luck, they also lost their best Wide Receiver and Tight End, the latter of which was a huge part of the offense’s success. Oh, and 2 of the best O-Linemen in the country. They are going to take a step back, and I would not be terribly surprised if they are the third best in their division. That will not have them in the top 20.
19. Oklahoma State Cowboys: They are suddenly a very young team. Last year was the end of a learning curve, with veterans at QB and Wide Receiver. They will be better on defense, and they will be explosive, but look for them to drop at least 2. I definitely have the Nov 10th game with West Virginia circled though. Lunt will know what he is doing by then and there are going to be a lot of points on the board.
20. Virginia Tech Hokies: The Hokies lose another stud running back with David Wilson heading the NFL. They also lose another stud corner with Jayron Hosley heading that way as well. But, they are still going to be the Hokies. I look for Logan Thomas to carry them for awhile, but their defense will figure it out quick. If their offense can figure it out before the first third of the season is over, they will have a shot at the ACC. But, they have a tough schedule in front of them.
21. Kansas State Wildcats: The sad thing about the Wildcats is that they should be better this year, but their record may not reflect it. They played their game last year, and have a lot of balls bounce their way. Now, there is truth to the saying that “Winners make their own luck”. The Wildcats are well coached and conditioned and put themselves in the position to take advantage of mistakes. That said, they have Miami, OU, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas on the schedule. If they win 4 of those 7, it will be a good year. I just don’t see Collin Klein improving his passing enough to really keep defenses honest, and if he goes down from the punishment he will take running the ball, the Cats are in big trouble.
22. Boise State Broncos: The Broncos officially have the chance to who whether they are a good team, or a good program now. They lose their entire front 7 and starting offensive backfield from last year. That includes the winning est Quarterback in the history of D-1 football. Good programs reload. Good teams rebuild. Time to find out which they are. Starting at Michigan State could be a real problem. Look for the smurfs to fall out of the top 25 and work their way back in.
23. Florida Gators: The Gators are going to play some defense, that much we know. But they have to find a way to score some points. They don’t have a QB locked in, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the 2 they have in contention weren’t so different. Their defense is going to have to carry them early. They could be another team that drops a game or 2 early and has to climb back in. That said, they should be improved over last year’s .500 season.
24. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Manti Te’o came back because he thinks Notre Dame has a chance to make some noise this year. With him back, they might have a shot, but they have to figure out who the QB is. I don’t care if it’s Gunner Kiel, the hotshot freshman, who gets the nod. They need to make a decision so they can have an identity. They are going to need to find a playmaker on the outside to work with whoever it is as well.
25. Auburn Tigers: The Tigers had a tough year A.C. but they did get a lot of experience. They got the nod here primarily for their rich history, but history doesn’t win you games. Week one against an angry Clemson Tiger team could be ugly, and I expect them to lose at Mississippi State in week 2 as well. I look at their schedule, and I only see 5 wins tops.