Yup, it’s that time again. Here’s the official WBE preseason top 25 as submitted for the one, the only, the OG BlogPoll:
The requisite notes on how I arrived at this mish-mash:
Philosophy: These aren’t “power rankings,” as I specifically took team schedules and my resulting fuzzy-soft record projections into account. Brian hates this approach, but I hate ranking Team A ahead of Team B on this preseason ballot and having to add the caveat “Just so you know, Team B is totally going to have the better season, though, because of scheduling issues,” so we’re having to agree to disagree. Feel free to take this as the WBE’s shorthand prediction for how each of these teams will finish.
On specific teams and spots …
1-2: The only two teams–save Boise and Houston–I expect to finish the season with fewer than two losses, or at least the far-and-away best bets to run the table. With Okie St., Mizzou, and Texas Tech’s decline, the Big 12 is a three-team league, and I don’t think either the ‘Horns or ‘Huskers have enough to handle Oklahoma. The Sooners coule easily have both the league’s best defense and best offense. Meanwhile, lost in the Boise hype parade is the fact that TCU also went undefeated last regular season and did so in substantially more impressive fashion against a substantially more difficult schedule. One bowl game does not necessary a firm prediction for the following year make. The Frogs lose just about nothing on offense and always have the MWC’s best defense … who’s going to beat them this year, either?
3-10: These teams are just about interchangeable. The Tide come in No. 3 as the projected SEC champion–I don’t like it any more than you do–thanks to that pillowy-soft schedule (road trip to Arkansas aside) and Florida’s issues of their own. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost three games, so go figure. Oregon I’m high on despite the Masoli brouhaha; Kelly’s never had any problem finding a quarterback up there and every other unit on the team is improved. I don’t like Boise to win the cross-country opener, but they won’t lose again, so No. 5 seems about right.
At No. 6 and 7, I like Wisconsin’s loaded offense to blow past the stodgy Buckeyes at home at Camp Randall and earn the Rose Bowl berth. (A word about Ohio St.: this is a team that was a two-point try away from going to OT with Navy [at home], lost to a mediocre USC team [at home], got throttled by Purdue, got outgained by Wisconsin by nearly 200 yards and won on three different touchdown returns [at home], and went to overtime against an Iowa team missing its starting quarterback [at home]. Their supposed role as Big Ten and national championship berth favorites rests on the sudden maturation of a quarterback whose final regular season game saw him go 9-for-17 for 67 yards–3.9 per attempt– with 1 TD and 1 pick … against the worst secondary in the conference. But he looked great for 60 minutes against an eminently skewerable Duck defense, and now he’s turned a corner? Right.)
Florida could swap places with ‘Bama easily; both offenses should be solid and the Gators could–maybe should–have the better defense. But Florida just looked sort of lost last year and I don’t think losing Strong will help. Neither Nebraska nor Texas should really be all that overpowering, but they’re both miles better than anyone else in that conference.
Huge, yawning gap: Please just take it on faith that I don’t think anyone really deserves to be ranked in the 11-15 spots. I like the top 10, but it’s all straw-clutching for these next several rungs of the ladder.
11-15: The upper-middle of the SEC and the five- or six-team top shelf of the ACC are similar: several good teams, but a fair share of losses on deck as they beat each other up. I like the Dawgs to emerge as the SEC’s third-best team with Auburn a bit behind; I like Virginia Tech to emerge fro mthe ACC scrum with Miami running in second with a solid nonconference pelt or two. They get smashed together here with Notre Dame, who has too much talent to keep flailing under a coach as good as Brian Kelly.
16-17: The flyers. Everyone forgets that Houston was on course for a BCS challenge before tripping up against UTEP; all the skill position guys are back, there’s a new DC, and the slate is even easier. I bet they win 11. UConn is the best-coached team in the Big East, has a great offensive line, and the best schedule of any Big East contender; they may start 0-1 after their season-opener at desperate Michigan, but won’t drop too many after that.
18-25: Arkansas, Iowa, and Pitt are all lower than they’ll generally be ranked; I don’t think the Hogs have the defense, the Hawkeyes the offense, or Pitt the schedule to make good on their preseason buzz. (Seriously, the Panthers play at Utah, vs. Miami, and at Notre Dame just outside of conference.)
The ACC is deep enough to yield a few more representatives: Georgia Tech was overrated last year but has Paul Johnson; Florida St.’s Good Twin BC is going to win games they have no business winning, just like always; and UNC still has a boatload of NFL defenders even without Austin. The same goes for the Pac-10; I went with Arizona’s steady climb under Mike Stoops and the leftover talent at USC over their leaguemates.
Waitlist: The Pac-10 is overrun with decent teams that deserve consideration; Cal, Oregon St., Stanford and Washington should all appear on someone’s ballots, even though I went elsewhere. South Carolina could have a big year if they can get past Georgia. (No, I didn’t consider LSU.) West Virginia is the other Big East team that could make a national mark, though having Stewart at the helm will catch up to them one day. Likewise, I expect the move to Jimbo Fisher to pay off for Florida St., and it could be this season, but until it happens the ‘Noles have earned the skepticism. In the mid-major ranks, Temple, Nevada, and the Utah-based usual suspects in the Mountain West could have big years.
I think that about covers it. If you think anything is really, terribly wrong here, you can try to argue me out of it in the comments.