Friday, August 25, 2006

Finally: Preseason Top 10

Yeah, I asked for it like two weeks ago. And yeah, Jeff is the only one who has responded thus far, what with Dids being obsessed with "World of Warcraft" and "Kid Icarus" and whatnot, and Evan being ... I don't know, somewhere. Working like a damn dog in Bah-ston, I assume. I don't know, I felt like I had to get these out there before the season actually started, so ... I am. (Sidenote: as I type, I am watching ESPN Classic, where [this week only] they're actually showing college football games, and not just in the 1-hour "we have to make room for more boxing and bowling" "Drive Thru" format, either. The current game? Last year's Sugar Bowl, Georgia vs. West Virginny. The first quarter is just coming to an end, and the 'Eers look so thoroughly dominant that I seriously considered rejiggering the following list in order to squeeze them in there. Then I sat there for a second and went "you dipshit, just watch the last 2.5 quarters and you'll come to your senses." But I had forgotten how really REALLY good they looked in the first 20 minutes of that game.)

So ... Top 10. The thing is, as has been discussed numerous times elsewhere by actual college football-oriented blogs, you have to define exactly what you're trying to accomplish: is your list (or preseason blogpoll ballot, if that's your thing) an evaluation of talent alone? Is it a prediction of how the season will turn out? Is it a prediction of who will accomplish the most? Is it a prediction of what the final polls are likely to be? I tend to side with SMQ more than the blogpoll faction which requests that strength of schedule not be taken into account -- the theory is that you want to judge the worth of teams based on performance and on evidence available, and not on perceived strength and weakness of schedules, but the thing is, in anyone's preseason poll or list or alcohol-soaked blithering, we have no real evidence to work with, as no games have been played. I think the best way to go is to try and predict what the rankings will end up being, and yes, strength of scedule therefore has to be a consideration. I don't like preseason polls, and I think they should be done away with, so everyone waits until there is SOME on-the-field information available; however, if you have to have one, I think it should be a predictor of the way the season will end up. Voters should then disregard that prediction as much as possible when filling out in-season polls, and just go by the evidence they can see on the field.

Last piece of general discussion before starting the actual list: there seems to be a pretty general consensus of which 12 or so teams should contain the Top 10. The problem is that noone knows where the hell to rank the teams inside of that list of 10, because every single team has at least one glaring hole or potential weakness, to go along with at least one big strength (which is why I've adopted the format I've used here, an outright theft of CFN's). Needless to say, I hate my list. Here we go.

1.) USC
General notes: Until given reason otherwise, they're my preseason #1. They've been stockpiling talent for what seems like epochs (and REAL talent, not all this "hey, Virginia's got a couple of top-10 recruiting classes in a row, let's pick them as our national dark horse team the next four consecutive years"), and I can't just overlook the fact that every time they've graduated seemingly-irreplaceable players over the last few years, they've just plugged in some new sophomore top-20 national recruit and kept on chugging. Of course, playing a Pac 10 schedule every year doesn't hurt that chugging, either (MWB, bitches!).
Biggest justification(s) for having them #1: The aforementioned stupidly well-stocked cupboard that reads like a who's who of the best recruits of the last five years. The revolving door of badass offensive linemen. The fact that they return 5 of their front seven on defense, so they should be able to continue to pressure opposing QBs the way they have the past few years, with little dropoff. They have a receiving corps which is the best in the country, and by pretty significant margin. The schedule -- especially in-conference -- is ridiculously back-loaded so that, should the Tro-men escape the two early games at Arkansas and home against Nebraska (a somewhat pesky chore, but extremely doable), they have relatively smooth sailing until the last three weeks, when they have home games against Cal and Notre Dame and a functional home game against UCk-LA. Plus they're going for history.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: In theory, you don't just replace all the shit they lost, especially two Heisman winners, and not to mention three offensive linemen. For years, their rather iffy defense has been helped immensely by the fact that they've been feasting off turnovers from Pac 10 foes who are stuck playing from behind most of the time; conventional wisdom would suggest that they have to come back down to earth from the +21 turnover margin they had last year (they have to one of these years, right?).

2.) Texas
General notes: What the hell is this, last year? I hate having these two teams 1-2. Lost in all the "who's gonna be the QB?" hoopla, some people are forgetting that these guys are returning almost everything else. Pretty much every player they lost was a [Cave] BEAST [/Cave], but if USC is the "Yankees' payroll" of CFB recruiting, Texas is that of the Red Sox: in theory, I guess the former has more, but compared to the rest of the country, they're basically equivalent.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: Well, they're the defending champs and they return a respectable 13 starters, with a gaggle of proverbial VHTs waiting in the wings. Like USC, they return the bulk of their front seven; unlike USC, their front seven was legitimately dominant last year, especially their tandem of senior DEs (Robison and Crowder). Because of the relative "meh"-ness of the Big XII and the Bomar scandal at Oklahoma, if the Longhorns get by OSU on September 9 they'll be significant favorites in every game they play the rest of the season. Do you really think Nebraska is gonna beat these guys? Oklahoma may be able to eek out a 13-10 type of game, but Texas really looks like the better team.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: The guys they lost were really REALLY good: DT Larry Dibbles, WLB Aaron Harris, CB Michael Huff, TE David Thomas, and some QB ... Vargas or something. Is a team with a freshman (redshirt or not) QB with NO experience really expected to perform this well? Do you think the "Mack Brown has trouble winning big games" stigma is gone after last year, or do you think all those high-profile games the last two years were primarily won by Vince Young?

3.) Louisville
General notes: It still boggles my mind that this team is good every year now. Louisville? Seriously? And it still pisses me off that Michael Bush chose to go there instead of OSU. Honestly, I try not to think about it. I keep waiting for them to not be that good anymore - it seems like that waiting is going to be in vain.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: The only possible reason to put them higher than this (and shit, probably the primary reason to put them this high) is the Big East schedule. The two best teams they play this year -- Miami and West Virginia -- both have to come play at the PIZZALAND, THAT'S FUN! They were almost undoubtedly better than every team they played last year, even Vickginia Tech, whom they were beating in the fourth quarter of the bowl game even with Brian Brohm out with an injury. Also, there's the offense, which routinely blows out the bad-to-mediocre opponents which usually litter the schedule; the Cards somehow always seem to have a very good quarterback, a very good and often underrated offensive line, and a cadre of no-name receivers who just flat-out get the job done. This year looks to be no different. Also, despite losing sackmaster and first-class cleat-cleaning tool Elvis Dumervil, seven defensive starters return, including 7 of the top 8 in the secondary.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: Ever since the program's football rennaisance under John L. Smith, no matter how good they look, both on paper and on the field, nor how easy their schedule appears to be, Louisville always seems to find the banana peel, routinely losing at least one that they shouldn't. And there's the matter of them breaking in 3 new offensive linemen, including both tackles. Also, I mean, your schedule can only take you so far - they'd have to REALLY impress the voters with their performance in order to get this high. In short, I'm probably crazy. But somebody's gotta go here.

4.) No-trah Dame
General notes: I hate myself. I really wanted to put them lower than this, but I couldn't.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: As SMQ said, even though every single team has flaws, No-trah Dame's seem to be the ... I don't want to say "least bothersome," because I'm sure it was plenty bothersome for ND fans to watch every OSU skill player blaze past Irish defenders like they were fenceposts in the ground, but ... how about "most easily fixable," or at least "most easily ..."? Yes, the defense alternated between "iffy" and "bad" last year, bizarre Michigan game excepted. Nine starters are back from that defense. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing will probably be the determining factor of the fortunes of the Irish this year, as the offense figures to be just as good as last year. The point, however, is that comparatively speaking, "defense last year was shaky but everyone is back" doesn't seem like such a huge problem, compared with some of the question marks other top teams are facing. Another positive for them: the schedule has just the right mix of "name recognition" opponents that will look great on a resume but actually may not be that tough to beat (even though I personally think they'll lose to Michigan). A second glance through that "killer" September schedule ended up being the difference between them and OSU at #5.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: The two players the defense loses were last year's two leading tacklers, and the Irish sure didn't add any impact players to replace them. In theory, a season-opening stretch of @GT, home vs. Michigan and Penn State, @MSU, and then home vs. Purdue sounds like a harbinger of doom, but in all seriousness Michigan may be the only "significantly above average" team on the list: GT is hampered by the Chan Gailey Equilibrium, Penn State should experience a hefty drop-off from last year, Michigan State is Michigan State (i.e., "Seriously, who knows what the hell is gonna happen?"), and Purdue is Purdue. The Irish finish the season on the road at USC, a game they will probably lose, dropping them in the end-of-season rankings.

5.) Ohio State
Not much to say here, since we've said it all countless times, either on here or in bars or whatever. But the gist is as follows: Lots of talent. Short on starting experience on the defensive side of the ball, even though several of the "new" starters have started multiple games in their careers. The offense has relatively few question marks: can Teddy Inge be a reliable #1 receiver? Was the juggernaut-ish unit we saw at the end of the year legit, or was it merely a product of playing below-average defenses.? Good thing for the offense: the line should be terrific, probably the best we've seen in Tressel's tenure. Bad thing: the schedule is front-loaded, with three of the four toughest games occurring before October, a very dangerous thing for a team trying to break in a bunch of "new" defensive starters.

(Sidenote: Brian's OSU preview is up. It contains the usual MGoBlog "I will assume the worst about every one of OSU's question marks, and even about a few of their apparent positives, too" conceits, but it's written with his usual flair and is remarkably well-researched. If you want to read up on the Buckeyes and you're sick of hearing the opinions of idiot national prognosticators and listening to the equally-idiotic residents of LEBO (TM Jeff), it's just what you need.)

Okay, that's the Top 5. I'm tired. Everything else is gonna be shorter, hopefully.

6.) Miami
General notes: Yep, this one's a little iffy, especially considering my pick for #7. But I have to agree with Phil Steele here: they were the best team in the ACC last year. The loss to Florida State was hideously ugly, but if you watched the game, it was fairly clear that the 'Canes were the better team. They return a respectable 12 starters, and the ones that leave, by and large, were good but not irreplaceable. Essentially, it comes down to which team you think is more representative of these guys: the blowout loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl or the blowout win over previously-undefeated Vickginia Tech in Blacksburg. I lean toward the latter.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: Everything I wrote above. The defense has been fantastic ever since the Butch Davis Era got into full swing, so regardless of personnel losses, one has to assume that they will continue to have a top D. Kyle Wright improved dramatically as the season went on last year. The schedule is manageable, with their three best conference opponents (FSU, BC, and VT) having to travel to Coral Gables. They're Miami.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: Maybe the LSU game is a better indicator; after all, the ACC proved to be a thoroughly overrated conference last year. They have to travel to Louisville, whom I've already idiotically put at #3. They lose 4 starting offensive linemen, and the offense was painfully inept at times last year.

7.) Louisiana State
General notes: In an exercise which is obviously giving me ample opportunity to look like an idiot, putting Miami ahead of an LSU team that handed them their lunch last year might be the biggest stretch. Might.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. They've been recruiting like crazy and churning out studs for over five years now; I think it's to the point where we can safely assume that just about everyone they trot out is gonna be good. JaMarcus Russell is back for his junior year, which puts him on the short list of candidates for next season's Carlos Huerta award. Skill position talent abounds.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: Head coach Les Miles. Personnel losses on both lines (3 out of 9 starters return in the trenches). Road trips to Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and semi-trendy bounceback pick Arkansas. The thing is, those are their 4 toughest games, and by a pretty wide margin. They win two of them and that's a ticket to 10-2, right around #7 ... or that's what I keep telling myself.

8.) California
General notes: Jeff is now doing a little dance.
Best reason(s) to have them higher: As Jeff said, Tedford is known for coaching up relative turds to heights of college quarterbacking noone expected from said turds. They return 15 starters and should improve on last year's negative turnover differential. There's a guy named Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, maybe you've heard of him, from Jeff or otherwise. And they should have the best or second best defense in the Pac 10.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: "Second best defense in the Pac 10" might place them somewhere in the 50s or 60s nationally. The defense got a reasonable amount of pub last year, especially from CFN, but they got torched by just about every competent offense they faced: 27 points allowed vs. Oregon, 35 vs. USC, 38 vs. Washington State, and 47 vs. UCLA. Illinois played them extremely touhg last year. We're giving Tedford the benefit of the doubt, but this group of quarterbacks MAY just be unpolishable.

9.) Iowa
General notes: This spot was an absolute toss-up with Michigan, who I think is, for once, significantly underrated rather than the usual "wildly overrated." The deciding factor was the way the schedule works out: even though the Hawkeyes have to travel to Ann Arbor, but their other conference road games are against Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, and the non-conference slate is creampuffy; meanwhile, Michigan travels to Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State. I'll probably regret this later, but the Hock-eyes are my #9.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: Drew Tate is Brett Favre Jr. Kirk Ferentz is a fantastic coach. The aforementioned scheduling issues. Even though two very good offensive linemen are gone, Ferentz plugs in new ones every year that are lights-out. They return their entire defensive line from last year, and the last names of the players replacing Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway are "Humpal" and "Klinkenborg."
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: They lost pretty much all of their receiving yards from last year. Hodge and Greenway were uber-good. The secondary was pretty iffy last year and figures to be again. That's about it; this looks like a Top 10 team at a probable minimum.

10.) Auburn
General notes: I love Auburn's scheme. I love the tremendous ath-eh-letes that pepper their roster. I LURVE Kenny Irons (Sidenote: anagrams for the running back are scarce -- after racking my brain, I decided to cheat. And I got basically the same crappy results: these are the possible anagrams for "Kenny Irons"). But every time I wanted to put them really high on my list, I kept thinking back to the Capital One Bowl, when a thoroughly "meh" Wisconsin team pushed the War Tigers all over the field and dominated every facet of the game, as all of us sat and watched in abject drunken confusion. I can't in good conscience put them higher than this.
Biggest reason(s) to have them higher: Irons. Brandon Cox, whose season started (Georgia Tech) and ended (Wisconsin) miserably, but who was pleasantly above average the rest of the season. The schedule is promising, as LSU, Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas all have to travel to Jordan-Hare, and the most daunting road games facing the Tigers are at South Carolina and Alabama. That's the kind of schedule national title teams usually take advantage of. They outgained SEC opponents by a league-best 119 yards per game last year, and return a respectable 13 starters and 54 lettermen. Though a bit undersized, the defense is usually lightning fast and loaded with ath-eh-letic freaks.
Biggest reason(s) to have them lower: The things is, as SMQ noted and the Wisconsin game seemed to validate, it looks like you can smashmouth these guys. The guys they have to replace on defense were hella good. Most of the WR production graduated, as did two stud offensive tackles. Plus, they're another one of those programs that just seem to wilt under expectations and flourish when faced with doubters. It'll be interesting to watch these guys.

For shits and giggles, 11-25:

11. Michigan
12. Florida
13. Oklahoma
14. Florida State
15. West Virginia
16. Clemson
17. Tennessee
18. Georgia
19. Nebraska
20. Virginia Tech
21. Purdue
22. Arizona State
23. Boise State
24. Boston College
25. Penn State

Phew. Dids, Evan: when you get a chance, you're up.


At 2:27 PM, August 28, 2006, Blogger Scooter said...

OK. U requested it, I'll give you mine. My list is based on the following criteria..1) How good is your team, NOW. By the end of the season, players are hurt, freshmen are sophomores.. and so on. 2) How crappy your schedule is shouldn't determine where you are listed. 3) If we were picking who we think will be the National Champ, there is only one choice in my mind. Always will be. And now... to the list!
1) Texas - Return a ton of starters, & are strong on the lines. Mediocre QB play wins them 95% of their games this year.
2) Ohio State - Despite what the 'experts' know, the defensive front 7 has plenty of experience. If they get QB pressure the DB's will survive. If not, could be trouble. Great O-fense. Placekicking may cost them a game, but the return game wins it back.
3) Auburn - Kenny Irons, experience at most positions. Good team.
4) Florida - Chris Leak is still there, along with alot of other people. Year two in the system, means this offense should start to really take off.
5) Notre Dame - Offense will be number one in the nation with great balance but will they have defense to stop anyone with speed. (I.E. not Meechigan)
6) California - Tedford, strong running game and an O.K defense. Should win the Pac-Ten this year.
7) West Virginia - Strong offense carries a step-slow defense.
8) LSU - Good offense with Jamarcus Russell and a good defense.
9) USC - They make the list but lower than most have them because I'm judging them by how they good they are at the beginning of the season. By week 5 look out, but for now they'll lost too much, and Reggie Bush isn't around to bail them out.
10) Miami - Despite the poor bowl game showing, talent is around everywhere and Kyle Wright will continue to improve. Look out for the D, studs galore in that 2ndary.

Where is....?
FSU - 1 starter back from a terrible O-line. If you could get negative points, they would against the Miami D to start the year. Lorenzo Booker is a smallish wideout acting as a tiny RB with no O-line. YIKES.
Iowa - They probably should be in the top ten, I think they'll be somewhat one dimensional to start the year.
Clemson - Every year is the year they break out, and every year they don't.
Michigan - Better than last year, but just not as good enough.
Oklahoma - Can you say option? If they even try to throw they'll get killed. Line up and play 3 yards and a cloud of dust and punt and pray your defense holds.


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