Major poll shakeup possible after Week 1 impressions; more Mailbag
Even with a Week 1 win, LSU could fall out of the No. 1 spot in the rankings
BYU is being undervalued this preseason, while Florida is being overvalued
Offensive line injuries could compromise Oklahoma's chances in the Big 12
sports information directors Coaches' Poll was released last week, and even though the BCS commissioners recently decreed these arbitrary exercises to be an unsound method for determining the national championship, we're unfortunately still stuck with them for another two years. Thus, the fact that LSU edged Alabama and USC in the first edition could very well impact the course of the 2012 season.
That is, unless the voters blow up their ballots after one week.
The Coaches' Poll is out and LSU has a slight lead over Alabama and USC, even though both those schools have more first place votes. Given Alabama opens against Michigan and USC is going against Hawaii, while LSU takes on North Texas in Week 1 ... If they all win, could this be the quickest and farthest fall a top ranked team has seen after starting out the year ranked first?
-- John, Spokane, Wash.
No records will be set unless the Tigers lose 31-0, like preseason No. 1 Florida State did against Miami in 1988, but the scenario John describes is certainly realistic. Alabama-Michigan will be the most watched game in the country that opening Saturday, and USC-Hawaii, which gets the honor of being Fox's first primetime regular season game, will also draw eyeballs. LSU-North Texas, on the other hand, is on ESPNU, and for most people will probably be little more than a score on the ticker. Even though we have spent eight months under the general consensus that LSU or USC are the teams to beat this season, impressions can change in a hurry once teams actually start playing games.
Most are expecting Alabama to handle Michigan fairly easily. If the Tide beat the Wolverines 24-13, say, while USC destroys Hawaii and LSU drubs North Texas, then all three will have basically played to expectations. But what if Alabama puts on a clinic? What if the Tide show little drop-off from last year's dominant defense, sack Denard Robinson nine times, roll up 250 yards on the ground and win 34-9? Voters are easily swayed, and in fact there is recent precedent for just such a thing. In 2008, the preseason Coaches' Poll went 1. Georgia (22 first place votes), 2. USC (14), 3. Ohio State (14). While the Dawgs beat Georgia Southern 45-21, and the Buckeyes blanked Youngstown State 43-30, the Trojans went to Virginia, a 9-4 team the year before, and rolled 52-7. USC promptly rose to No. 1.
I can't see LSU falling two spots unless it has an awful showing against the Mean Green, but Alabama could certainly move up to No. 1 in the aforementioned scenario. On the one hand voters might say, it's just one game, don't read too much into it. They might still think LSU is the better team. But the sooner we can remove preseason perceptions from the equation, the better. And besides, I'm all for rewarding teams that challenge themselves out-of-conference. LSU plays Keith Price-led Washington the following week. If the Tigers pick him off four times and win by 21 on the same day Alabama pushes around Western Kentucky, by all means, voters should feel free to switch them back. And of course, what happens if Michigan wins? Would the Wolverines jump from No. 8 to No. 1? Probably not, but they probably should.
Stewart, it always seems that the traditional powers get the benefit of the doubt early but programs on the rise have to prove themselves all over. I compared the most recent Coaches' Poll with the final AP poll of last year. Four teams dropped out of the Top 25 (Baylor, Houston, Southern Miss and Cincinnati) and four climbed in (Texas, Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn). Of the teams that dropped out, which is the most likely to make some national noise in the polls again this season? And of those teams that climbed back in, who's there because of its big-name appeal and will have a difficult time staying ranked?
-- M.K., Winston, Ore.
Funny how that works, isn't it? It's as if the ballot comes in the mail every year with certain teams already written in ink.
I understand the reservations with Baylor post-RG3 (and Kendall Wright, Terrance Ganaway, et. al.). Cincinnati barely cracked the final poll last year and lost all of its most important offensive players. And presumably the reason Houston (13-1 last year) and Southern Miss (12-2) fell is because their coaches left. Personally, I believe the team the coaches slighted most is BYU, which went 10-3 and finished 25th in their own poll last season but garnered just 10 points. With quarterback Riley Nelson leading what could be a loaded offense, and with several potential showcase games this year (Washington State on opening night, Utah, Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech), I expect the Cougars will grace the rankings at some point this season.
As for the glamour teams: There's reason for skepticism with all of them, but the real standout here is Florida. The Gators regressed from 8-5 to 7-6 in coach Will Muschamp's first season, beating a 6-6 Ohio State team in the Gator Bowl. The quarterback spot remains in flux; for the first time since pre-Steve Spurrier I'm not sure the average fan could name a single Florida running back or receiver; and the defense is littered with former five-star guys who have yet to deliver. I defy anyone to come up with a legitimate reason the Gators should have appeared in this poll besides the size of their stadium.
Oklahoma has now lost two starting offensive linemen (center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans) for the season, both were projected starters. This seems to happen every year for the Sooners' offense. It can't be just bad luck can it? Would you say they have more injuries because of the mere fact that OU runs so many offensive plays and are on the field so much?
-- Jason, Ankeny, Iowa
It does seem like Bob Stoops has had some awful injury luck of late. Certainly every team deals with injuries, but the Sooners' tend to involve their most experienced players. Three years ago it was Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham. Last year star linebacker Travis Lewis was feared out for eight weeks (though he only missed the first two games), and all-time receiving leader Ryan Broyles tore his ACL in the last month of the season. I don't think it's any more explainable than Iowa's running back curse or UCLA's quarterback jinx. At one point in the Dennis Dixon era it seemed like Oregon was ACL U. These things happen.
It does, however, prompt me to reassess the Sooners' 2012 prospects. OU has long been viewed as a consensus top five team and preseason Big 12 favorite, but the Sooners have gone from having an extremely experienced offensive line to one with just 43 career starts. (Evans and Habern combined for 59.) Experienced receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks have been reinstated but will still be suspended for multiple games, while Kameel Jackson has been dismissed. (On a positive note, Bob Stoops is raving about Penn State transfer Justin Brown.) That's a lot of roster issues for a purported top team. The door may be open for someone else to win the conference, but everyone in the Big 12 has questions. It may just be that the league won't produce a national title contender this year.
Is there really only one team in college football, really? It seems all you talk about is USC. Will you admit your bias at least?
-- Richard Downs, Little Rock, Ark.
Yes. I'm biased toward the existence of football outside the South.
SI Now: Adrian Peterson thinks Johnny Football is NFL Ready
SI Now: Adrian Peterson on the Vikings' future at quarterback