I’m starting to write this as the season is about to kick off, so I know it won’t be done by the time the first games are over. I promise to ignore what I’m sure will be riveting Mississippi St.—Memphis and Wisconsin—UNLV games. These are sometimes close, but only if the major-conference team plays abysmally, so it won’t be that much of a sacrifice to ignore these. Full-time jobs always find a way to ruin some of the the fun, such as the fun that can be had by taking ones time and digesting all the different prognostications and competing arguments.
I’m excluding special teams with my returning starters until the list at the end. I just don’t have time to worry about that. I’ve always sort of felt compelled to qualify these situations. It’s just a weird area that’s hard to predict. I don’t think it’s as important whether you’re a returning starter there. There a few kicks here and there than can come down to experience, but I think it’s easier for someone with the talent to be really good right away than it is in a lot of other positions. And having the right returner can matter as much or more than the kicker being experienced, and I’m certainly not looking into that.
For the first time ever I’m picking LSU #1 going in. (But I’ve picked Oklahoma and Ohio St. three times each, so LSU has some catching up to do if you look at recent national titles won.) I know, it’s easier to pretend to be right for a few weeks no matter how bad the pick is, so a lot of people aren’t going to pick them for that reason with at least a reasonable chance of a loss in the first week. There is also a major question mark at quarterback, but I think Alabama has an even bigger issue there. I would pick any of LSU’s three quarterbacks (and maybe even Russell Shepard) over either of Bama’s options.
As for Oklahoma, that’s an easy team to pick, and an easy team to be wrong about, almost every year. But you don’t look too foolish because they don’t play that many games with a high chance of a loss and with Texas not being very good and Nebraska out of there, they have a great chance at a BCS game, maybe the highest odds of any team if I were to set them right now. “OU” (even though the name of the school starts with “The University”) last won the national championship in 2000, and they’ve had teams that have looked better than this one going in, and it didn’t pan out. They have a relatively easy schedule, great. But that makes them a good team why exactly? Their 15 returning starters match LSU’s number (and Alabama’s number too).
I have more about my past preseason #1s below.
Who else is a contender for #1? Oregon? They got ink for the offense, but the reason they made the national title game (having avoided a loss in a low-scoring game against Cal) and had a good chance of winning it was defense. Only 5 starters return there. Now, it’s possible LSU’s offense was make the defense look adequate to good, but if they have another Cal performance on offense, they’re in trouble. It’s not like the whole offense returns either, 7 starters. So that’s a total of 12. I’m not buying the Ducks.
Stanford has the quarterback but not the support. That’s not a really tempting #1 anyway. The Cardinal return 11 starters, for the record.
Boise St. returns only 14 starters. That’s not bad, but it’s not almost the entire team like last year, and they lost to Nevada last year and only got to the Las Vegas Bowl.
These are some other teams that I couldn’t seriously consider, but I skimmed over anyway:
Florida St. has 18 returning starters, and if this were 2001, I might be inclined to pick them with a new QB, but no thanks.
Virginia Tech and Nebraska were two other teams that seemed more appropriate several years ago, but even if I wanted to go with them, they only return 12 and 11 starters, respectively.
Others that seemed in conceivable contention for national titles lately (returning starters): Wisconsin (11), Oklahoma St. (11), Arkansas (12), TCU (7).
Those are big enough stretches of the imagination, so I’ll stop there.
But I do have to put these teams in some order.
I’ll go with Oklahoma #2, maybe they would lose the national championship game in respectable fashion, sort of like a repeat of 2003 (the BCS Championship game will be held in the same place, by the way) without that annoying team from downtown L.A. being involved and without the Sooners losing a conference championship game (there won’t be one anyway). Alabama #3, which you can’t expect much higher as the second-best team in your division.
Oregon #4. Not because I’m impressed, I’m not (yet), but because I don’t see a better option. They showed in last season’s title game they can be tough even with the prep, so I don’t see how anyone would be surprised if they win a BCS bowl. I think the difference in defense could just be for one or two games where the offense doesn’t do that well, so that doesn’t preclude #4.
Florida St. #5. The only game last year that they weren’t right there in it was Oklahoma. Experience could make the difference this year. There has to be a really good ACC team eventually, right? Right?
Texas A&M #6. This could be too much, too soon as well, but there is certainly the offense there. The defense wasn’t good despite being 34th in scoring, but most of it is coming back, so if it continues to improve, this could be a tough team. I’m slightly amazed there are so few teams with big numbers of returning starters that I would even think about making this pick, but it’s also the fact that it’s hard to stay on top of college football now, so sometimes it just makes sense to pick a couple of teams to have a resurgence.
Virginia Tech #7. I may be going with the one more returning starter and recent legitimacy as a sort of tiebreaker, but they did win 11 in a row last year before losing to Stanford in the Orange Bowl.
Arkansas #8. Went to the SEC West a third time already. I think their QB will be fine, despite a couple hiccups here and there. They also have 12 returning starters, as I mentioned. This seems like it’s going to be a competitive team on a yearly basis now.
Stanford #9. They do have about half of their starters coming back along with an experienced QB, after beating that #7 team last year. I think they can weather the coaching change to an acceptable level, and they should be tough to beat once again.
Nebraska #10. Obviously, things didn’t end that great last season. There was a close call against Iowa St., then starting a couple of weeks later, the Huskers lost three of four (although two of those were by a field goal each, and they were playing Texas A&M and Oklahoma, respectively). But the quarterback got hurt, he’s coming back healthy, there will be a good running attack to go with the defense. It might not be pretty, but they have a shot. Even with a loss, Nebraska doesn’t look like they’d be escaping anyone in the conference schedule and they might be able to get revenge if the loss is to a team in the other division.
I’ll stop the detailed reasoning there. I’ll recap the top 10 and finish out the top 25.
Position. Team (Returning non-special-teams starters, special teams starters)…final ranking last year
1. LSU (15, 0)…8
2. Oklahoma (15, 2)…3
3. Alabama (15, 2)…13
4. Oregon (12, 2)…5
5. Florida St. (16, 2)…18
6. Texas A&M (16, 2)…17
7. Virginia Tech (12, 0)…19
8. Arkansas (12, 2)…12
9. Stanford (11, 1)…7
10. Nebraska (11, 0)…20
11. Wisconsin (11, 2)…14
12. Oklahoma St. (11, 1)…10
13. Boise St. (14, 0)…6
14. South Carolina (14, 0)…24
15. Michigan St. (12, 1)…11
16. USC (14, 0)…35
17. Mississippi St. (15, 1)…21
18. Notre Dame (17, 2)…25
19. Texas (12, 1)…71
20. Penn St. (14, 1)…45
21. BYU (15, 1)…54
22. Utah (15, 1)…16
23. Florida (10, 0)…78
24. Texas Tech (12, 0)…36
25. West Virginia (10, 1)…27
(Italics indicate the team was out of the top 25, and if you follow my link, you have to then look at the “full ratings”.)
TCU and Auburn just had too few people coming back, and I don’t believe in honorific preseason rankings the next year. My team is playing both Auburn and West Virginia, and I’m more worried about West Virginia (who happens to be the 25th team on the list). If LSU were playing TCU, that wouldn’t be a bigger concern either. I gave both Auburn and TCU adequate credit last year. I’m not going to give the remaining 1/3 of those teams a bunch of credit unless they earn it with the new 2/3 coming in.
Past Pre-season Nos. 1
1998 Ohio St.
1999 Florida St.
2000 Florida St.
2001 U. Miami
2006 Notre Dame
2008 Ohio St.
2010 Ohio St.
If you look at it quickly, it might seem really good, but Tennessee didn’t win in 1996 or 1997, they won in 1998. Oklahoma didn’t win any of the years I picked them, they won in 2000. USC didn’t win either of the years I picked them, they won in 2004. Florida won in 2006 and 2008, not 2009. Even if you look at runners-up, Ohio St. was the runner-up in 2006 and 2007, not 2008 or 2010.
But in addition to my two correct picks (1999 and 2001), I did have some close calls. I picked the eventual BCS/Bowl Alliance runners-up as preseason #1 in 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2004. My preseason #2 team eventually won the BCS in 2004, 2005, and 2007. And my last two picks each won the Sugar Bowl and finished with only one loss.
Maybe it’s about time I’m right rather than almost right.