Posts Tagged ‘Preseason’

Season Preview/Week 1 Top 25

In College Football, Preview, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on August 31, 2017 at 3:39 PM

I’m pasting my word version of this at 7:30 Eastern. Check back in an hour or so and it will be better quality and have pictures. I just wanted to make sure it was up before any games really got going. I have no idea of anything that happened since I just got done driving back in a rainstorm and haven’t turned on the TV or logged onto any sports sites.

As always, my first few rankings will be subjective. In preseason this means I look at what I believe the potential of each team is rather than a mathematical assessment of results, which is my approach after the first few weeks (and a couple of weeks’ transition).

Of course there are several teams that could under some circumstance end up winning the whole thing, but some of those could also finish outside the top 20. I think the odds are against Alabama being the national champion this year, but I can’t think of a single team more likely to be the national champion. I also can’t imagine the Tide losing more than maybe 3 games despite what may well end up being the best schedule (SEC West + Florida St. + Tennessee). So I think their range of likely outcomes is better than that of any other team.

The teams that I basically considered eligible for my preseason top 25 were the top 52 teams from last year (I thought it was worth looking into Arkansas and they were 52nd, so that’s the only logic there) and any other major-conference teams which had 16 or more returning starters (not counting kickers).

I had some trouble reducing the number of teams I wanted to consider though, so I did make somewhat of a formula just to give me a range of where I might want to put teams and to reduce the number to around 30 teams to consider. This formula was just based on last year’s rating in my system (modified to make them all positive numbers) and number of returning starters. This was a rough estimate of how good the returning group of players is.

The last team I eliminated was Georgia Tech. Despite some other returning starters, the Yellow Jackets don’t have returning kickers or a returning quarterback, so I thought it was more likely that they would take a step back from last season at the end of which I had them 24th. That was the only team I really struggled with.

There is a lot of talent to replace, but that hasn’t stopped this man from smiling at the end of the season before.

1) Alabama has a relatively small number of returning starters, but that has not stopped them from having very good teams in the last few years, and this time we know who the quarterback is because he’s among those starters. The Tide was a close #2 last year (both on the field and in the ratings) and was far ahead of #3 Ohio St.

2) Speaking of the Ohio St., they had among the fewest returning starters last season and still made the semifinals. I wouldn’t care if they lost that last game 100-0, it took a quality program to get there under the circumstances. I briefly considered the Buckeyes for the top spot.

3) Other than Clemson, Florida St. is the other recent (2011 and after) major national champion I haven’t mentioned. After being blown out against Louisville and losing a nail-biter against North Carolina, the Seminoles dropped only one game, one they easily could have won against Clemson.

4) Despite the ’Noles’ impressive finish, I had Oklahoma finishing ahead of them in the final rankings last year. Being that they have 16 returning starters including a very good quarterback, I could not justify ranking the Sooners any lower. I strongly believe this is the most likely final 4 even though Florida St. obviously plays Alabama in a few days.

5) Penn St. won the highly competitive Big Ten last season and returns 16 starters, so yet again they may be the best team out before the bowl season. Or perhaps the loser of Alabama/Florida St. can’t walk the tight rope the rest of the year, which will open up a spot.

6) Speaking of walking a tight rope, that’s what Clemson did for most of last year. I don’t believe those Tigers would have finished the SEC or Big Ten with only one loss, but that’s a different scenario from being the best team in the country for one game (maybe two) at the end. That’s not to say they weren’t the deserving national champions, but – being that they will have to find a new quarterback and replace approximately half of the starters – I consider Clemson less likely to finish in the top 5 than the others.

7) Wisconsin finished a close second in the Big Ten to Penn St., and the championship-game loss was the Badgers’ only loss since falling in overtime to Ohio St. on October 15. The Badgers return 15 starters.

8) Stanford had an awful 9 days in the early season last year in which they were outscored (by the two big Washington teams) 86-22. But other than that, the Cardinal only had a single 5-point loss and I still ended up ranking them 13th. They return 16 starters.

9) There is no other good combination of strong finish last year and high number of returning starters. One team I was personally impressed with was Oklahoma St. I just feel like the Cowboys have a little bit better upside potential. The defense will be a question mark though.

Two of the most exciting quarterbacks this season are expected to be in the state of Oklahoma.

10) Rounding out the top 10 is Washington. I don’t really expect them to finish in the top 10, but I think it’s right to show some degree of deference to a team which made the semifinals last year, and I just don’t think much on paper separates #9 to about #15.

11) Georgia replaced Mark Richt before last season and got worse, but I think it was most likely part of the calculation that the Bulldogs were not likely to have a great season either way. Their only losses down the stretch were two games by a point apiece (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech) and the Cocktail Party against Florida. I think the results of games like that will be overturned with the benefit of experience that 17 returning starters provide.

12) Speaking of Florida, I don’t think we can overlook them in the East either. That Cocktail Party game can go either way though, and 14 returning starters after winning the East is still pretty good. The Gators had to play two of the best-finishing teams toward the end, or otherwise they could have finished in the top 10.

13) I had to split up the group of SEC teams with someone, so I chose the SEC’s nemesis (though not on the field) from 13 years ago or so USC. The Trojans had an overdue breakthrough season last year, winning the Rose Bowl; but the Men of Troy do not have a large number of returning starters, so I’m skeptical they can do it again.

For the first time in 10 years, Ed Orgeron will lead a team onto the field to start the season.

14) So this is the lowest I have ranked LSU in the preseason in a long time, but I have to treat the Tigers like I would any other team in their position. The program has been out of the spotlight for the last 5 seasons, and I think they’ve lost too much talent to be a vast improvement over last season. But #14 is a lot better than they finished in my ratings last year, so this doesn’t mean I don’t expect improvement. The Fighting Tigers lost three games in the waning moments and had an eminently respectable loss to Alabama. If they can open up the same opportunities, the improved offensive coordinator and quarterback situation could make the difference.

15) One of those last-second LSU losses was to Auburn, whom they briefly appeared to beat last season before it was determined time expired before what would have been the winning score. Those Tigers return more starters, but it’s still not clear why the Plainsmen fell short of expectations last year despite making the Sugar Bowl. While I understood why they made the Sugar Bowl, I did not believe they were the most deserving team for that game. I give a little less credit to returning starters on a team that in its last five games lost three games (and didn’t look good in any of them), barely beat Vanderbilt in a home game, and beat up on Alabama A&M.

You might hear a lot about South Florida and Quinton Flowers this season. You also might hear the phrase “strength of schedule” mentioned at the same time though.

16) Although they barely beat South Carolina in the bowl (which is why I had to put them below 5 SEC teams), South Florida made significant strides last year and returns a large number of starters including a senior quarterback and two senior kickers. The Bulls only plan to start a handful of players who aren’t juniors or seniors. It could go either way, but USF could easily be the last undefeated team this season.

17) This might catch some people off-guard, but Kansas St. was solid in most of every game last year. The fell behind early in Norman and could never quite catch up, but that was the only big loss (21) and was back on October 15. The only loss since was by six to Oklahoma St., and in the following weeks they won by more than 20 points in both Waco and Fort Worth. Fourteen starters including the quarterback return.

18) I mentioned Mark Richt, now at the U. of Miami, above. He definitely has the ability to get teams into this range, although the top 10 has been elusive for some time. The Hurricanes have to find a new quarterback but return 15 other starters after winning their last five games easily last season. The Notre Dame game is mystifying to me, but three of the four losses were by one possession.

19) Louisville didn’t go out with a very good look in the bowl loss to LSU last season with the aforementioned blowout of Florida St. a distant memory. The Cardinals also finished out with a big loss to Houston and what must have been a frustrating loss to Kentucky. Lamar Jackson is back, but with all of his major targets and most of his blockers missing. The defense has holes too, but that was not a stellar unit in the first place.

20) Northwestern nearly beat Ohio St. late in the year, and I can forgive losing to Wisconsin by 14. Losing to Minnesota by 17 isn’t great, but those were the only three losses since last September. The Wildcats return 17 starters. We’re in the area where everyone has some flaws, so that’s good enough for me.

Mike Leach can run an offense, but his teams have struggled with consistency throughout the season.

21) Washington St. will return 16 starters including the quarterback and had an impressive 8-game winning streak before understandable losses to Washington and Colorado (although they could have been closer). The bowl performance was uninspired, but they could have easily won that one as well as the two losses the Cougars suffered to begin the year. The two early losses are mostly the ones that kept Wazzu out of the top 25, but since that was nearly a year ago, I can’t figure those too highly.

22) TCU was very inconsistent last season, but Gary Patterson has managed to bounce back before (such as improving from 4-8 to 12-1 from 2013 to 2014), and I don’t see why that should change. The Horned Frogs have 17 returning starters including quarterback Kenny Hill.

23) Tennessee in some respects had a breakthrough season last year with wins over both Georgia and Florida, but they also showed they were not quite ready for prime time in some other games. I expect a little bit more of the latter this year, but like Texas I could at least see them as a spoiler team for someone.

24) Texas had a losing record last year, but they played pretty well in losses (apart from the last quarter and a half of the season against TCU), and I think the combination of experience and a new coach could make them at least a spoiler in the Big XII.

25) I mentioned TCU bouncing back from a 4-8 season a few years ago, and Oregon will try to do the same. I don’t think they’ll win 12 games, but 8 may be attainable. Three of the losses were by only three points apiece, and I think the win in Salt Lake City was a preview of what could happen next season. Of course then the Ducks went and lost to Oregon St.; but again, maybe they won’t have letdowns like that with the benefit of experience.


2011 Preseason top 25

In College Football, Rankings, Rankings Commentary on September 2, 2011 at 3:56 PM

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 State
Texas A&M
Oklahoma State
Virginia Tech
Notre Dame
South Carolina
Michigan St.

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

1996 Tennessee
1997 Tennessee
1998 Ohio St.
1999 Florida St.
2000 Florida St.
2001 U. Miami
2002 Oklahoma
2003 Oklahoma
2004 Oklahoma
2005 USC
2006 Notre Dame
2007 USC
2008 Ohio St.
2009 Florida
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.