Because the one consistent complaint I've heard about the JCCW is that there hasn't been enough discussion of whether the Mountain West runner-up might be a better team than the WAC champion, I've joined the BlogPoll. This is my preseason ballot.
Which means I should probably explain my preseason polling philosophy, which is that this is purely a power poll, my personal ridiculous guess at which team would beat which team on a neutral field were they to play today. (I think I borrowed that criterion from Peter King's "Fine Fifteen," which is unfortunately not the best place to start.) Schedules are not taken into account and this is by no means intended as a sneaky method of prediction: just because I've got ranked Georgia ranked over Florida doesn't necessarily mean I expect Georgia to beat the Gators or win the SEC East.* Like ninjas, this ballot is about real ultimate power and nothing else.
On with it:
1. Georgia. Neither I nor any sane SEC fan will expect "SEC's best team" to automatically equal "country's best team." But after the last couple of years and given the SEC's BCS bowl record, that might be the case for the nonce. And as I expect Stacy Searels to come up with something to fill the Sturdivant-shaped hole in the o-line, I think the Dawgs are legitimately the best team in the SEC.
2. Ohio St. Sorry. But they return everydamnbody up to and including the drum majors and waterboys.
3. Oklahoma. Per Steele, more returning starts on the o-line than any other team in the country. After the West Virginia game people forgot they were one ill-timed injury to Bradford away from playing for the national title last year.
4. Florida. Impossible to rank them higher with as many question marks on the defense as they have, but Sweet Merciful Heavens will you look at that offense.
5. Missouri. The same team as last year. Assuming that team has improved on defense at all, the Big 12 North is theirs.
6. USC. They have waaaaaaay too much guru-approved talent to go any lower than here, but am I alone in thinking that the--for lack of a better word--spark has left this program? The last two years they've been supposed to romp past the Pac-10 and two years in a row the Pac-10's been more ready for the Trojans than advertised. Now they have a brand-new o-line, a new QB, and a corps of RB's and WR's who haven't done anything serious in two seasons. We'll see.
7. Cousin Clem. Am I really calling a Tommy Bowden-coached team the seventh-best one in the country? Do I really have them ahead of my own Auburn team, who beat them in a bowl game and should so more improvement over the offseason? Yeah, I guess so. When you've got the best set of RB's in the country and a studly defensive line, you have to figure that the year it inevitably all comes together for them will be this one.
8. Oregon. I'm taking a flyer on the Ducks based on the shakiest possible reasoning: this one play, which speaks to something deep in my soul about Chip Kelly's creativity as an OC. Well, that play, and the 56-21 obliteration (sans Dixon) of a legit USF team in their bowl.
9. Auburn. Seems about right.
10. LSU. Likewise.
11. South Florida. As with Missouri and Ohio St., this team (save for its cornerbacks) is back basically intact from 2007. And as an Auburn fan, I can tell you: that team is pretty damn good (one of the underrated performances from last year: they beat bowl-bound UCF 64-12). Now if they can just quit honking games to UConn.
12. Texas. Colt McCoy should be rebuilt by now, right?
13. Wisconsin. The most boringly effective team in America, a virtual lock to be their usual boringly effective selves.
14. BYU. First off: BYU always deserves the benefit of the doubt because a third of their guys are two years older than everyone else's guys. Only three returning starters on D makes me a tad nervous, but I figure Mendehall can coach that side up. In the meantime, the offense looks like it should outclass the rest of the MWC.
15. Tennessee. As stated previously: if Clawson knows what he's doing at all, the offensive line will give Crompton enough time and Foster enough room to make this one of the SEC's best offenses.
16. Texas Tech. Avast ye mateys, and prepare to walk the heart-stopping plank of 12 consecutive 54-50 games!
17. Kansas. Take scheduling into account and they probably drop out of the poll completely, but as SMQ has repeated ad nauseum, last year was not a fluke and with both Todd Reesing and nearly the entire defense back, they belong here.
18. Pitt. Another flyer, this time on the sort of defense- and ball control-first formula (seven starters back from the country's No. 5 unit, plus LeSean McCoy) that Rutgers employed to such great effect in the Big East two years ago.
19. West Virginia. The biggest outlier on the ballot. Bottom line is that I should probably have more respect for one of the nation's best o-lines and the blinding power of White/Devine, but I happen to think Bill Stewart was an awful, emotion-driven hire and that the house of cards built by RichRod collapses (for a given definition of "collapse") without him. That they've spent so much of the offseason talking about having Pat White throw the ball more often is just more evidence. (Note: still not a prediction about the Auburn-WVU game.)
20. Penn St. Another team whose coaching staff holds them back. The offensive line is awfully good, though, apparently.
21. Virginia Tech. Pretty much on sheer reputation, because by all accounts the offense = Tyrod Taylor + ghost town. But you know Beamer will, by hook and/or crook, get them to at least lower-rung top-25 material.
22. Arizona St. The Pac-10 seems pretty likely to produce a third team deserving of a top-20 spot, but I'll be damned if I know who it is. The Sun Devils don't have an offensive live, Cal lost almost everyone of note and lost to Stanford and Washington to end last season, and the rest all look even more unsatisfying. Erickson breaks the tie.
23. TCU. The Horned Frogs seem a little overdue for one of those 11-1 style years, no? What Steele calls the MWC's top defense and returning starters at RB and QB don't hurt.
24. Illinois. Zook has stockpiled too much talent for this team to backslide all the way out of the top 25, even without the kind of guy who's capable of saving the world.
25. Ole Miss. Yes, between their strength on the lines and the grudging respect for Nutt that befits an Auburn fan, I think this is the sixth-best team in the SEC. I will accept my straitjacket with a minimum of fuss.
Also considered: Alabama, South Carolina, Boise St., Fresno St., Oklahoma St., Cincinnati, Nebraska, Utah.