|21||North Carolina State|
Unlike last year, when I ignored strength-of-schedule in my preseason Blogpoll ballot in favor of a pure "power poll" ballot, this year I went the more traditional route and filled out a "hey, so, how do you think they're going to finish the year?" ballot. So: schedule is a major factor. I also tried to put a special emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. Runnin' it down:
Florida over Texas. Even if there's a possibility the Horns have the better offense, there's no way the gap between the two O's will be nearly as wide as the gap between the two D's, not with the talent Charlie Strong has at his disposal. Besides, shouldn't we keep betting on the SEC team in the national title game until they lose one?
There's a huge gap between Nos 2 and 3. Everybody behind the top two will lose at least two games. I'm not really all that fired up about USC, not with the general "eh" factor of their offense ever since Bush and Leinart left, a schedule that has all four of their hardest games on the road, and a ton of defenders to replace. Wish I liked someone better.
Alabama No. 4? I know, I know. I don't like it any more than you do. But with that defense, no way they lose more than two games ... and though I'll get into my SEC picks another time, I think they emerge from the scrum atop the West.
Okie St. No. 5? Illinois No. 6? That makes even less sense than 'Bama No. 4. I figured Texas Tech was overrated at this time last year; I'm not making that mistake again and figure the Pokes will swipe one from the 'Horns or Sooners.
The Illini are the biggest outlier on the ballot, but look at their schedule: they've got the roadie at Ohio St., but Penn St.'s the only other game in which the Illini won't be favored ... and the guess here is that between Juice, Benn, and their smart new OC from TCU, there's too much firepower for Penn St. to keep up with on the road. And so Illinois finishes the Big 10 slate with one loss, the tiebreaker, and a ticket to the Rose Bowl.
(Wait, they're still coached by Ron Zook. I must be insane.)
Hatin'. I don't like Oklahoma's overhauled offensive line or rugged schedule; don't like Ole Miss's hype; don't like how toothless Ohio St. has looked without Beanie Wells the last couple of years. So they're all a little lower than elsewhere. (Like everyone else I'd like to rank the Rebels even lower, but there's only so far they can drop with that schedule.)
Boise. I think they run the regular season table, rise a bit too high on the back of their win over an overrated Oregon team, and then look a bit inferior in their bowl game. Just like last year. This year's mid-major hotness is BYU: the Cougars have everyone back on D, the best schedule of the MWC contenders, and their usual array of offensive skill talent. Here's to guessing they beat FSU and wrap up the year with one loss.
This year's Tulsa is Southern Miss, who return all nine starters along their two lines and a ton of talent at the skill positions. Larry Fedora should have the most explosive offense in all mid-majordom.
Pac-10. With their entire defensive front returning I like Cal to make a clear-cut case for the second-best team in the league, but who's No. 3? Oregon has to revamp both lines and gets a brutal schedule. Oregon St. lost a ton. Arizona's not there yet. Steele loves UCLA but ... no. One of those teams will probably end up forcing their way into the bottom of the poll, but it's also possible they all end up canceling each other out.
SEC. 2009 LSU seems so volatile I'm sure they'll either end up in the top 6 or 7 or at the very fringes of the poll; I ended up just sort of splitting the difference. Georgia's easily the second-best team in the East, but at Oklahoma St. is a hell of a way to kick off a season. And Arkansas is probably better than 22nd ... but they also share a division with 'Bama, LSU, and Ole Miss.
Big 10. Iowa was secretly the most underrated team in D-I last year and should have the best offensive line in the league (again). But if the top four in the Big 10 are all quality teams, I don't see much of anything behind them. (Trust me: Michigan St.'s not that good.)
Big 12. Pelini's too good not have Nebraska relevant again this year, but the bottom's fallen out at Missouri and I just don't think Kansas has the defensive horses. Leach will probably have Tech back in the top 25, but the schedule's still a little too tough for me to pull the trigger.
ACC. In a league with as much parity as this one, I think you finally have to settle on whichever teams have the best coaching--and Va. Tech and Ga. Tech looks like a pretty solid 1-2 in that regard. N.C. State was on fire down the stretch last year and have a seriously friendly schedule; I don't see why you'd rank them behind a North Carolina team they destroyed at the end of last year. (And though Tech didn't "destroy" Georgia, that result does explain why the Jackets are one notch ahead here.)
Notre Dame. Eh, they'll go 8-4 and hover around the edges of the poll. No big deal.
Big East. Cincy and Brian Kelly will be back to make this league its playtoy next season, but losing 10 starters on defense is a little too much for even Kelly to overcome at a program of this size. West Virginia and Pitt don't have the coaching and USF is the flakiest program in America, leaving Rutgers and their outstanding lines as the de facto winner. It's only enough for 23rd, but it's something.
Real Life duties are calling; afternoon posting will be minimal, if at all. Sorry./ More on this later.