Preseason BlogPoll Roundtable: Who's Overrated? Who's Underrated?

First, news of the BlogPoll leaked as anticipation mounted.

Then, the initial preseason BlogPoll was released and MaconDawg broke it down in detail (with a little help from fotodog).

Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis was pleased to learn that the Scarlet Knights were ranked 21st in the inaugural BlogPoll.

Now, MGoBlog's Brian Cook, who has supplanted Howard Stern as the king of all media, has put out the call for participants in the BlogPoll to answer a pair of preseason roundtable questions; viz.: "Who is overrated?" and "Who is underrated?"

Although 48 of the 58 BlogPoll voters chose Southern California as the nation's No. 1 team, a total of seven different squads received first-place votes, including the Badgers (1), the Bayou Bengals (2), the Gators (2), the Longhorns (2), the Mountaineers (2), and the Wolverines (1).

That parenthetical "1" next to Michigan's name came from me, so I guess you know which way I'm going to break when identifying the country's most underrated squad.

Granted, the Maize and Blue are ranked third, so it isn't as though Lloyd Carr's crew is getting no respect, but, while the Fighting Tigers and the Wolverines may start this season as neck-and-neck as they ended last season, I can't see placing Michigan behind L.S.U., given the givens.

This guy, by the way, is one of the givens. You can't spell "Les Miles" without two L's.

I am a firm believer that defense wins championships, but losing nine starters on defense didn't impair Ohio State last season---well, O.K., during the regular season, at any rate---so I'm not doubting a Big Ten team's ability to get it done on offense.

Jake Long is back on the line, as are Mario Manningham at wide receiver, Mike Hart at tailback, and Chad Henne under center. The Wolverines will score a lot of points and, with Ron English running the defense, the Maize and Blue will be aggressive on D, where their attacking style should help make up for the absence of LaMarr Woodley.

Anyone who doubts that Michigan will leap out to a 10-0 start for the second straight season has some explaining to do. Which team, precisely, will go into the Big House and upend the Wolverines? Oregon? Notre Dame? Penn State? Purdue? Those teams all travel to Ann Arbor, as do the rebuilding Buckeyes.

Aside from a potentially dangerous trip to Madison (where Michigan had won three in a row over Wisconsin before falling there by a field goal in the Wolverines' disastrous 2005 campaign), the Maize and Blue face a slate filled with tough teams, both within the league (No. 11 Ohio State, No. 13 Penn State, and No. 9 Wisconsin) and without (Notre Dame and No. 24 Oregon), to which Michigan is superior.

Their opponents are good. They're better.

Meanwhile, the Trojans, whose superior talent and aura of invincibility periodically are punctured by U.S.C.'s penchant for dropping occasional close calls to lesser opponents in conference play, will get the easy part of their schedule out of the way early---assuming traveling to No. 19 Nebraska qualifies as "easy"---before closing out the campaign by playing Arizona, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, Oregon State, at California, at Arizona State, and U.C.L.A.

That seven-game stretch run includes three ranked teams and four others receiving votes in the BlogPoll. Blue-chip talent aside, I don't see Southern California---a squad that played below its potential for three weeks last year (in lackluster wins of 28-22 at Washington State, 26-20 against Washington, and 28-21 against Arizona State) before dropping a 33-31 decision at Oregon State---surviving the second half of the season unscathed. In my book, an unbeaten Michigan squad is better than a once-beaten U.S.C. team.

This brings me to the BlogPoll's most overrated team, which could not more clearly be Florida. Don't get me wrong . . . the Gators will be good; the Orange and Blue simply have too much talent and are too well coached not to be a solid squad. However, the defending national champions will not prove to be the seventh-best team in the land.

In the Big Ten, where last year's conference champion propelled itself to the national title game on the strength of its offense, Michigan is the favorite because the Wolverines return a wealth of skill on that side of the ball. In the S.E.C., where last year's Gators captured conference and national honors on the strength of their defense while putting up numbers eerily reminiscent of those posted by a previous national champion from the S.E.C., Florida returns no one on the side of the ball that made the Saurians successful.

Jarvis Moss? Gone! Reggie Nelson? Gone! Brandon Siler? Gone! Ryan Smith? Gone!

The Gators have two---count 'em, two---returning starters on defense. For a team that lost its starting quarterback and spent 2006 living awfully close to the margins, those departures will prove devastating to the Florida football team's chances of doing what the Florida basketball team did: repeating.

The Gators should win nine games, but they won't be in the mix for the national title, they won't finish the season ranked in the top 10, and they won't become the first squad since Tennessee in 1998 to win a second straight Southeastern Conference championship.

(Honorable---or, I guess, dishonorable---mention for "most overrated," by the way, goes to No. 20 Arkansas and "also receiving votes" entrant Wake Forest. Aside from Darren McFadden, the Razorbacks have disaster written all over them. The Hogs may be looking at a season reminiscent of Notre Dame's 1956 campaign, in which the Fighting Irish went 2-8 en route to producing a Heisman Trophy winner in Paul Hornung. As for the Demon Deacons, the best college football blogger exposed the 2006 A.C.C. champions for the parvenus that they were . . . and are.)

At No. 7, Florida is ranked too high. At No. 3, Michigan is ranked too low. That's how I see it; let me know if you see it differently.

Go 'Dawgs!

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