I’ve already given you a sneak preview of my top ten, so now, without further fanfare, let us pick up where we left off and run down the remainder of the rough draft of my preseason BlogPoll ballot, which is offered for your comments and critiques:
11. Oklahoma St. Cowboys: Yes, there’s been a bit of a backlash after all the offseason hype, and Mike Gundy’s crew will have ample opportunity to impress me on Labor Day weekend, but, in the meantime, OSU’s offense gets the Pokes to the cusp of the top ten, but the Cowboys’ defense keeps them on the outside looking in . . . for now.
12. Mississippi Rebels: While I think Ole Miss is somewhat overrated, a manageable schedule and an experienced signal caller under center will carry the Rebs far, just not as far as Atlanta. Well, O.K., maybe for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: It is good news for a Georgia fan when a high preseason placement is bestowed upon the Ramblin’ Wreck, so I’ll be happy to climb aboard the
bandwagon jalopy for purposes of sabotaging the Engineers’ chances. I found persuasive rebelcraig’s argument that Ole Miss and Georgia Tech are comparable clubs, so I ranked them one after the other.
14. Boise St. Broncos: Let’s not kid ourselves . . . it likely is a one-game season for the boys from Boise. Beat the visiting Ducks on the opening Thursday night of the campaign and yet another undefeated season is more than probable. Come up short at home with the whole world watching and the Broncos will spend all season trying to boost the number on the left-hand side of the ledger high enough to overcome the "1" on the right-hand side of the ledger. Frankly, this is a hedge pick; BSU is either way too high or way too low, depending upon the outcome of that lone game. If it’s any consolation to you, Boise State fans, I’m pulling for you!
15. Michigan St. Spartans: Although I talked myself back into ranking the Penn St. Nittany Lions above this team, I continue to believe Mark Dantonio has put to rest Sparty’s previously well-deserved reputation for late-season choke-artistry, so I’m going with Michigan State to round out the top fifteen.
16. Pittsburgh Panthers: Someone has to win the Big East; it might as well be the team with fifteen returning starters from a nine-win club, particularly when every other team in the league appears at least as flawed. I thought about ranking Pitt one spot ahead of the Spartans, but, honestly, who can tell these two teams apart?
17. UCLA Bruins: Let’s get this straight from the outset . . . I am no fan of Rick Neuheisel, I believe his record speaks for itself, and I find some of the arguments offered by his defenders rather dubious, but I thought his homecoming to Westwood was just crazy enough to work. After the season-opening overtime win against the Tennessee Volunteers, there weren’t a lot of positives for the Bruins in last year’s 4-8 campaign, but UCLA returns sixteen starters from an injury-riddled 2008 team. I don’t know if the Bruins will have long-term staying power, but, this fall, at least, they should make some noise in the Pac-10.
18. TCU Horned Frogs: We’re getting down to the point at which pollsters just throw up their hands and say, "Heck if I know. Let’s just list somebody who’s been good lately and play some dadgum games already!" With Utah headed for a drop-off, no team in the Mountain West appears better positioned to fill the void at the top than Texas Christian, which may play its toughest games on the road but which has a proven track record under Gary Patterson. I look for the Horned Frogs to win ten for the sixth time in eight seasons this fall.
19. North Carolina Tar Heels: Butch Davis knows how to build a program. UNC brings back nine defensive starters. Four of the Tar Heels’ five 2008 losses were by margins of three, three, two, and one, respectively. It’s not hard to look at North Carolina’s schedule and find ten wins.
20. Oregon Ducks: Sure, there’s cause for concern here. The Ducks bring back only nine starters and there’s bound to be a learning curve under a new head coach. It’s not like Chip Kelly is new to the program, though, and Oregon plays seven home games (including five Pac-10 tilts) in Autzen Stadium. While the Ducks have two tough road outings (at Boise State and at UCLA) and two tough home games (against Cal and USC), the rest of the schedule is manageable.
21. Georgia Bulldogs: I believe the ‘Dawgs are either seriously overrated or severely underrated. I’m hoping it’s the latter, but, until I am given concrete reasons to believe otherwise, I’m betting on the former. We should find out in a hurry which of the two it is.
22. Virginia Tech Hokies: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m just not placing my faith in VPI this autumn. I think the Gobblers are this year’s Clemson Tigers, right down to the season-opening loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Georgia Dome.
23. BYU Cougars: The Halls (quarterback Max and coach Bronco Menden-) will win Brigham Young a lot of games, but, with just four starters returning on offense and back-to-back road games preceding their showdown with TCU, I like the Cougs to be good but not great.
24. Arizona St. Sun Devils: On paper, there are more deserving Pac-10 teams than this one, but I’m picking ASU because the pattern has been established. Boise State was supposed to break through in 2005; instead, they lost to Georgia and rebounded to have a breakout year in 2006. Oklahoma State was supposed to break through in 2007; instead, they lost to Georgia and rebounded to have a breakout year in 2008. The Sun Devils were supposed to break through in 2008; instead, they lost to Georgia and . . . well, you know the rest.
25. Southern Miss. Golden Eagles: While I hate to borrow a page from Steve Spurrier’s book, the Evil Genius has abandoned his previous contrarianism regarding the annual placement of Duke in his preseason top 25, so someone has to get contrary, and who better than me? Out of respect for Matt Hinton, my former SB Nation colleague and the current proprietor of Dr. Saturday, I have established the tradition of voting Matt’s alma mater, Southern Miss, as the No. 25 team on my preseason BlogPoll ballot every year. I will continue to do so until the drumbeat for ousting me from the poll becomes too noisy to endure. Don’t worry; USM will be gone after Labor Day weekend . . . although, with games upcoming against Central Florida, Virginia, Kansas, and Louisville, they’re not entirely off the radar screen as far as chances to earn some poll love are concerned.
I wish to stress that this is a rough draft, which is offered for your evaluation. Feel free to point out my errors of omission, my errors of commission, and my mistaken placements in the comments below. While the final judgment on my BlogPoll ballot remains my own, I am always open to persuasive cases. Have at it.