After spending a week on vacation, I'm still getting caught up, in my weblogging as well as in my work.
Consequently, I'm only just getting around to responding to the "comment starter" posted at Burnt Orange Nation almost a week ago. Please pardon my tardiness.
No time to say hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!
In order to get the discussion underway, Peter offered his thoughts on the top 10 teams heading into the 2006 football season. These were they:
- Southern California
- Ohio State
- West Virginia
- Louisiana State
- Notre Dame
I don't find too much to fault about that list, actually. Peter and I agree upon a lot of points . . . the Longhorns may have lost Vince Young but they're as solid as anyone heading into the season, the Sooners will be back but the Fighting Irish are overrated, and the Mountaineers will be good without being a legitimate national championship threat.
Where Peter and I appear to diverge, unsurprisingly, is with regard to a subject familiar to Dawg Sports readers. Here . . . I'll give you a hint:
Yes, that's right, friends . . . defense. Defense, defense, defense. I'll say it again, defense! Since I repose greater trust in defense than in offense, my tendency is to favor teams whose question marks are on O over teams whose question marks are on D.
With that borne in mind, here is my knee-jerk, gut-reactive, pulled-out-of-thin-air, purely-off-the-top-of-my-head, feel-free-to-leave-a-comment-calling-me-a-dufus preseason top 10:
1. Texas. While I am not wholeheartedly of the school of thought that says "the champs are the champs until somebody beats the champs," the defending national champion probably qualifies as my default preseason No. 1 in the absence of a legitimate reason to vote otherwise. While it would be hard to overstate the importance of Vince Young to last year's squad, a ton of talent returns and, with every other contender appearing flawed, as well, I like the Longhorns' chances to repeat.
2. Auburn. The longer I look at this bunch, the scarier they get. Kenny Irons will continue to be an effective weapon for the Tigers, particularly in big games, and Brandon Cox won't do anything dumb enough to get the Plainsmen beaten. I doubt that any top-tier program in the country made a bigger offseason staff upgrade than Auburn did by hiring Will Muschamp, whose defense will be ferocious. Add to that the fact that the recent scandal has created an "us against the world" mentality on the Plains and we could be looking at another undefeated run.
I hate Auburn. (Photograph from College Football News.)
3. Oklahoma. Last season's Sooner swoon was something of a mirage. Three of O.U.'s four losses came before mid-October and they came against Texas, T.C.U., and U.C.L.A. . . . teams that finished with a collective 34-3 record. Following the Red River Rivalry fiasco in Dallas, most of us left Oklahoma for dead, but Bob Stoops's troops proceeded to go 6-1 the rest of the way and were one horrible call against Texas Tech away from concluding the season with a 7-0 run capped off by a Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon. I like the Sooners to bounce back and beat everyone but Texas.
4. Louisiana State. Had L.S.U. fired its coaching staff during the offseason and replaced it with the coaching staff of any of the other nine teams in my top 10 (O.K., maybe not Michigan's), I'd rank the Bayou Bengals higher, but Les Miles is good for a loss, no matter how much talent he has on hand in Baton Rouge. Could we be looking at a battle of unbeaten Big 12 and S.E.C. squads in the national championship game and a battle of once-beaten Big 12 and S.E.C. squads in one of the other B.C.S. bowls? Do you think fans might enjoy seeing a rematch of the Sugar Bowl game that decided (half of) the 2003 national title in a contest pitting former Oklahoma State coach Les Miles against his old rival, Bob Stoops? Maybe, just maybe. . . .
5. Southern California. The Trojans have lost a step, but only a step. Pete Carroll will have the Men of Troy ready to reload and win the Pac-10 again, but they will stumble a time or two along the way.
At the conclusion of the top five, I include this picture of Mary-Louise Parker as a sorbet, to cleanse the palate. Yes, there was a request.
6. Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes' offense is apt to be impressive, you need more than two returning starters on defense to make it into my top five. O.S.U.'s September 9 showdown with the Longhorns in Austin won't be quite the barn-burner last year's meeting was, as I expect Texas to win by 10. I also believe Ohio State will drop a Big Ten road game along the way, either to a solid Iowa team on September 30 or two weeks later in East Lansing against the streaky Spartans, who always seem to win one they absolutely shouldn't on the way to blowing it down the stretch.
7. Florida. The Gators are good. They'll be improved on offense and, as much as it pains me to say so, they'll probably win the East while the Bulldogs rebuild and the Volunteers undergo counseling with a frank but caring psychotherapist. I just don't see them getting through that schedule unscathed, though . . . and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see the team that loses in the Cocktail Party represent the division in the Georgia Dome for the fourth time in a five-year span.
8. Michigan. Since two out of every five college football bloggers claim either Georgia or Michigan as their favorite team, you probably knew this already, but the Maize and Blue went 7-5 last season. This caused much gruffness in Ann Arbor during the long, hard winter, leaving the U.M. faithful angry. Have you ever seen an angry Wolverine?
This is an angry Wolverine. Michigan's five losses in 2005 were by margins of seven, three, three, four, and four points, respectively. Aggravation alone ought to get the Maize and Blue three more wins.
9. West Virginia. This year, you won't find a bigger Mountaineer fan than me outside of Appalachia. Until I am able to persuade Mr. Peabody to let me borrow the wayback machine long enough to return to the Sugar Bowl and persuade Rich Rodriguez to punt the ball and give D.J. Shockley the chance he deserved for some late-game heroics, I will be rooting for W.V.U., because a good season by the Mountain Men will validate the Bulldogs' loss to them. Unfortunately, although West Virginia is good, Coach Rodriguez's squad finds itself in much the same position that Bobby Bowden's Florida State teams occupied in the seasons immediately preceding Miami's admission to the A.C.C.: the Mountaineers of 2006, like the 'Noles of old, are the favorites to win a league in which several of their opponents are improving incrementally and looking to make a name for themselves by giving the big boys their best shot. Someone somewhere is going to get by the unsuspecting Mountaineers and, with that schedule, West Virginia will never be able to overcome even a single loss.
10. Notre Dame. Much like the Buckeyes, the Irish are excellent offensively, but, without a legitimate defense, there's only so successful the Golden Domers can be.
Also, the green jerseys are simply ridiculous.
Others receiving consideration: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Texas Christian, and Virginia Tech. Also, deep down, a sentimental patriotic part of me wants to add Navy to this list, as well, but the Midshipmen need to beat Notre Dame before I'm ready to make that leap.
Others I feel the need to pretend received consideration but really didn't: California, Florida State, and Miami. Cal strikes me as little more than Texas Tech with more protesting and the A.C.C.'s two Sunshine State schools have slipped back to the pack a bit.
That's my preliminary top 10. Am I right? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think.