When I cast my ballot, though, I still didn't feel like I had the faintest idea how to rank these teams.
Of course, there are varying degrees of not knowing what the heck you're talking about, now, aren't there?
My uncertainty is due primarily to the fact that none of these teams has played a game, so these rankings are largely (if not purely) speculative . . . hence, they are offered with the caveat that I will not hesitate to rearrange my ballot substantially from week to week over the course of the first month of the season.
That said, here is the rationale behind my official 2006 preseason BlogPoll ballot:
1. Texas: I only worry about inexperienced quarterbacks when they play for my team. When your name is "Colt McCoy," you were born to play quarterback for the Longhorns. With that talent and that defense, Texas will be fine. While I have not adopted the approach that "the champs are the champs until somebody beats the champs" (as evidenced by the fact that I had Texas ranked No. 1 at points during the regular season last year), the 'Horns are No. 1 until I'm given a reason not to rank them No. 1.
2. Auburn: The Plainsmen have the best talent money can buy, unburdened by such restraints as academic standards. The addition of Will Muschamp to the coaching staff takes the Tigers from an S.E.C. West contender to a potential national champion.
I hate Auburn.
3. Southern California: The Trojans lost too many star players for me to think they haven't slipped back to the pack just a bit, but, with so much talent on hand and with the race for the top spot being so wide open, it's tough to drop U.S.C. very far . . . particularly since the team recently received a visit from Southern California alumnus Will Ferrell attired as Ricky Bobby, the latest cinematic hero to epitomize redneck fortitude.
4. Florida: I went back and forth on this one for quite a while, ultimately concluding that, in my present estimation, there is a larger gap between No. 3 and No. 4 than there is between No. 4 and No. 10. Each team has its weakness and, in most cases, that weakness is glaring. In the case of the Gators, the fatal flaw is the lack of a running game, but, given U.F.'s other weapons, I found that weakness less disconcerting than Ohio State's lack of a defense or Louisiana State's lack of a coach.
5. Ohio State: Preseason attrition got the Buckeyes into my top five, but this is a shaky pick. Yes, they can score; the question is whether they can stop anyone from scoring. Overwhelming firepower gets O.S.U. into the top five, despite my misgivings.
6. Louisiana State: The Bayou Bengals have top three talent, but the presence of Les Miles on the sideline keeps L.S.U. from cracking the top five.
"Nobody ever won a football game by scoring points for his team. He won it by making the opponent's poor dumb player score points for his team. . . . No, wait, that can't be right, can it?" (Photograph from Vance Air Scoop.)
7. California: I hear good things about the Golden Bears from my friends out west, so I'm taking their word for it. I will confess to believing that Cal is nothing more than Texas Tech with a better tan and more anti-war protesting, but that's probably just my East Coast bias talking. Jeff Tedford has earned the benefit of the doubt . . . for now.
8. Louisville: The longer I look at the Big East, the more convinced I become that it's the new A.C.C. When Florida State first joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Seminoles dominated the league, then, little by little, the weak sisters of the bunch began getting better incrementally, until a Georgia Tech or a Maryland could share an A.C.C. title and a Clemson, a North Carolina, an N.C. State, or a Virginia could pull off an occasional upset over F.S.U. I believe West Virginia now occupies that role in the Big East and frontrunners in the post-Miami version of that conference have not handled high expectations well, as the Mountaineers faltered in 2004 and the Cardinals fell short in 2005. With Rutgers and South Florida on the upswing, with Cincinnati and Connecticut moving in the right direction, and with Pitt and Syracuse unable to fare much worse than they did last year, the road to the Big East championship has gotten tougher and I like U. of L. to steal the headlines from favored W.V.U.
9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes burned me last year, when I judged Kirk Ferentz to be Mark Richt with a Midwestern accent and picked his team to post another 10-win season. When Iowa fell short of my expectations, I was once bitten and twice shy, but others who continue to repose faith in the Hawkeyes have brought me around once more.
10. Notre Dame: Tyrone Willingham had a better first year in South Bend than Charlie Weis did, posting a better record against a tougher schedule. Are the Fighting Irish back among the elite? I'll believe it when I see it, but the jury remains out on the season's crucial question.
As Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up."
11. West Virginia: I don't think the Mountaineers will win the Big East, but I don't believe they're going anywhere anytime soon, either . . . unless, of course, Bobby Bowden retires and Rich Rodriguez follows in Saint Bobby's footsteps and makes the trek from Morgantown to Tallahassee.
12. Michigan: The Wolverines got the L.S.U. treatment here; the Maize and Blue's coaching cost them four spots in the rankings.
13. Texas Christian: I waited too long to get on board the T.C.U. bandwagon last season and I'm not making the same mistake twice.
14. Georgia: It's a rebuilding year and, although there are six games the 'Dawgs should win, there are six games that pose a distinct challenge. Going 4-2 against South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech would be a tall order for a team in transition.
Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. (Photograph from Georgia Sports Communications.)
15. Oregon: If teams can move up in the rankings on style points, is fair to move them down in the standings on bad fashion sense? Atrocious uniforms aside, the Ducks appear ready to contend in a deep Pac-10 and that got them into my top 15. Well, that and the fact that I'm reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Ken Kesey went to the University of Oregon.
16. Florida State: The 'Noles have the talent to stay atop the A.C.C. standings but F.S.U. has lost the edge that made the team a fixture in the top 10.
17. Tennessee: The Vols have talent and feel they have something to prove. If Erik Ainge can return to anything like his freshman form and the running game can get going, the Big Orange could bounce back in a big way.
18. Oklahoma: Changing quarterbacks on the eve of the season dropped the Sooners out of contention for national honors, but that defense still will win O.U. a lot of games.
Hey, at least it won't be as frustrating as last year.
19. Miami (Florida): Like Florida State, the Hurricanes are a talented team, but offseason suspensions, the shakeup of the coaching staff, and the loss of U.M.'s traditional swagger combine to keep Larry Coker's squad at the outer edge of the top 20.
20. Alabama: The defense gets the Tide into the top 20. The offense keeps them out of the top 15.
21. U.C.L.A.: The offense gets the Bruins into the top 25. The defense keeps them out of the top 20.
22. Navy: Paul Johnson is a proven commodity as a coach and the Midshipmen return a multitude of starters in the midst of the U.S.N.A.'s best run of success in a long time. If you're not rooting for the Middies this season, you're simply not a good American.
23. Clemson: I like to think of the Bowden family as the Corleones of college football. Bobby is Don Vito, the aging scion who remains powerful but who has lost a step. Terry was Sonny, the heir apparent whose hotheadedness did him in before his time. Jeff, obviously, is Fredo, the dumb one. That leaves Tommy as Michael, the one most like the old man and the one who ultimately succeeds in the family business, despite some early stumbles. I'm hedging my bet a little bit by putting the Tigers so low, but I have my eye on the fellows from Fort Hill and they'll have a chance to rocket to the top if they can avoid their usual slow start.
Honestly, the whole point of the "Godfather" analogy was so I could cast Robert Duvall in the role of Mark Richt.
24. Utah: I'm not convinced that the Utes are national championship contenders, but they'll be good.
25. Arizona State: A.S.U., like Iowa, burned me last year. I liked the Sun Devils to finish second in the Pac-10, but they went 7-5 instead. Offensively, Arizona State was explosive, but, in four of their five setbacks, the Sun Devils scored 28 or more points in defeat. I like A.S.U., but I can't conscientiously rank them higher than this until they show me something on D.
Others Receiving Serious Consideration: Nebraska, Penn State, and Virginia Tech.
Others at the Edge of My Peripheral Vision with the Opportunity to Get on My Radar Screen: Arkansas, Boston College, Colorado, Fresno State, and Georgia Tech.
Others Theoretically Receiving Consideration, Only Not Really: South Carolina and Texas Tech.
A disappointed Mike Leach talks to the media after learning that his consistently overrated Red Raiders once again got no love from Dawg Sports.
That's my preseason top 25. As always, I remain open to persuasive arguments, so, if I'm missing the boat on one team or another, feel free to point that out to me once the season starts and I'll be more than willing to take your contentions into account when casting the following week's ballot.