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Out on a Limb: The Dawg Sports 2007 Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

We here at Dawg Sports are big believers in getting the discussion going, eliciting responses on subjects ranging from Georgia's national stature to proper definitions, from Notre Dame's pass defense to Rose Bowl matchups, from all manner of moral questions to the propriety, vel non, of skinning cats, burning the works of William Faulkner, and sacrificing Burt Reynolds.

For the record, I am against sacrificing Burt Reynolds.

Thus, it was with great gladness that I greeted the recent e-mail from MGoBlog's Brian Cook reporting that it was time once again to begin submitting BlogPoll ballots anew. This time, though, there will be a twist. As always, voters are asked to guide themselves by considerations such as this:

It's really important that you as a voter listen to the other voters in the roundtable discussions and the like. If someone provides a convincing argument about a team, please be open minded enough to admit wrongness and change your ballot. What's convincing? Well, that's up to you. Feedback and the give-and-take of blogging is critical to the poll. Be a part of the discussion, and change your mind.

As always, I am completely on board for the give-and-take of discussion between BlogPollsters, so I was pleased when Brian indicated that there would be two preseason BlogPolls . . . the first one of which will be followed by a discussion, which will be followed by a second vote, in which we will reorder our respective ballots based upon the persuasive arguments of our coevals.

It will not surprise you to learn that I have been dwelling upon my preseason BlogPoll ballot for the last few weeks. As usual, about the only certain conclusions at which I have arrived are that (a) there aren't 10 teams worthy of being ranked in the top 10, (b) there aren't 25 teams worthy of being ranked in the top 25, but (c) there are 12 or 15 teams worthy of being ranked 11th through 20th.

No, that isn't mathematically possible. Nevertheless, it's true. It's a space/time continuum thing. Deal with it.

As a confirmed convert to resume ranking, I find this the most difficult ballot of the year. After all, the preseason rankings are entirely speculative.

This much I know for sure: I plan to drop all 0-1 teams from my ballot after Labor Day weekend, even if I think, say, the Clemson-Florida State, Cal-Tennessee, or Georgia-Oklahoma State loser is better than whichever teams rise up to take their places, because, even though I'm confident those teams will work their way back up over the course of the season, 1-0 is objectively better than 0-1 when no teams have a second game upon the basis of which to draw conclusions.

Where do I go from there, though? It beats me, which is why I intend to operate according to Rece Davis's philosophy that early-season poll balloting is "a fluid situation."

With those caveats borne in mind, here is the initial preseason ballot I have submitted, which I put forth (with explanations) for the good of the order, subject to your inquiries into my sanity and your evisceration of my presumptions:

Rank Team Delta
1 Michigan 25
2 Southern Cal 24
3 Texas 23
4 West Virginia 22
5 LSU 21
6 Oklahoma 20
7 Louisville 19
8 Virginia Tech 18
9 UCLA 17
10 Wisconsin 16
11 Auburn 15
12 Florida State 14
13 Penn State 13
14 Georgia 12
15 Florida 11
16 California 10
17 Ohio State 9
18 Tennessee 8
19 Rutgers 7
20 Boise State 6
21 Clemson 5
22 Oklahoma State 4
23 TCU 3
24 Boston College 2
25 Oregon 1

Dropped Out:
Every bit of that is sheer guesswork, but a few words of explanation are warranted, so here goes:

For all the Trojans' talent, I'm not yet sold on John David Booty and I question U.S.C.'s ability to make it through its Pac-10 slate unscathed. Even during their dominant run under Pete Carroll, the Men of Troy have stumbled a few times on the road (at Washington State in 2002, at California in 2003, and at Oregon State and U.C.L.A. last year) and been caught sleepwalking through an improved conference slate (in the three games leading up to last fall's loss to the Beavers, Southern California beat Washington State, Washington, and Arizona State by scores of 28-22, 26-20, and 28-21, respectively).

I foresee another stumble somewhere along the line.

I'll pencil U.S.C. in for a 5-0 start, but the Trojans' last seven games are against Arizona (more about whom shortly), Notre Dame, Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, Arizona State, and U.C.L.A., with four of their last six outings being on the road. I can't quite bring myself to believe that Southern California doesn't get caught napping at least once during that stretch.

That brings us to the Wolverines, whose schedule sets up much more nicely than does U.S.C.'s. The Maize and Blue get Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State at home, with only one real challenge (Wisconsin) on the road. Granted, there are some holes to fill on defense, but, after last year's Ohio State team managed to overcome significant defensive losses, I'm not about to doubt a Big Ten team with an explosive offense. With Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, and Mario Manningham back wearing winged helmets, Michigan should run the table. (Admittedly, I have an ulterior motive for wanting to see the Wolverines play for the national title.)

Colt McCoy should have the Longhorns back in contention, but the Sooners shouldn't be far behind. The Bayou Bengals have top two talent but I have never gone wrong trusting in Les Miles's ability to drive 13-0 talent to an 11-2 record.

The Mountaineers have established themselves as a genuine force in an improved Big East and the Cardinals, while talented, must break in a new coach. The Hokies get into the top 10 on the strength of their coaching and the weakness of their conference. If V.P.I. beats L.S.U., Virginia Tech will get a huge boost on my ballot, but I don't believe that will happen.

Nothing personal, Frank.

The Bruins get in because they are loaded; were it not for the Karl Dorrell factor, they'd be ranked higher. What did the Badgers show me last season that would cause me to doubt them this season?

The Seminoles are as talented as ever and their coaching staff has improved. The Plainsmen cause me too much heartburn not to rank them highly. (I hate Auburn.) The Gators and the Buckeyes lost too much experience for either of them to repeat.

That is especially so for Florida, as the Orange and Blue lost nine starters off of their national championship-winning defense. As Phil Steele put it:

They do have just 8 returning starters and lose 9 NFL draft picks which does not even include QB Leak who was not selected. They did have a senior-laden team LY and benefited from 5 net close wins.

Phil Steele ranked Georgia ahead of Florida. End of story.

Obviously, the Gators are talented. Obviously, they are in "reload" mode rather than "rebuild" mode. However, they have to have lost a step in a rugged S.E.C. and, given the inevitability of Georgia's forthcoming win in Jacksonville, it seemed appropriate to rank the 'Dawgs one slot ahead of the Orange and Blue.

Yes, I know that, according to the Charles Rogers Theorem, Georgia's offensive line should keep the Red and Black out of contention . . . but, then again, that same theorem foretold down years for Auburn in 2004 and Florida in 2006. These erroneous predictions led to the addition of such corollaries as these:

  1. "I created an exception for teams that undergo dramatic coaching improvement, such as going from Hugh Nall calling the plays to Al Borges."
  2. "The Theorem isn't responsible for hasty misapplication by its operator."
  3. "Good coaching can hedge against a team being truly overrated."
We cannot yet know whether the second corollary will prove applicable to the Bulldogs, but there can be no question that the first and third exceptions describe the 'Dawgs precisely. Undoubtedly, the offense was upgraded when Mike Bobo took over the play-calling duties as Georgia's full-time offensive coordinator and Stacy Searels succeeded Neil Callaway as the offensive line coach, while Mark Richt's coaching ability cannot be gainsaid.

Go ahead. Underestimate this man. I dare you. I double-'Dawg dare you.

This is why I am not terribly worried. Georgia is building the foundation for a national championship run and the offense has improved to the point that it is considered a "rough scrimmage" that puts the Bulldogs in a "bad mood" when "a lot of missed assignments" and "mental mistakes" cause Matthew Stafford, playing behind four freshmen with four offensive linemen sidelined by injuries, to complete only 65 per cent of his passes and throw a touchdown toss.

Finally, Nos. 18 through 25 seemed obvious entrants into the top 25 on talent alone, although I'm danged if I know the order in which they ought to appear.

I was high on South Florida until I heard that everyone else was high on South Florida, too, at which point I began to bail because the next sure thing almost never turns out to be as good as advertised. Between Alabama, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Notre Dame, South Carolina, and South Florida, I'm sure three or maybe even four of them will live up to the hype to some appreciable degree, but they can't all match expectations, so I'm withholding judgment until one of them does something to prove worthy of all the attention.

Finally, Arizona State deserves a look because Dennis Erickson's complete lack of ethical or moral standards guarantees that the Sun Devils will improve rapidly.

Coach Erickson's teams, like "The Rockford Files," rely heavily upon the presence of thugs for their success.

As for A.S.U.'s cross-state rival, hear me out on this one. Arizona had the nation's No. 115-ranked offense last year. Provided that Willie Tuitama stays healthy, the Wildcats almost literally have to improve offensively with four starters back on the offensive line and Sonny Dykes now calling the plays.

Despite their offensive woes, the 'Cats were bowl-eligible last season after closing the campaign with a 4-2 run. Mike Stoops's team nearly knocked off an Oregon State team that was starting to peak and, in their final four games, the Wildcats beat Washington State, Cal, and Oregon in consecutive outings. Two of those wins were on the road, two of those wins were over ranked opponents, and Arizona's combined victory margin over all three was 88-47. The defense, which returns nine starters, posted four second-half shutouts last year. The Wildcats, in short, are a team on the rise and I've got my eye on them.

As I freely and cheerfully admit, however, I have no idea what I'm talking about, so I sought the input of some old friends and occasional commenters here at Dawg Sports. When I ran the foregoing by my good pal ProfDawg, he had this to allow in reply:

Michigan will be better, but going into the season, at the beginning, are they better than USC? If the two played each other on the last day of this month who would win? You may be right, but I would lean toward USC. I wonder if Georgia Tech ought to be in the Top 25 somewhere. Clemson is too low, I think, as is Florida. I think we are a better team than Florida State. Oregon doesn't do much for me. T.C.U.? Eh...I just don't know about that, but.... Looking forward to the season getting started, but very worried about Oklahoma State. No pushovers they...

For his part, College Buddy offered the following observations:
Admittedly, all pre-season rankings -- whether by mainstream sportswriters or bloggers -- are pure speculation. Thus, I am not sure there is any circumstance under which I would say your pre-season ballot is "completely crazy."

That being said, I am surprised and disappointed that you have only one SEC squad in the top ten (although there are five southern schools, assuming you count West Virginia as I know you do). You really don't think Auburn (which I also hate) will be better than Wisconsin? You really believe Florida -- who may have lost many starters but is reputed to be loaded into the third and fourth strings -- will do worse than Oklahoma and Wisconsin? You don't think if Auburn, Florida, or Georgia met U.C.L.A. on September 1 that any of the three SEC teams would win? Really?

I don't think you're crazy, but I am surprised.

I also heard from a family member who doesn't have a cool on-line handle like my cousin Elmo Lewis (not his real name, by the way), but, on the off chance that he wouldn't want his secret identity divulged, I'll call him "Deuce." He wrote:
I have a lot of time to kill this afternoon so here's my initial impression.

I think it was one of those fine ESPN College Football Live analysts who said that anyone who doesn't pick USC as their preseason No. 1 is just trying to be provocative. But I say go for it. What the hell. That's what makes the BlogPoll different. Plus it's a preseason poll, and if USC is really that much better than everyone else they'll show it before long.

I think most people (preseason magazines, etc.) may be giving Wisconsin an unfairly low ranking. It's like there's this major denial that anyone can continue what Alvarez had been doing. But their coaching change isn't happening this year - it happened last year, and Bielema went 12-1 and has a lot of starters back for '07. Like you said, what did they show last year to give any reason to doubt them? I'm not saying they should necessarily be higher than 10th, but I think the top 10 is the least they deserve until they prove otherwise.

I also like that you have not yet ranked Hawaii. Does anybody really think there aren't 25 teams better than Hawaii? Let's see them actually start beating all of these crappy teams on their schedule before begrudgingly ranking them.

Oklahoma State has talent and will surely be a bowl team, but we'll find out on day one just how much better they are than last year. After that game they'll either move way up on people's polls or (hopefully) fall off entirely for a while.

Alabama is a wild card. Nick Saban scares the pee out of me, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them finish the season somewhere in the low teens already in year one, but like Hawaii, it seems appropriate not to rank them based on possibilities but rather to wait and rank them based on results.

It's hard to rank Virginia Tech higher than this, yet I have a feeling they will finish higher than this simply because someone from the ACC has to win some games.

And the SEC East is so tough. You could put the top 3 in any order and I couldn't really argue against it. They all 3 have enough talent to win the division as well as a coaching staff with experience winning the division, so making a solid preseason speculation seems to be anybody's guess.

So there are a few thoughts of mine, for what they're worth. I don't think there's anything too crazy here, and in fact I like that you've ranked teams that have proven recently that they can win some games (Oregon and the like) than those that haven't yet (South Carolina).

Are College Buddy, Deuce, and ProfDawg right? Have I hit the nail on the head or am I way off base? Hey, you've got me. I can rank 'em when I have actual data on which to base my poll positions, but this is all guesswork, gut instinct, ingrained bias, and picking teams using a chimpanzee and a dartboard at this stage of the game.

Let me know what you think. I have many misgivings about my ballot and I welcome your constructive criticisms.

Go 'Dawgs!