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A Tentative Stab at a Revised Draft of My Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

The roundtable discussion is underway regarding the tentative preseason BlogPoll and already we are starting to see the results, as, evidently, I talked Mike into ranking Georgia lower on his second ballot. So, yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about that.

After giving this a lot of thought, I have decided to pay heed to some of the observations offered by my fellow bloggers. Ere I get to the colleagues who persuaded me, however, I should begin by explaining why some highly respected fellow BlogPollsters did not succeed in changing my mind, despite the reasonableness of their arguments.

For example, Peter Bean thought L.S.U. and Wisconsin were overrated while Arkansas and Texas A&M were underrated. I agree with him wholeheartedly regarding the Bayou Bengals, and for the same reason. Two words: Les Miles. If Louisiana State had Nick Saban back in Baton Rouge, the Fighting Tigers would be my No. 1 team. With Les Miles, they'll be traveling more miles to their postseason destination, because they won't be playing for the national title in New Orleans.

We part ways regarding the Badgers, the Hogs, and the Aggies, however. I have no faith in Dennis Franchione's capability to aid his team in living up to its potential and I believe the upheaval in Fayetteville will inhibit the Razorbacks' ability to post a second straight successful season. The Bulldogs showed something by closing 2006 with three straight wins over ranked opponents. What did Arkansas show when ending a 10-win campaign with three straight losses? With Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams, Gus Malzahn, and seven defensive starters gone, the Hogs will come crashing back to earth.

Think about how crazy this guy was before having the offseason that he had. Come Saturday, he's going to be running the Notre Dame box formation.

As for the team that dealt the Razorbacks their most recent setback---Wisconsin, which capped off a 12-win campaign with a Capital One Bowl win---Bret Bielema showed me nothing last year that would cause me to doubt his ability to continue winning with solid special teams (Taylor Mehlhaff, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, and Ken DeBauche, who averaged 41.8 yards per punt, both return), rock-ribbed defense (seven starters, including Jack Ikegwuonu and Matt Shaughnessy, are back from a unit that gave up 12.1 points per game), and an offense that boasts four returning starters on the line blocking for P.J. Hill (who tallied 1,569 yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman).

Likewise, I did not see eye to eye with Paragon SC's assessment that Nebraska was underrated and U.C.L.A. was overrated. I find it hard not to like the fact that there are 20 returning starters for the Bruins, including four on the offensive line, a 1,000-yard rusher and Ben Olson in the backfield, and 10 on a defense that was solid, especially in wins over Arizona State, Oregon State, and Southern California.

Yes, U.C.L.A. still has the West Coast Ray Goff for a coach, and, yes, the Bruins played badly in several outings, conceding 29 points at Washington, 30 at Oregon, 37 to Washington State, 38 at California, and 44 to Florida State. Nevertheless, a team with this much talent and experience, including a few key late-season wins to close out its 2006 slate, ought to contend strongly for the Pac-10 title alongside a crosstown rival against whom the Bruins are 9-7 in the last 16 seasons.

With regard to the Cornhuskers, I have a pretty good idea of Bill Callahan's limitations and, before I'm prepared to believe in the revival of the Big Red Machine, Nebraska is going to have to show me . . . which, perhaps ironically, the 'Huskers can do by winning at Missouri on October 6.

I have yet to be convinced that winning the Big 12 North entitles a team to a top 25 ranking.

This brings me to Sunday Morning Quarterback's expert explication of his own BlogPoll ballot, in which he offered the following compelling observations:

I'm leery about the quarterback issues at Oklahoma and Ohio State, but both of those teams are going to be vicious on defense, as usual, and will be able to pound 90 percent of their respective schedules into submission with a very quarterback-friendly running game. But Florida State? . . .

I'm enticed back into the demon grasp of Florida State in the top ten, though the additions of Colorado, Alabama and Virginia Tech are razor teeth on the schedule where Rice, Western Michigan and Virginia resided for half the 'Noles' wins last year, because I still believe in the talent (especially compared to the rest of the conference) and the fast-healing powers of Jimbo Fisher, Rick Trickett and Chuck Amato, whose departure for the NC State job (and Mark Richt's for Georgia) coincided with the precipitous decline of the Jeff Bowden era. On paper, this still looks like a team that can compete nationally. But I still half expect to be writing this exact apologia again the same time next year.

I'm also wondering a little what led me to bump Auburn into the mix, when I was just minutes from excoriating the vulnerability of its skin-of-the-teeth routine last year. A healthy Auburn is still a very good Auburn, but the Tigers' schedule is unforgiving for a team with so many legit questions on offense. Auburn may be looking at a significant slip in this poll, and I think we'd be right about that in the end. . . .

If you're going to bother ranking Hawaii and Boise State at all, it might as well be way up at the top, because a one-loss team with either's schedule may not crack the polls at all. By including them at all, you're conceding one or the other will probably be undefeated, and therefore they should go rocketing up close to the top five, where an undefeated team from the WAC will tend to finish.

At the same time, the Pac Ten is likely to have a second team in the top dozen, at least, by the end of the year. I find it difficult to distinguish between the merits of Oregon, UCLA and Cal, but to group them all between 16-21 reeks of indecisive hedges and decimal point thinking. Somebody's got to win those games, and somebody's got to lose; they can't split them. So one of that three - I think very high-octane Oregon or, maybe a safer pick given the last three-four years, Cal - is going to pull away to a relatively big year, and one is going to fade out. I don't think the Pac Ten will earn a second BCS bid, but no matter how cloes they look on paper, they won't all wind up bunched together.

SMQ is right on several fronts, even if I occasionally am led by his pointed statements of irrevocable fact to conclusions different from those he would have me draw. (It isn't the first time that's happened.)

As I learned in this building from these folks, there's a whole lot of fun to be had in the debate.

Ohio State and Oklahoma both have quarterback issues, which is why I'm inclined to drop them in the rankings. SMQ's concerns about the Seminoles mirror my own, so F.S.U. likely will plummet on my ballot.

I'm always grateful when someone whose opinion I respect gives me a good reason to think less highly of Auburn. (I hate Auburn.) Finally, since SMQ is right that the Pac-10 contenders outside of U.S.C. "won't all wind up bunched together," I rearranged their order somewhat and made it clearer which team I believe is the real challenger to the Trojans' West Coast hegemony.

SMQ's nod to the best teams from non-B.C.S. leagues ("If you're going to bother ranking Hawaii and Boise State at all, it might as well be way up at the top") echoed the sentiments expressed in BCSBusters's detailed exegesis of how so-called "mid-majors" came to be left on the outside looking in when rankings were being bestowed and bowl bids were being offered. (BCSBusters, by the way, is a gentleman and a scholar, and he writes thoughtfully and well about issues of major significance to the sport we all love. I hope I didn't come down too hard on him yesterday and I would encourage you to check out his site.)

Because I share Paul Westerdawg's doubts about Hawaii (and because Brian Cook has shamed me into regretting my MaxwellPundit vote for Colt Brennan), I'm not letting the Warriors anywhere near the top 25 until they beat someone. However, Boise State and Texas Christian are another story altogether.

In the last eight seasons, the Broncos have gone 86-16, posting double-digit win totals half a dozen times and losing one or fewer games in four of the last five years. Along the way, B.S.U. has suffered such embarrassments as setbacks at U.C.L.A. (38-7 in 1999), at South Carolina (32-13 in 2001), at Arkansas (41-14 in 2002), and at Georgia (48-13 in 2005), but my favorite team clad in orange and blue---admittedly not a club with a large membership, given that those are the colors worn by the Auburn Tigers, the Florida Gators, and the New York Mets---put itself on the map with wins over Oregon State (53-34 in 2004 and 42-14 in 2006) and, most notably, Oklahoma in last year's Fiesta Bowl thriller.

A little goodwill wouldn't be altogether out of line at this point, would it?

Likewise, T.C.U. has earned the benefit of the doubt. The former Southwest Conference squad has established itself under Gary Patterson, compiling a 48-13 ledger in the last five seasons. While winning 10 or more games in four of those five campaigns, the Horned Frogs have demonstrated a recent penchant for knocking off Big 12 opposition: Texas Christian won at Oklahoma and against Iowa State in the Houston Bowl in 2005 before beating Baylor and Texas Tech early last autumn. T.C.U., like Boise State, has earned a measure of deference.

I stand by my arguments in favor of Michigan and against Florida, but there was a lot of movement among the bottom 20 teams in my top 25. The ranking of the respective teams on my initial BlogPoll ballot is listed parenthetically. Here is my revised top 25:

  1. Michigan (1)
  2. Southern California (2)
  3. Texas (3)
  4. West Virginia (4)
  5. Louisiana State (5)
  6. Boise State (20)
  7. Wisconsin (10)
  8. Virginia Tech (8)
  9. U.C.L.A. (9)
  10. Louisville (7)
  11. Oklahoma (6)
  12. Auburn (11)
  13. Texas Christian (23)
  14. Georgia (14)
  15. Florida (15)
  16. Rutgers (19)
  17. Oregon (25)
  18. Ohio State (17)
  19. California (16)
  20. Penn State (13)
  21. Oklahoma State (22)
  22. Clemson (21)
  23. Tennessee (18)
  24. Florida State (12)
  25. South Carolina (NR)
Yes, Brandon has convinced me that the Gamecocks will be good, proving once again that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis was pleased to see that the Scarlet Knights rose in the standings despite not having played a game.

Those are my revised rankings, with respect to which there is still time for you to change my mind before my final preseason ballot is cast. While I am awaiting your remarks in the comments below, I believe the best way for me to conclude this posting is with the wise words offered by Shan regarding this exercise:

Objectivity is hard, dammit

As Euripides said, "The best of seers is he who guesses well." And polls, especially pre-season polls, are just that - guesses. Educated, informed, guesses.

Your guess, quite literally, is as good as mine, but I'm looking forward to finding out whose misinformed guesses will turn out to be the least incorrect.

Is it football season yet?

Go 'Dawgs!