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Friendly Fire: Addressing the Constructive Criticisms of My Pre-Preseason Top 25

When college football season was just six weeks away, I began putting together notes on my preseason BlogPoll ballot. After privately circulating a draft ballot among a few friends and family members, I received some feedback, upon the basis of which I posted a revised edition of my top 25 for public scrutiny, knowing all the while that what I had submitted was not the final draft.

In the interim, preseason offerings began appearing at Sunday Morning Quarterback (where Matt Hinton, despite declaring himself "completely alone in endorsing the Huskers," ranked Nebraska No. 21, exactly where I placed the Big Red), Addicted to Quack, and Garnet and Black Attack, accompanied by commentary on methodology from Rock M Nation and Corn Nation.

I asked for constructive criticism, and I got it, so, starting at the bottom of my would-be ballot, I find the first ranking that raised eyebrows was my placement of North Carolina at No. 22. CataulaDawg put it forthrightly: "What’s the argument for UNC making the list?" In my absence, MaconDawg offered a few points in defense of the Tar Heels, noting, inter alia:

The Tarheels finished 35th in the nation in total defense last year and return 12 significant contributors off that unit. This includes defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who is the greatest defensive player of our era, at least until Tim Tebow switches to the linebacker position that Urban Meyer told Jevan Snead that Tebow was being recruited for. . . .

QB T.J. Yates is returning to start as a sophomore and Greg Little is an emerging threat in the backfield, a 6’3, 215 pound tailback who can move the chains on 3rd and 4 or less. UNC converted 29% of third downs last year, by the way. Even bad offensive teams think that’s really bad. Chan Gailey would admit that’s bad. Offense was this team’s achilles heel last season, but it improved with young players as the year progressed.

SMQ has extolled the virtues of North Carolina and expressed his concerns about Virginia Tech, and, inasmuch as the Atlantic Coast Conference logo ought to appear in the dictionary next to the definition of "mediocrity," somebody in the league has to rise to the level of being a top 25 team, if only by process of elimination. (O.K., only by process of elimination.)

Actually, scratch that. I’m not at all persuaded that the foregoing sentiment is true. Honestly, more than once, it has crossed my mind to omit the A.C.C. from my top 25 altogether until someone in the conference emerges from the pack, but that would be a cop-out. In the first (private) draft of my ballot, the only squad from the league to make the cut was Root of All Evil Clemson, which checked in at No. 12.

That decision on my part drew the following reply from a family member who shall remain nameless my brother-in-law, Travis (whose anonymity is scarcely worth preserving, since you either don’t know who he is and don’t care, or you know who he is and recognized the minute you read it that he wrote it, so the heck with it):

Clemson is your highest ranked ACC team. You and I know full well that Clemson isn’t winning the ACC. Florida State is the sleeping (napping?) giant. Now that everyone is free to completely ignore Bobby and instead ask Jimbo what to do, the talent in Tallahassee will start to show. FSU goes 9-3 and wins the ACC.

That convinced me, because Trav is right: I do know full well that Clemson isn’t winning the A.C.C., which is why I dropped the Tigers to No. 16. (I reserve the right to revise that opinion if Tommy Bowden is caught cheating. Clemson was sanctioned by the N.C.A.A. four times between 1975 and 1992; the Tigers won nine or more games nine times in the 14 seasons between 1978 and 1991. The Orange and Purple won their last conference championship roughly twelve months before their last run-in with the N.C.A.A.)

Here’s the problem with Trav’s theory, though: Florida State doesn’t have to be good, as SMQ has stressed and as Year2 pointed out and reiterated. I know Year2 is hardly an impartial observer where the Seminoles are concerned, but he makes a compelling case and F.S.U. will be dropping in my next stab at compiling a top 25.

Blackertai asked a fair question ("Who else do you have in the ACC?"), to which Year2 had a reasonable answer: "Just because a team is among the best in a bad conference, it doesn’t mean they’re #13 in the country." Don’t be surprised if no A.C.C. club makes my top 15.

No, really, you stink.

Moving from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, we find a jumble of quality competitors vying for second place in the Pac-10, headlined by my eighth-, twelfth-, and 17th-ranked teams (Arizona State, Oregon, and California, respectively. This led Tiller to ask me, "Have you gone Quackers?" and caused Sun Devil fan (and Old Testament idol) baal to declare: "ASU is overrated on this ballot."

Because there are good arguments to be made on the Ducks’ behalf and Arizona State has both quality and question marks, I may move the Sun Devils behind Oregon, but, when I am asked why I have three Pac-10 teams in my top twelve (and four in my top 17), I have a four-part answer:

  1. The Pac-10 is a solid, deep conference.

  2. The Pac-10 takes a back seat to no league in out-of-conference scheduling, which deserves to be rewarded. (This is the corollary to my refusal to rank Hawaii or Kansas as highly as other BlogPollsters due to the Warriors’ and the Jayhawks’ sorry slates.)

  3. The Pac-10 runs the A-11! (O.K., just kidding about that one.)

  4. Who else you got? No, seriously. On my most recent (soon to be revised) ballot draft, I ranked Oregon No. 12. Immediately behind the Ducks were Florida State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Clemson. I had Cal at No. 17, immediately ahead of South Florida, Boise State, Tennessee, and Nebraska. What evidence suggests that the Seminoles, Mountaineers, Badgers, or Tigers are better than Oregon? What evidence suggests that the Bulls, Broncos, Volunteers, or Cornhuskers are better than the Berkeley Bears? If there are arguments to that effect, let’s hear ‘em, ‘cause I’m listening, but, right now, I don’t find much to indicate that those other teams are as deserving of high poll placement. If I can’t come up with more than eleven teams that are better than you, you’re the No. 12 team in the nation. (This premise, by the way, is how we have settled the last five presidential elections.)

Finally, my favorite contrary argument came from LSU Jonno, who found fault with the respective rankings I gave Auburn and Louisiana State based upon the following hypothetical:

LSU and AU finish with identical 10-2 regular season records, however Auburn is one of LSU’s losses and therefore would represent the West in the SECCG. Auburn then loses to UGA in the SECCG, and plays in the peach or cotton bowl. At that point Auburn has beaten LSU in the regular season (thereby meaning AU is a superior team) but will have one more loss than LSU, and LSU will be playing in a better bowl game (probably the sugar bowl if UGA is playing in the NC game). If both teams would win their bowls I think LSU would have the higher finish in the polls on Jan 9th 2009.

So if you think that…
1) AU is slightly better than LSU, meaning very similar records but AU beats LSU
2) AU will lose the SECCG to UGA (and I"m sure you think that!)
3) The SEC is the best conference and therefore LSU and AU will both win their bowl games

Then you have to rank LSU AHEAD of AU in your poll if you are trying to predict final standings.

Makes perfect sense right?

I have to give LSU Jonno credit; he certainly thought that one through thoroughly. Naturally, I’d love to be able to concede his point, which he made well, because, frankly, Louisiana State is not despised, whereas I hate Auburn . . . and the feeling is mutual, as evidenced by the answer given to the titular question, "Who Do You Hate The Most?" (Evidently, proper English narrowly missed making the top ten. It’s not who you know, fellows; it’s whom you know.)

I don’t know that I went quite as far as LSU Jonno did in mapping out the course of the campaign---about which I would be substantially wrong, in any case---but the gap between the two teams was not large (I had Auburn seventh and L.S.U. ninth) and, at the end of the day, I think the Bayou Bengals will be scary good, but I think the Plainsmen will be scary, nasty good, which is why I went with the Yellowhammer State Tigers over the Pelican State Tigers.

In my opinion, Auburn will be this year’s Missouri, undefeated against everyone except the team they lose to twice, once in the regular season and once in the conference championship game. That will earn them the edge, however narrowly, over what figures to be an extremely good L.S.U. club. Let me be perfectly clear: I’m giving credit to the Tigers, not downgrading the Tigers. (You know what I mean.)

In any case, all of you who commented have given me a lot to consider, for which I thank you, and your continued arguments, suggestions, and incredulous reactions to my various errors and omissions remain welcome as I go back to the drawing board to cobble together a more perfect set of preseason rankings.

Go ‘Dawgs!