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Who's No. 1?: How I Cast My BlogPoll Ballot and Why

I put more thought into my preseason BlogPoll ballot than most Americans put into their votes for president of the United States (as evidenced by the fact that John McCain and Barack Obama are the nominees of the two major parties). On Thursday evening, after much deliberation, I formally exercised the franchise as a BlogPollster, officially entering the following top 25:

Rank Team Delta
1 Georgia 25
2 Southern Cal 24
3 Ohio State 23
4 Missouri 22
5 Florida 21
6 Oklahoma 20
7 Auburn 19
8 Texas 18
9 LSU 17
10 Penn State 16
11 South Florida 15
12 Oregon 14
13 West Virginia 13
14 Arizona State 12
15 Wisconsin 11
16 Clemson 10
17 California 9
18 Boise State 8
19 Tennessee 7
20 Nebraska 6
21 North Carolina 5
22 Texas Tech 4
23 Fresno State 3
24 Kansas 2
25 Southern Miss 1

Dropped Out:

A full listing of all ballots is available here. The autumn’s initial poll will be available at MGoBlog next Monday, August 18, so be on the lookout for it.

The above ballot remains unchanged from the most recent previous draft I posted, but, because I openly solicited feedback, I thought a word of explanation was in order. Please bear in mind that my requests for constructive criticisms are not a deferral of judgment on my part; my BlogPoll ballot invariably represents what I believe, and does not represent an amalgamation of views.

However, I appreciate that there are divergent perspectives upon this topic and I recognize that there oftentimes are valid points I have not considered which might compel me to revise my opinion. Hence, I ask all of you what you think and keep an open mind, so that sufficiently strong arguments might influence what I think.

As you are aware, I had Georgia ranked No. 1 from the beginning. I always argued that the Bulldogs would win the national championship and I shared Cale Conley’s view that it would be good for the Red and Black to be ranked first. Although I initially reacted moderately well to the news of Trinton Sturdivant’s injury, I began to waver a little, so I asked for input.

In the comments that followed that request, SG Standard set the solid gold standard (which, for all I know, is what "SG Standard" stands for in the first place) when he wrote:

I don’t feel like this injury is significant enough to warrant dropping the team down. This isnt an injury like Oregon suffered last season, where the loss of Dennis Dixon instantly changed them from a top 5 team to barely capable of scraping the top 25. That injury completly changed the makeup and capabilities of the Ducks. That is the type of setback that can, and should, change rankings. For UGA, the loss of Stafford or Knowshon would be comparable. Even someone like Asher Allen or Reshad Jones would be a bigger hit.

The reason I feel like this loss can be overcome, as mentioned before, is depth. Despite much talk to the contrary, our offensive line was going to be very good this season. We return much more experience this season all throughout the two deep along the line. Factor in the emergence of Cordy Glenn and Kiante Tripp, along with the return of wizard/magician/voodoo priest we have as our offensive line coach, and our offensive line still remains in better shape than it was a year ago. Remember, we were worrying ourselves sick over Sturdivant this time last season. Also, as Senator Blutarsky pointed out today, the SEC media didn’t think enough of Trinton to put him on any preseason All SEC team, yet now his injury has derailed our MNC hopes? I think that is an overreaction.

Another thing that factors in is the method of ranking used. If you are a proponent of resume ranking, the fact is that there is not yet any resume to use. If I were asked to make a preaseason poll, I would look at returning starters, returning coaches, and where the team in question finished last season. Georgia still returns 17 starters, a number which is higher than any MNC contender except for the War Plains Tigers out in Auburn. No siginficant coaching changes were made nor have any brand new schemes been introduced to the team. Most importantly, all of these things describe a team that finished #2 last season. There is still a lot to fear when lining up opposite the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite the severity of the injury and the importance of the position it is at, it is not worth moving the Dawgs down in any poll.

This argument was met with a minor yet significant correction from Year2, who pointed out that Ohio State returned 19 starters and fielded "a senior QB who doesn’t make many mistakes, a potential 2,000-yard rusher, an offensive line with four upperclassmen, and a defense with only one underclassman starting." Deeming them an obvious No. 1 choice, Year2 asserted: "‘But they lost two straight MNC [sic.] games!!’ doesn’t count as a valid reason."

Year2’s position elicited complete or partial agreement from CAJason80, Zandor435, and even SG Standard, who had allowed himself to be talked out of taking the position he had talked me back into taking. (To be fair, SG Standard acknowledged from the beginning that he "wouldn’t have voted UGA #1 in the first place.")

When Sunday Morning Quarterback originally called attention to the so-called "Buckeye backlash" (which I think is bogus), I wrote the following:

In 2008, as always, I will eschew favoritism, rank by resumes, and submit honest BlogPoll ballots. Ohio State's stock will rise or fall with me depending upon the Buckeyes' achievement on the field; I will evaluate O.S.U. based upon what the team does and against whom the team does it.

At this point, all poll rankings everywhere are prospective. If Ohio State defeats Southern California on September 13 (which, for the record, I do not believe they will), a principled commitment to resume ranking demands that the Buckeyes be vaulted into the top spot, as no one else will have a win of comparable quality at that point.

Until and unless that happens, however, this is all based upon projection and guesswork, and, no matter how well informed the guess may be, even some of the best and most supportable surmises will be slain by subsequent facts. This is a problem inherent to all attempts to project outcomes of athletic contests in advance, but, for now, quite frankly, yes, "But they lost two straight national championship games!" does count as a valid reason.

If I am looking forward and doing my best to predict which team will win the national title, I have to acknowledge honestly that, in a season in which at least three S.E.C. teams are expected to contend strongly for the national championship, it is highly likely that a Southeastern Conference club will be in Miami on January 8, which means that any team from outside the league that wins the crown will have to beat an S.E.C. squad to claim the top spot.

Any reasonable person would have to acknowledge that Southern California could accomplish such a feat; the Trojans have been too good for too long, and have enjoyed too much success against respectable S.E.C. opponents in recent years, for me to doubt U.S.C.’s ability to beat a Southeastern Conference champion in a B.C.S. bowl game.

Picking Ohio State to win such a contest, however, is, quite literally, wholly without basis in historical experience. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen---there’s a first time for everything---and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If the Buckeyes emerge victorious from Los Angeles, there will even be good reason to believe it will happen.

Prior to that point, though, we have only the inescapable reality that O.S.U. was a prohibitive favorite over the Gators two years ago and Kirk Herbstreit’s alma mater was the presumptive No. 1 following the final Saturday of a turbulent 2007 campaign . . . but both of those juggernauts got waxed in the championship round. Betting on the Buckeyes to win it all has been a losing proposition lately, so, in the absence of contrary evidence (the admission and consideration of which will begin at the end of this month), ranking Ohio State a preseason No. 1 in 2008 is tantamount to ranking the Buffalo Bills a preseason No. 1 in 1993.

If you believe the Buckeyes would beat the Bulldogs or the Trojans on a neutral field, by all means, rank them No. 1, but, truthfully, I’m not altogether convinced O.S.U. would beat Auburn, Florida, Louisiana State, Missouri, Oklahoma, or Texas on a neutral field.

Does that mean I am complicit in the purported "Buckeye backlash"? It does not; I ranked Ohio State third, despite having given serious consideration to ranking them fourth or fifth, so Jim Tressel’s club still gets excessive benefit of the doubt from me, even after having been overrated as recently as the end of last season. If Ohio State remains undefeated after facing Southern California, I will rank the Buckeyes No. 1. Whether they subsequently are overtaken by the Bulldogs or some other team will depend upon how the season plays out, as how a team wins and over whom will wash away all of my preseason preconceptions. I agree with Rece Davis that early-season poll ballots ought to be fluid.

In the end, then, I found persuasive Senator Blutarsky’s excellent point about Sturdivant and my fellow pessimist dawgdayafternoon parked the argument in the cheap seats with this observation:

If a preseason ranking is meant to approximate the way a team is intended to finish their season, then why not maintain UGA’s number 1 ranking. Anyone who has read my fanpost realizes that this injury also gave me pause, however I do have faith in the talent we have recruited, our excellent Offensive line coach, our dominating defense, and the playmakers we have on offense. Who else are we going to name #1? USC (injured QB), UF (porous D riddled with injuries and lacking quality depth), Oklahoma (remember the Boise State Statue of Liberty/WVU beatdown), Ohio State (finish the season #1? LOL), LSU (Who’s the QB), Auburn (Who’s the QB, how well will the spread work)?

My point is merely that all teams have question marks heading into the season. UGA looks to be great this year, and championship caliber teams are so regarded because of depth and their capacity to deal with adversity. We have depth and talent to rotate on the line. We have an excellent O-line coach. Richt is accustomed to dealing with inexperienced lines and a loaded backfield over the past several years. Our strength of schedule will help us handle an early loss if it comes to that. We ease into the season which will help the line, and in our tough early matchups, we can alwayshold Figgins back in there to help block the pass rush and depend on our incredibly stout D. We Get a bye before UT, and the line should be experienced before the LSU, WLOCP, KY, AU gauntlet. All this and the fact that we suffered a similar loss of our O-line leader at the onset of the 1980 season, the last NC year for the dawgs. We will reload at the position, and deserve to be in the #1 spot.

As always, we shall see, and even the best and brightest of us will be wrong about most of it, and we will have loads of fun throughout the process of finding out, so feel free to continue hammering away at my take on such matters and to say "I told you so!" when I prove mistaken (as I will, frequently). In the meantime, though, thanks for making my opinion a more informed one, even if you happen to disagree with my ultimate conclusion.

Go ‘Dawgs!