What Ted Williams said about hitting a baseball applies to the summer for a college football blogger: "Wait wait wait then quick quick quick." All of a sudden, the season is upon us. My seatbacks are ordered; my parking pass, season tickets, 2009 media guide, and new pair of lucky game day underwear have arrived; and I’ve started cobbling together my preseason BlogPoll ballot.
First, though, permit me to offer a word about methodology. I am, in principle, a resume ranker, which means my ballots are based on what teams have accomplished on the field rather than whether I believe Team X would beat Team Y on a neutral field next Saturday. The problem is that no team has done a darned thing yet, and three of the consensus top four teams in the land open their schedules against Charleston Southern, Louisiana-Monroe, and San Jose State.
In other words, I plan to go with (hopefully educated) guesswork, estimation, and assumption early and phase in the resume ranking gradually, so that my ballot isn’t all over the place. That said, here is the first installment of my first stab at the top 25, covering the teams I plan to rank first through tenth (say, that was more "first"s than you find in a typical weblog comment thread):
1. Florida Gators: While I have an ulterior motive for casting this vote, there’s a reason why the Sunshine State Saurians are almost universally hailed as the top team in the country. When the defending national champions return every significant player except one, they’re the preseason No. 1 team, period.
2. Texas Longhorns: You probably could put the teams ranked second, third, and fourth in a ten-gallon hat and draw them out in any order without being way off base, but I gave the nod to the ‘Horns because I buy Dr. Saturday’s logic. (When in doubt, side with the Doc . . . or, at least, trot him out where you can to justify the conclusions you’ve already reached independently of him.)
3. USC Trojans: The lack of an established starting quarterback kept Southern California out of my top two, but the Men of Troy remain strong. I am a little nervous over the fact that their toughest games are on the road . . . and so is their outing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which should keep the margin to a mere 28 points this time. Nevertheless, at this stage of the game, Pete Carroll has earned the benefit of the doubt in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.
4. Oklahoma Sooners: One returning starter on the offensive line gives me pause, although Bob Stoops’s troops managed to overcome that selfsame shortcoming in 2006. At the end of the day, this largely is a who-would-beat-whom pick; I don’t believe Oklahoma would (or, in the case of Texas, will) beat any team ranked in my top three, but I believe the Sooners would beat every team ranked below them. (Once again, this distressingly nebulous reasoning will give way to actual facts once the season starts and at least half of my preseason assumptions are revealed to be sheer nonsense.)
5. LSU Tigers: While reasonable minds may differ over the sequence of the top four teams, no one seriously doubts that they are the top four teams at this point. There’s a pretty good-sized gap separating Nos. 4 and 5, and, if the BlogPoll voting mechanism permitted me to do so, I’d leave Nos. 5 through 8 blank, rank the Bayou Bengals ninth, and let every other team fall in line behind them. Louisiana State has the talent, the defensive coordinator, and, yes, the head coach to earn inclusion in the top five.
6. Ohio St. Buckeyes: Let the overrating begin in earnest! There’s no way in the world that Jim Tressel’s team is a legitimate No. 6 squad, but who else am I going to put in this spot (without getting called out for ranking four SEC teams in the top ten, I mean)?
7. Penn St. Nittany Lions: All right, there’s an argument for Joe Paterno’s outfit, particularly since the Buckeyes must travel to Happy Valley, but Penn State hasn’t beaten Ohio State two years in a row since the Lions joined the Big Ten, so I’m not picking them to do it for the first time this fall.
8. Alabama Crimson Tide: All right, all right, all right, ‘Bama’s back. There are a lot of new faces on that offense, though, and there’s a loss (or two) lurking in a five-game stretch after North Texas but before Halloween that will be more grueling than it appears at first blush.
9. California Golden Bears: Yeah, I don’t really buy this at all, but someone had to be No. 9 and Phil Steele says Jeff Tedford’s crew is the second-most talented team in the Pac-10, so I’m going with da Bears, ‘cause you can’t just pick the top four teams in the SEC, the top three teams in the Big 12 South, the top two teams in the Big Ten, and Southern California and call it a top ten. Actually, you can, but there’d be some griping, so Cal gets the benefit of the doubt.
10. Clemson Tigers: I know this is going to be a controversial placement, but I have confidence in this one. As I pointed out previously, the Fort Hill Felines return C.J. Spiller, five offensive linemen, and all but one starter each on the defensive line, among the linebackers, and in the secondary. Perhaps even more importantly, they don’t return Tommy Bowden, who filled the role of the Country Gentlemen’s Jim Donnan after Tommy West capably performed as the Orange and Purple’s Ray Goff. Does that make Dabo Swinney the Tigers’ Mark Richt? Consider this: Coach Swinney is an Alabama alum who served on the Clemson staff before being elevated to the top spot. The last three times this program promoted from within to put a former Crimson Tide player in charge, the Jungaleers hired Frank Howard, Charley Pell, and Danny Ford. Add to that the fact that Dr. Saturday has given the doubters reason to question their own skepticism, and I’m comfortable making the call: Clemson will win the 2009 ACC championship.
I’ll end on that note, because that ought to be plenty bold enough to spark some comments. Stay tuned for the next installment of the initial draft of my preseason BlogPoll ballot tomorrow, and, in the meantime, let me know below where I’ve hit the nail on the head, where I’m way off base, and where I’ve missed the boat entirely. (Try not to mix your metaphors as badly as I just did, though.)