I was recently paging through a few of the preseason college football predictions available on line, or clicking through them as it were, though I was going through different pages of those website, allowing me to page through them as I clicked through them, allowing me to be correct the first time around which, after all, is very important. After all, we want to be clear about everything in something as vital as college football in these trying times.
Anyway, I was reading through a few of these selections and I was very surprised to learn that nobody has any idea who will win the national title this year. In fact, the one constant in all of the mags and rags and, erm -- nothing on the web that I can think of rhymes with "-ags" -- websites is that the race for the national title is wide open. Which is essentially an admission that everyone threw darts at a list of teams and chose the rankings on that basis. And anytime you can get a sports analyst to admit that they don't really know what the hell is going on is a good day in my book.
But despite the fact that everyone says anyone could win it all, there are several themes popping up in all of the preseason lists and rankings. Most of them are understandable in their own ways, but others are not based on much of anything worthwhile. Which means that some lunatic is complaining about how his team got the shaft and can't win a national title if his team goes undefeated and the 17 teams (that's right, I'm talking to you Clemson) in front of his team all win out. Oh well, I guess that's just part of a young fan's indoctrination to the vagaries and frustrations of college football. God knows I learned a lot of the things I like to think I know the hard way.
The point of all this is that I was reading this crapola that everyone admits will bear scant resemblance to the final results of the season and I thought to myself, "Hey, I should make my own college football preview page thingie!" Do you know why? Because I can.
Much like my dressing habits, this is going to require some explanation. But, unlike my dressing habits, I'm hoping this makes some sort of sense. After all, putting together a prediction for the entire year of college football -- one of the wildest and least predictable sports on earth -- is best done by the insane. Even while assembling the rankings, I was sitting there thinking, "Wow, that's just stupid!" Yes, yes it is. I should just stick with stamp collecting. Okay, I'd need to start stamp collecting before I could stick with it, but you know what I mean.
Everyone keeps talking about how Ohio State is a huge question mark with their almost entirely new defense. Admittedly, this is a serious concern. However, they are a very popular choice for #1 despite the fact that everyone says they have little to no chance of winning it after replacing 9 defensive starters. The reasons for this are understandable though, as even if Ohio State doesn't win the title, this pick is the least likely to look stupid in five months. This is because the only unknown on this team was such an overwhelming strength last season that one could reasonably expect a very solid defense this year even if there is a significant dropoff. Which means that, barring significant injuries, I would estimate that they should be expected to finish the year at #6 at worst. Which still looks fairly accurate come mid-January.
Personally, I am more worried about the loss of Nick Mangold and Rob Sims on the offensive line and the recent suspension of Marcel Frost for the season. Sims and Mangold worked very well together on the line and were big reasons for Ohio State's offensive success late in the season. And Frost turned into a very reliable outlet for Troy Smith in the late going as well, and proved to be a sure-handed receiver and a guaranteed first down on the underneath routes in the middle of the field. Turning a 5-yard pass into an 8-yard gain is often the difference between 1st down and 4th and 2, and Frost was able to get those extra yards.
In my own assessment, I would expect Ohio State not to spend the entire year at #1 even if they go undefeated and win the title. Honestly, they don't have much support at their current position and are more of a placeholder for most voters than a prediction at present. Even if they get by Texas, they will drop behind other teams in the early going as they do their usual work of keeping games closer than they should be. In fact, Notre Dame will probably kick the crap out of Georgia Tech and Ohio State won't show much firepower against Northern Illinois, so Ohio State may well be #2 or #3 by the time they play Texas.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Notre Dame is back! The beasts from South Bend are riding high after an excellent season and they are ready to once again take their place at the top of the college football world! There is no stopping this juggernaut this time! Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, they are in the past! Charlie Weis has woken up the echoes and he will lead them to glory again as he shakes down the thunder of old from the sky! I suppose you are reading some irony in this! Is it the exclamation points?! Was that the giveaway?! Because I can drop them if you'd like! Yes! Yes! I can!
Notre Dame did make a serious improvement last season and they were genuinely a top team last season. In fact, judging by their game against USC, they were ready to play with the best in the nation. However, their glaring defensive weaknesses in the Fiesta Bowl are making some people pause. For all that offensive firepower on display from week to week, they were overwhelmingly underwhelming on the other side of the ball and not everyone is entirely sold yet.
On a side note (my specialty) one commentator actually pointed out that, as bad as their secondary was last season (75th against the pass), at least everyone from that unit is returning. When your rationale mirrors old jokes, you should really reassess your argument. Honestly, their best hope is the chance that the two highly rated freshman cornerbacks coming in this year can step immediately into starting roles. Zbikowski can't be everywhere.
Notre Dame lands around the #3 spot in the Coaches' poll because they are in a tenuous position where they are not quite considered a guaranteed threat for #1, but neither are they considered to be part of the rest of the pack. This has left them in a sort of no-man's-land for top teams. The voters want to jump on board and put them back on top, but support is tenuous. Which means that Notre Dame is nicely hidden at #3 where they can't make anyone look too silly no matter what happens.
The thing about it is that people want to be sold on Notre Dame's return. Sports reporters everywhere are chomping at the bit, looking for any hint that the Golden Domers are ready to become the unstoppable force they remember from years ago. (Which I actually did write down before I knew ND was at #2). In some ways, it would be comforting to know that things are back to how we remember them. But the world is always in motion and, even when people return to where they were, they are different for the journey. Sorry, was that more of my patented pseudo-philosophy? I guess it was. And it probably won't be the last time, I'm afraid. But I have the feeling that there will be much more to say about Notre Dame before the season starts. Yes, I get that feeling very much.
Texas and USC pose problems when putting them in the rankings. Both have been excellent for several years, but both teams are losing the hearts of their respective offenses. However, they have been able to bounce back from personnel losses for several years now and have continually put together good seasons. So voters are planting both teams in the top 10, and usually the top 5. Add in the fact that Texas had a solid team at every position, even aside from Vince Young, and USC still plays in a terrible conference, meaning both teams will be able to put together a lot of wins. They are weaker than they were, but that does not mean that they are weak.
...has a quarterback named Jim Bob Cooter. How awesome is that?
Every two years or so, there is some team that comes out of seemingly nowhere and challenges for the National Title. Or at least some team nobody expected that has a sudden resurgence, or surgence in some cases -- since some teams have never been surgent in the first place, thus they cannot be resurgent, as that implies surgency has happened for them before.
With that said, there is the inevitable question of who will be this year's Northwestern/Virginia Tech/Utah? It's usually some team that starts the season ranked in the teens and manages to get some momentum going, thanks to a little bit of luck and an overachieving freshman or two. This team always ends up making analysts look really dumb because none of them predicted it. Of course, part of these teams' effectiveness is the fact that they were unexpected and they have usually gone through half of their season undefeated before anyone knew what was happening. And they have often already snuck up on one or two teams that weren't expecting all that much from them this year, clearing out the path early.
The teams that I can most obviously point to that seem to fall into that scenario are Michigan, Virginia Tech and Georgia. Clemson catches my eye, as does Penn State. Oregon looks like they might be threatening; but they have to get by USC -- which is a bad bet to make this time of year. And Clemson is playing in the surprisingly strong ACC, so I'm not going to count on them. I'd put Florida State on the list, but they are already at #10 and won't sneak up on anybody. Penn State would be a good one, but they have yet to show they can beat Michigan; and I won't buy into them until I see that happen regularly. Mark Richt turns out a good Georgia team every year, so they are attractive -- it would seem to some observers that he's due to break through sometime. Michigan is a good choice because they are returning their quarterback and Virginia Tech is a good choice because they aren't. Plus Michigan was better than their record and they were injury-depleted last year. So, I'll go with... um... oh what the hell, Georgia.
One of the biggest problems with figuring out just who is going to do what in any given year is the SEC, now that Alabama is not the monster it used to be. Generally considered the best football conference in the country year after year, they regularly produce several strong teams of approximately equal quality. While this creates a very solid conference top to bottom, it also makes it very hard for a team to get out of there with an excellent record. Usually, the team that comes out on top in this conference has a surprising newcomer and a little luck on their side. Good newcomers are hard to predict and luck is impossible to guess at. So picking teams in this league is best done with a crystal ball.
With all those explanations out of the way, it is time for some honest-to-goodness predictions for this year's rankings. With that in mind, I now give you my Preseason Top 25: