Each week, I'll go through my AP Top 25 ballot and give a few thoughts on how it compares to the overall poll results.
In one of the surest signs that football is just around the corner, the AP released its preseason poll this morning. Preseason polls can often be derided as meaningless, but you'd rather be at the top than the bottom (last year, for example, had Oregon or Kansas State remained undefeated, one of them would have made the title game ahead of Notre Dame thanks to, in part, starting the season ranked higher than the Irish).
Here's a link to the full AP poll results, and here's my ballot...
4. Ohio State
5. Texas A&M
7. South Carolina
10. Florida State
12. Notre Dame
16. Oklahoma State
22. Boise State
24. Virginia Tech
25. Miami (Fla.)
Now a few thoughts:
- First, as expected, Ohio State opens the season as No. 2 to Alabama. I have the Buckeyes at No. 4 because, while they finished last year 12-0, they needed a few breaks to go their way and very easily could (or should) have lost a couple of games. Braxton Miller is obviously one of the most talented players in the country, and Ohio State has weapons on offense. The Buckeyes' defense, while improved, still showed some inconsistency at times last year (giving up 49 points to Indiana, anyone?). If the Buckeyes cruise through their manageable schedule, they'll probably make the national title game, I just don't think they're the second best team in the country heading into 2013.
- Instead, I gave the nod to Oregon and Stanford ahead of the Buckeyes. Really, I think you could flip the Cardinal and Ducks and be fine. Oregon is still the most explosive team in the country and I don't think they'll miss a beat with the promotion of Mark Helfrich to head coach. Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas should have the Ducks right where they've been the last few years. I think Stanford, meanwhile, takes a step up this year and becomes a legitimate national title contender. David Shaw returns eight starters on defense and has maybe the best offensive line in the country (I'd even put them up against Alabama). Kevin Hogan really progressed towards the end of last season and he only has to be serviceable for the Cardinal to win most of their games.
-All the Johnny Manziel drama was a pretty minimal factor in my ranking of Texas A&M. It's something that's fun (I guess) to talk about in the offseason, but I don't think it'll end up playing a major factor once they start playing football. Given how long it took the NCAA to investigate Cam Newton (a case that involved a lot more money changing hands than Manziel) and the shakiness of the case against Manziel in the first place, I would be shocked if he misses any playing time because of all this offseason stuff. The Aggies have some pieces to replace (notably along the offense line) but they're good, and could even be national championship good.
- I have Georgia down at six, a spot lower than they are in the poll, just because I have some questions about how the Bulldogs will handle eight new starters on defense. They'll be fine, eventually, but I think there could be an adjustment period early in the season.
- I have Louisville down at 11 (9 in the poll), and even considered dropping the Cardinals a bit lower than that. Their win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl was impressive, to be sure, but it was also one game against a Gators team that you could argue wasn't totally thrilled to be playing there. I saw Louisville live when they came to play Pitt last year and, while they're definitely a good team, I didn't get the sense that they were top-10 good. This is the same team that lost to Syracuse and Connecticut last year. Following the Cardinals in the polls this season will be an interesting exercise as they go through a really easy schedule and could end up undefeated.
- I have Michigan four spots higher than they ended up in the poll, and I think the Wolverines are going to be pretty good. I really liked what I saw from Devin Gardner at the end of last season and a full offseason to prepare for an offense that coach Brady Hoke is more comfortable running should spell good results. Denard Robinson was talented, but he never really meshed in Hoke's system. Gardner should be a breakout player in 2013.
- I have Texas ahead of Oklahoma State as far as Big 12 teams go, and I think the Longhorns are being a bit underrated heading into the season. David Ash is coming into his own as a starter and the defense should be better (it really can't be worse). This order is no knock on the Cowboys, who could very easily win the conference.
- Once we get into the bottom part of the poll, there are a lot of intriguing teams with a lot of question marks. How will Blake Bell do as Oklahoma's starting quarterback? Can TCU jump into the Big 12's elite (and start with a week one victory over LSU)? USC has plenty of talent, but that didn't do them a whole lot of good last year.
- As far as the ACC goes, Florida State and Clemson were the only teams to make the poll. I had Virginia Tech and Miami down at the bottom, but have no problem with them being excluded. They, along with Georgia Tech and North Carolina, ended up in the others receiving votes category.
So there you have it. Remember, at this time last year, USC was the No. 1 team in the country, so we could be looking back on this poll a year from now wondering just what the heck we were thinking.