The 2012 USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll is out. The college football season is officially upon us. Let the debates begin!
LSUtops the poll, followed immediately by defending National Champions Alabama. USC stands firmly in the mix now that they’ve finished serving their bowl ban from the Reggie Bush scandal.
Oklahoma grabs a first place vote and No. 4 preseason ranking while Oregon rounds out the Top 5.
I’ve got a few gut-reaction thoughts on this poll.
1. LSU (18 first-place votes) – I like this pick. Somewhat lost in the devastating loss to Alabama in the National Championship Bowl is the fact that the Tigers played one of the toughest schedules in the nation last year and still managed to go undefeated throughout the regular season. They return the vast majority of that team, including running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and CB Tyrann Mathieu. Plus, they’ve got a little axe to grind for that title game.
2. Alabama (20) – I’m not ready to put the defending champs this high up on the ladder yet. Yes, this team tends to “reload” whenever they lose talent rather than “rebuild”. However they’re losing RB Trent Richardson, their top four receivers and four of their top five tacklers. Richardson accounted for 55 percent of the Tide’s carries, 60 percent of their rushing yards and 61.7 percent of their total rushing touchdowns. The lost defenders account for 22 of the team’s 30 sacks last season and 53.5 tackles for loss.
I don’t care who you are, that’s a lot of production lost and I’d have to see how the Tide react to those losses before placing them back in the top two.
3. USC (19) – I like this placing. QB Matt Barkley will start the season on virtually everyone’s Heisman watch list. RB Curtis McNeal is poised for a breakout year (as if his 1005 yard, 6.93 average weren’t “breakout” enough) and the Trojans are stacked just about every direction you look. Furthermore, I think they’ve got a little chip on their shoulder after quietly serving their sanctions and are ready to get the program back on top.
It’s no secret that the Trojans are one of my two picks for the title game in January. It’s a short road to get there from this position.
4. Oklahoma (1) – This is another rank I’m not quite in line with. I agree that Oklahoma has a very strong team and probably as good a shot as anyone at throwing their name in the title hat.
However, don’t underestimate the losses of Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis off the defensive line as well as linebackers Travis Lewis and Jamell Fleming. Plus, the loss to Texas Tech and blowout loss to Oklahoma State from last year stand out strong in my mind. Is this team really ready to step up to the next level?
I’m not so sure. They’re probably a Top 10 team, but I’m not sure if they’re Top 5. Time will tell.
5. Oregon – I’m torn on this placing. Oregon has undoubtedly had some fantastic seasons lately. They bring back explosive talent like RB Kenjon Barner and RB DeAnthony Thomas, who almost made us forget the name LaMichael James.
However, they lose QB Darron Thomas, all-time leading Oregon rusher James, WR Lavasier Tuinei and TE David Paulson. Those last two account for two-thirds of the Ducks’ top receivers from last year. All combined, that’s an awful lot of offensive production and leadership that’s gone.
The Ducks really could be every bit as good as they have been the last few years, but they’ll have some hurdles in their way to prove it.
6-10: Georgia, Florida State (1), Michigan, South Carolina and Arkansas.
I’m really curious how Florida State keeps starting the season ranked inside the Top 10 and really curious how on earth they grabbed a first-place vote. They started last season at No. 5, but ended the regular season at No. 25 with a record of 8-4. Yes, they have a lot of talent, but after a season like last year, they have to prove to me that they belong at this elite level before I’d place them there – certainly before I’d give them a first-place vote.
I think Michigan is underrated at No. 8. The Wolverines finished last season at No. 9, yet return just about everybody, including QB Denard Robinson, flashy RB Fitz Toussaint and quality receivers Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon. I would have put them a shade higher on this list.
I’m fine with the rest of this group.
11-15 – West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Clemson and Texas.
The ranking for West Virginia is fine, but I wonder if they’ll live up to it in their new home. They’ve had some exceptional teams the last couple of years, but those were showcased in a weak Big East Conference. They’re now in the Big 12 and there’s a night-and-day difference between those two conferences.
It isn’t just the talent level over the last few years, but the atmosphere is different. Everything the Mountaineers knew about their opponents goes out the window as they prepare for a whole new batch of rivalries. Plus, the Big 12 turned out to be pretty darned tough last year. They should find the sledding considerably more difficult this year than what they’re accustomed to on a weekly basis.
Wisconsin is a little underrated considering the return of Montee Ball and James White running behind a powerful offensive line. They’ve got Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien coming in to stand under center and the receiving corps stays mostly intact. I believe this is a Top 10 team.
Conversely, Michigan State might be a tad overrated. They lose QB Kirk Cousins (all-time leading passer at MSU) and their top four receivers. The offense could be more than a little lopsided, leaning very heavily on running backs Le’Veon Bell, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.
However, their defense could be very good, so I won’t belabor the offensive criticism too much.
16-20 – Nebraska, TCU, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech
I’m okay with this grouping. Nebraska brings back a lot of their talent, including QB Taylor Martinez and I-Back Rex Burkhead. Considering they finished at No. 24 last year, and they’re in a difficult Legends Division, this is a respectable boost in their standing without going overboard.
TCU only drops four spots from their No. 13 ranking at the end of last season. Like West Virginia, they too are joining the Big 12 this season and will see more consistent competition than they did in the Mountain West. However, they were young team last year and have proven they can play right along with the best of them. Don’t be surprised to see them stand up to the challenge.
Stanford takes a big tumble, but they lose a ton of talent too. Losing QB Andrew Luck was tough enough, but they also lose their top three receivers and several off their celebrated defense.
Oklahoma State lost an awful lot at the end of last season. QB Brandon Weedon was a tremendous asset and losing his favorite target, Justin Blackmon, to the Jacksonville Jaguars is just short of a death knell for that uber-prolific offense. Add to that several losses on the defensive side of the ball and it’s not that surprising that they’ll start the season down here.
Virginia Tech will likely climb the ranks as the season wears on. Frank Beamer is about as consistent as they come at putting together quality teams, but I wouldn’t have expected them to start the season a lot higher than this.
21-25 – Kansas State, Boise State, Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn.
I don’t quite get why K-State took a hit. Their defense does lose a few big faces, but the offense is largely in tact from last season. And don’t the coaches well remember how tough Bill Snyder is as a coach?
Boise State, despite a tremendous run over the last six seasons, has an all new crew. QB Kellen Moore is gone, as is RB Doug Martin and WR Tyler Shoemaker. The defense is practically gutted. They’re not getting a lot of love here, but they’ll have to prove they deserve it first.
The big thing about this group is that there is always a lot of movement here. Teams like Notre Dame can move up quickly if they’re successful through their early schedule (which is tougher than most), or they can drop out entirely. There’s not a lot of reason to get overly excited because of anyone in this group either way unless they’re getting horribly slighted.
I don’t see that as the case this year.
I have to say that I’m not a big proponent of the coaches doing a poll at all. While they are more knowledgeable about football and skill sets than about any press writer, they scarcely have the time to devote to things like polls. We’ve heard of coaches delegating the task to assistants in the past and it’s surprising we don’t hear about that kind of thing more.
Having said that, I’m not terribly disappointed in this early poll. For the most part, the teams most likely to have a shot at playing for a national title are at or near the top. Everything else is really just window dressing.
It will all shake out in the end – or so we hope.