By Rustin Dodd
Note: The Eagle’s Rustin Dodd has a vote in the Associated Press college football poll this season.
There seems to be one consensus when filling out a preseason college football poll: Roll Tide. That’s the painless prediction, anyway, the one that is guaranteed to be nearly universal when the preseason Associated Press Top 25 is released Saturday.
Alabama is No. 1. And the Tide, which is playing for an unprecedented fourth BCS title in five years, will have to be knocked out before someone ascends to the top spot.
The rest of the poll offers plenty of intrigue and questions, something that became obvious when I sat down to submit my preseason poll. My ballot is now in, one of 60 that will be tabulated each week. I’ll explain my picks in one moment, but first, here’s how my preseason ballot shook out.
3. Ohio State
6. South Carolina
7. Texas A&M
9. Oklahoma State
12. Notre Dame
13. Florida State
19. Boise State
22. Kansas State
24. Fresno State
25. Southern California
One of the most pressing questions: Who should be No. 2? I went with Oregon, a selection mostly based on the idea of pure talent winning out. The Ducks are loaded – quarterback Marcus Mariota is back after accounting for more than 3,500 total yards last season, and junior running back De’Anthony Thomas is one of the nation’s most breathtaking players. Even with the loss of Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles, new coach Mark Helfrich has the roster to get the Ducks back to the BCS title game.
Oregon must go to Stanford in November, but if they can escape Stanford Stadium, they should be on the right path to Pasadena for the BCS Championship. And this gives them a slight edge over Ohio State, which was the logical choice for No. 3. Quarterback Braxton Miller is a Heisman candidate, and Urban Meyer has a track record for doing big things in his second year on the job. (Remember: He went undefeated at Utah in 2004 and won a BCS title at Florida in 2006)
Stanford, which returns 10 starters on defense, slots in at No. 4, and Georgia, with returning quarterback Aaron Murray, could be Alabama’s biggest threat in the SEC title picture.
That, of course, could also be South Carolina and it’s cache of headliners (That Jadeveon Clowney kid seems pretty good), or perhaps even the soap opera at Texas A&M. It’s hard to know what to do with the Aggies, but until Johnny Manziel is no longer allowed to suit up at quarterback, we’re keeping them in the top 10.
Next comes the three-team pack of 8. Clemson; 9. Oklahoma State; and 10. Louisville – three programs on the rise. It’ll be hard to judge Louisville in the American Athletic Conference, but here’s the thought process on Oklahoma State: If they’re really the Big 12’s best team – as they were selected in the preseason ballot – they’re probably one of the nation’s 10 best.
Moving on. Florida (11) and Notre Dame (12) look like two programs that could take a slide backward this year, while Texas (14) and LSU (15) probably both have top-10 talent and could be slightly underrated here. (The caveat being, of course, that LSU has earned the benefit of the doubt, while Texas is battling to regain it.)
Oklahoma (17) is a bit of an enigma right now, but the last time they were ranked this low to begin a season, they won a BCS championship. TCU (18), meanwhile, could potentially make a move, but the Frogs must first prove they can compete week in, week out in the Big 12.
The rest of the poll is a little muddied. Boise State (19) is in transition, but still returns quarterback Joe Southwick. UCLA (21) brings back breakout signal-caller Brett Hundley (4,000 total yards last year), K-State (22; unranked in preseason coaches’ poll) must move on without Collin Klein, and Wisconsin (23) must do the same without Bret Bielema.
Finally, there’s Southern Cal (24) and Fresno State (25), two West Coast programs with a whole different set of circumstances. The Bulldogs could challenge Boise State in the Mountain West – QB Derek Carr and a stout defense return – and they could be dark horses in the BCS picture. And then there’s USC. Last year at this time, the Trojans were about to be anointed No. 1 in the preseason AP poll.
One year later, they will likely be hanging on near the edge of the rankings. That says something about USC, of course. But it might say just as much about the wisdom on preseason polls.