Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Final Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

Well, here's the final version of my preseason ballot. I took into account the responses to the latest roundtable and adjusted some flaws that I was aware of (like Wisconsin). A couple of quick comments follow the rankings.

1 Southern Cal --
2 LSU --
3 Virginia Tech --
4 Michigan --
5 Oklahoma --
6 Texas 1
7 California 5
8 South Carolina 1
9 UCLA 1
10 West Virginia 4
11 Penn State --
12 Louisville 2
13 Wisconsin 3
14 Miami (Florida) 1
15 Arkansas 2
16 Florida State 1
17 Ohio State 4
18 Texas A&M 4
19 Florida 1
20 Oregon 3
21 Nebraska 1
22 Auburn 4
23 Missouri 1
24 TCU 1
25 Oregon State 1

Dropped Out: Georgia (#19).

Mostly I slid teams around to where I felt most comfortable. The only rankings I'm not happy with are Texas at #6 and Cal at #7. Only I like the teams behind them even less.

The biggest change was dropping Georgia from the poll in favor of Oregon State. I started my first poll this year by putting together a list of about 50 teams that I thought deserved further scrutiny. I then went through and considered coaching situations, returning contributors and the positions that the returning starters played. When I did this, Georgia wasn't anywhere near the top 25. Somewhere along the way I convinced myself to put them back in, but I'm returning to my original take after some strong arguments from around the blogosphere. (The question marks on the offensive line finally won me back over.) I also slid Auburn down a bit.

Cal is the biggest mover, but for no better reason than that I couldn't find a team in the next three or four to put in that seventh spot. Of course, I have something of a history for gloriously overrating Cal. I think that I paid my penance for last year's preseason #1 as I sat through the second half of the Holiday Bowl though. If Cal lays another turd against Tennessee on Saturday, I promise to banish them from my rankings until they beat USC.

Texas A&M drops a bit because I hate being a blatant homer and I may have talked myself into thinking the defense is a lot better than it is. We'll see how they look on Saturday.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

BlogPoll Roundtable: Preseason Poll Edition

For the Preseason BlogPoll Roundtable, Brian from mgoblog asks two simple questions:

Who is overrated?

Who is underrated?

The rankings indicated are from the first preseason BlogPoll.


#7 Florida
The Gators strike me as the kind of team that could very well upset LSU in Baton Rouge and then get blown out in their next game at Kentucky. I just don't see where the consistency is going to come from. Tim Tebow is talented but is also Florida's leading returning rusher. The leading returning rusher among the running backs is Kestahn Moore who managed 282 yards a season ago. In other words, despite four returning starters on the offensive line, I think that the running game is going to be bad. According to my Phil Steele preview, the defense plans to start 6 players in their second season (4 So., 2 R-Fr.). There is talent across the board, but I think the lack of experience could well mean a wild ride for the Gators in 2007.

#23 Hawaii
Colt Brennan has really pretty numbers, but is that enough to make Hawaii a top 25 team? The defense wasn't particularly good last season, allowing 24.1 points per game (and that was the best in recent memory). Gone are the top two pass rushers (Purcell and Alama-Francis). Against teams with a credible track record (Alabama, Boise State, Fresno State, Purdue and Oregon State) the defensive points allowed per games jumps to 34.6. Yikes. Hawaii will also need to find a way to replace Nate Ilaoa, their only running threat besides Brennan. All in all, I expect Hawaii will run off a bunch of victories against second rate competition, but they don't belong in the top 25 until they prove that they can beat somebody good.


#8 Virginia Tech
This is probably a quibble, but I really believe that the Hokies are a top 5 team. The offensive line should be improved in front of a backfield that returns all rushers of note from last season (including Branden Ore who was pretty good). On the passing side, QB Sean Glennon is experienced and has his top two wideouts back. The defense is deep and relatively experienced. I think Virginia Tech is poised for a big year.

#22 South Carolina
I think that this is the year that the Gamecocks take a big jump under Steve Spurrier. He has been around long enough for the offense to sink in (third year). Speaking of the offense, they will need to replace Sidney Rice and three starters from the line, but eight lineman return with starting experience and WR Kenny McKinley quietly had a nice season. On defense South Carolina returns 10 starters from a unit that wasn't terrible. South Carolina should take another step forward this season.

Miami (FL)
I have to admit that I was surprised to see Miami get so few votes in the first BlogPoll. The coaching change gives me some hesitation, but Randy Shannon is coming from within the program, so I can't imagine the learning curve being steep. The offense returns 9 starters (including 4 on the line and QB Kyle Wright who had last season shortened by an injury). I think the offense will be much improved. The defense should be pretty good again, especially in the back seven. Barring another complete meltdown, Miami will be much, much better in 2007.

Texas Christian is my token mid-major. (I figured that since I don't think much of Hawaii, I ought to have at least one.) The Horned Frogs return 9 starters on a defense that allowed only 12.3 points per game last year. The offense may need a bit of work, but top rusher Aaron Brown returns. All told, I think this defense is good enough to warrant a top 25 ranking.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Preliminary Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

So the BlogPoll is trying something new this year. All of the voters are going to submit two preseason ballots. The first is due by Wednesday. Then, after a week of discussion, the final preseason ballot is due. Presented below is my first crack at the ballot. Comments, as always, are appreciated. I've added some of my thoughts after the top 25.

1 Southern Cal 25
2 LSU 24
3 Virginia Tech 23
4 Michigan 22
5 Oklahoma 21
6 West Virginia 20
7 Texas 19
8 UCLA 18
9 South Carolina 17
10 Louisville 16
11 Penn State 15
12 California 14
13 Miami (Florida) 13
14 Texas A&M 12
15 Florida State 11
16 Wisconsin 10
17 Arkansas 9
18 Auburn 8
19 Georgia 7
20 Florida 6
21 Ohio State 5
22 Nebraska 4
23 Oregon 3
24 Missouri 2
25 TCU 1

Dropped Out:

I actually feel pretty good about the top 6. USC is the runaway #1, and both LSU and VT should have experienced offenses and ferocious defenses. After that, Michigan has questions in the back 7 seven on defense and Oklahoma needs a QB. 6th feels about right for WVU.

After that, things get a little wonky. The Texas secondary makes me a little nervous and ranking UCLA and South Carolina this high makes me very nervous (although both return a ton of starters and the Gamecocks at least have a proven coach). Louisville also feels a little high, given the coaching change and the upheaval in the running game.

I think that Penn State is about right given the returning talent. Cal might be a bit high (defensive turnover makes me nervous) but that offense is going to be something else. After that, Miami is a wild card. They have the talent to warrant a ranking this high. With a new coach coming from within the program, adjustment should be fairly minimal, but they still could be all over the place.

When I put together this list I tried not to consider a team's schedule (I've always meant for my ballot to be more of a power poll). This has perhaps led me to overrate Texas A&M, who checks in at 14th based largely on returning talent on both sides of the ball.

Florida St. is another team that I'm not sure what to do with. The defense should be above average but I'm not sold on the offense. If Jimbo Fisher lives up to his hype, I could see FSU shooting up my ballot as the season progresses.

Wisconsin will probably be higher in my next ballot. I'm not really sure why I was so down on them on this ballot, except that I think the offense might be too run-heavy. Please consider this an anomaly that will corrected in the next ballot.

Next up is a pack of four SEC teams (Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia and Florida). I'm pretty sure that at least a couple of these teams belong in the top 15, but I couldn't figure out which to move up. Instead, I'm just going to leave them together down here until somebody emerges or I hear a convincing argument for one of the teams.

Ohio St. is 21st, but this is probably also low. The defense and running game should be strengths and they have been successful with that combination in the past. They will probably also receive a bump before the next poll.

Nebraska, Oregon and Missouri all seem to have significant replacements to make on defense but all three should have good offenses. They are all top 25 caliber teams but I struggled to place all three teams. I closed out my ballot with a mid major in TCU (who barely edged out Boise State and Hawaii in my mind).

Tennessee is the most notable omission, but I couldn't find anybody that I would like to replace them with. Any suggestions?

There were a number of sleeper-type teams that I would have liked to find a place for including Vanderbilt, Kentucky, USF and Cincinnati. Ultimately I just couldn't find a team to bump to make room.

The other teams that I seriously considered were Clemson, BC, Oregon St., Rutgers, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Arizona and Arizona State.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Season Preview: The Running Backs

I started several weeks ago by discussing A&M's quarterback situation. With the team in camp, it's time for the next installment in that series. Today, a review of the Aggie's running backs.

Returning Starters, Jorvorskie Lane (Jr.), Mike Goodson (So.) and Chris Alexander (Sr.):
In 2006 this was the deepest, most talented position on A&M's roster. Expect no less in 2007 with underachieving Courtney Lewis being the only loss. The Aggie's return one of the best inside-outside combos in the nation with the gargantuan Lane and the lightning quick Goodson. Fullback Chris Alexander is one of the Big XII's most underrated players.

Lane (740 yards, 4.4 ypc, 19 TD) exhibits tremendous footspeed for a player his size, allowing him to change directions with astonishing quickness. This gives him a shiftiness that makes him nearly impossible to hit squarely or bring down for a loss. Combine all of this and you have one of the best short-yardage backs in college football. Some Jorvorskie highlights:

Mike Goodson (929 yards, 6.7 ypc, 4 TD) emerged midway through last season to give A&M a speedy option to complement Lane. Although he struggled with fumbles early in the season, Goodson cemented his status in the RB rotation with a long TD against Baylor to seal the win. This season he should be even more involved in the offense. Here of some of Goodson's better plays from a season ago:

Chris Alexander (76 yards, 5.4 ypc, 1 rushing TD, 3 receiving TD) is one of the hardest working players in the country -- he just never takes a play off. Robert Cessna had a great writeup about him last week. Here is a YouTube compilation of some of Alexander's greatest blocks:

All three backs should figure in the passing game. Both Lane and Alexander are dangerous as check down receivers in the flats. Goodson looked effective on screen passes in the spring game and should add that dimension to the Aggies this fall.

The Backups:
Texas A&M boasts one of the deepest sets of running backs in the Big 12. Cornell Tarrant (RS-Fr., 6'0", 193 lbs.) possesses a rare blend of power and speed and will likely get every opportunity to impress early in the season against Montana St. and UL-M. Keondra Smith (So., 5'9", 199 lbs.) is a steady runner who looked very effective in the Maroon and White Game. Also in the mix is true freshman Bradley Stephens (5'10", 193 lbs.), one of the gems of A&M's 2007 recruiting class who may or may not redshirt.