2013 Spring Preview - No. 10
The Preseason Polls Will Be ... ?
- 2013 Spring Preview
E-mail Pete Fiutak
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Welcome to April. We're still about five months away from when the Coaches (the one that matters) and the AP (the one that doesn't) come out with their initial rankings. How are they going to look?
While plenty of big things are going to happen until then, here's the best guess of what the rankings might be, keeping in mind 1) the perception of the teams at the end of 2012, 2) the returning talent, and 3) the brand name and how the voters usually rank to the top programs. One other thing to remember here, these are NOT the CFN rankings. This is what we think they're going to be to start the season and not a ranking of the best teams going into the year.
It won't be unanimous, but until the two-time defending champs falter, or show that things are starting to slip in any way, the pollsters will put them No. 1. The SEC, and Nick Saban, have earned several benefits of the doubt. Getting back A.J. McCarron and a tremendous group of skill players is a start, while the assumption will be that it's business as usual for the defense.
2. Ohio State
Everyone would've loved to have seen what the Buckeyes could've done had they been eligible for really big things last year. Remember, if the program wasn't in the penalty box, Urban and crew would've played Nebraska in the Big Ten championship, won, and would've faced Notre Dame - not Alabama - for the national championship. There are major holes to fill on defense, and the 2012 team really wasn't as good as the 12-0 final record, but the coveted top two spot in the first polls should be a given. Congratulations, Ohio State, you'll get to control your own destiny.
3. Texas A&M
Everyone loves to vote for the hot program, and everyone likes to give the teams with the star quarterbacks a great ranking. No. 3 could be a wee bit high to start for the Aggies, but they'll certainly be in the top five after the way last year ended with the blowout win over Oklahoma.
Losing Chip Kelly won't be that much of a problem. The head coach might be new, but the offense will stay the same and should be just as potent. Mark Helfrich has a loaded team returning with eight starters back on offense and with a good defense that should be even stronger. No. 2 wouldn't be too high an initial mark.
A lot of this depends on the promotion and the hype this summer. Beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl was a start, and now Teddy Bridgewater will be on everyone's preseason Heisman list and the team will be considered everyone's preseason darling with a favorable schedule and just about everyone of note returning. There will be at least one preseason first place vote from somewhere.
This should be one of the big "it" teams, despite several flaws. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the fun and explosive offense should make the Tigers preseason ACC favorites, but there are too many question marks on defense to warrant a top five preseason pick - but it wouldn't be a stunner. The win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A left a lasting image.
The return of Aaron Murray and so many other terrific weapons will ensure a preseason top ten start, but the huge gaps on defense will keep the Dawgs out of the top five. Georgia always reloads with more defensive talent, and the D wasn't all that great last season, but it'll take a hot start to get everyone thinking SEC title.
8. South Carolina
Ninth to start out 2012 in both polls, the Gamecocks should get a little more respect despite the uncertain Marcus Lattimore-less running back situation and with questions about who, exactly, the starting quarterback will be. The Jadeveon Clowney factor on a great defense should mean another top ten beginning, but it could be close.
This is probably a bit high for a team that has to replace so many key parts on both sides of the ball and needs to hope Devin Gardner can be the full-time star he looked like he could be late in the season. The Michigan name is back again with a great recruiting class coming in and the belief growing that Brady Hoke is coming up with something special. It's Michigan; it'll get the benefit of the rankings doubt.
This is probably around three spots too low, but the loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A and the massive personnel losses on defense could mean a relatively low start for a team that was the Coaches' Poll 2012 preseason No. 1. As always, there's plenty of NFL talent to go around, and Zach Mettenberger should be a stronger playmaker, but if there was to ever be a stepback season, this would be it.
11. Notre Dame
The Irish had a bigger-looking mountain to climb to start out last season, unranked by the AP and 24th by the coaches; having to replace Manti Te'o along with the top running backs should be easy by comparison. There should be an interesting battle of thoughts on what happened last year and what's going to happen going forward. On the one hand, the team is getting better and found ways to win under Brian Kelly. On the other, the Irish should've lost at least two regular season games and got the bejeebers kicked out of them by Alabama. All of it should mean a start just outside of the top ten.
How much will the Sugar Bowl loss hurt the preseason preconceived notions? Florida should've earned far more respect than it received - getting dogged a bit because of the mediocre offense and close-call miracle win over Louisiana-Lafayette - and now there might be a thought that 2012 was a bit of an aberration. Even the slightest regression in the SEC could mean an 8-4 season, and it might take a good start from Jeff Driskel and the O to get the Gators to move up before October.
The Sooners always get ranked way too high in the preseason, but this will be the season it stops. After a disappointing 2012, and with the disastrous Cotton Bowl clunker against Texas A&M, it might take a while to move up the charts. As always, there's enough talent to win the Big 12 title, but there won't be the nationally known playmakers to get OU into the top ten.
14. Florida State
The problem is going to be the quarterback situation. With E.J. Manuel gone, the preseason ranking will depend on how the situation under center looks going into August. The defensive line needs work, too, but great recruiting classes have upped the talent level across the board. The defending ACC and Orange Bowl champions aren't going to get the preseason publicity of of Clemson, but they should still be in range of the top ten.
The Cardinal lost Andrew Luck and started out last season as one of the teams the pollsters had the toughest time figuring out. The coaches showed some respect with a decent No. 18 ranking, but the AP wasn't so sure coming in at No. 21. As the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champs, the Cardinal should be given a far stronger first look.
This is right around where the Huskers started out last season, ranked 17th in the AP and 16th in the Coaches, but this year's team should be far stronger and far more dangerous. The disastrous end of 2012 means there's no way Big Red comes within sniffing distance of the top ten, but having a marquee quarterback in Taylor Martinez will mean a possible top 15 start.
Everyone will be trying to buy low on the rising Bruins. Forget about the dud of a bowl performance and forget about the inconsistencies, Jim Mora is bringing in loads of talent and the young team of last season should be emerging into something potentially special. Can there be a third straight trip to the Pac-12 championship? The preseason ranking will be a big maybe.
Easily the toughest team to figure out considering how long it'll be before the season, on straight talent and returning experience, the ranking should be in the top ten, maybe top five. However, after a few subpar seasons and failed expectations, don't expect too much love and respect to kick things off after starting out 15th in both polls last season.
This might be way, way low. The AP preseason No. 1 and Coaches' No. 3 has the raw talent to be hovering around the top ten, but after being burned and burned badly, the pollsters are going to take a wait-and-see attitude. Still, with the sense of urgency around Lane Kiffin, and the talent coming back, the Trojans could check in around 15 to kick off the make-or-break year.
No one will be quite sure what to make of the Badgers under Gary Andersen, but the assumption will be that it's business as usual running the ball and that the team that went to three straight Rose Bowls will find a way to be a contender once again. There isn't a Montee Ball or any other superstar to rally around, but the program has cranked up enough respect to earn an early top 20 nod.
21. Oklahoma State
2012 was the rebuilding season, and it still wasn't a bad one for the explosive attack. This is now a top 25-caliber program on name alone - you know the offensive production will come no matter what on the way to another strong Big 12 season.
The clouds are starting to clear a little bit over the program - thanks to the NCAA's inability to conduct a proper investigation - and now it's time to get excited with Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and a great offense returning in what should be a breakthrough season under Al Golden. Ten starters are back on defense to go along with all the returning talent on the offensive side, so be prepared for the Miami Is Back hype to influence the voters.
23. Boise State
Very, very quietly, the Broncos went 11-2 and came really, really close to getting into a BCS game. It's Boise State, so a ten-win season is a given with a fantastic defense and quarterback Joe Southwick returning to lead a solid offense. Of course, personnel has never mattered much in the rankings; the program has more than its share of respect early on, even if it doesn't get the love after blowing up a slew of mediocre teams.
24. Virginia Tech
It's going to start with plenty of media attention around quarterback Logan Thomas and whether or not he can take his first round draft pick tools and turn his game into something special. After closing out the season on a high note, and with some decent talent returning, the rebound should come quickly. There's no way the Hokies will disappoint for two years in a row, and the preseason ranking will reflect it.
25. Kansas State
Pollsters are used to voting for the Wildcats. The assumption will be that the defending Big 12 champions will take a hit after losing Collin Klein, but Bill Snyder will find a way to be back in the hunt again. Starting out in the top 20 wouldn't be a shocker considering the offensive line should be fantastic and John Hubert will return as one of the Big 12's best running backs.
Others Receiving Votes ... (?)
Any of these teams could end up being in the preseason top 25, and all will receive enough votes to round out the top 50.
26. Michigan State
29. Ole Miss
31. Oregon State
34. Arizona State
36. North Carolina
39. Northern Illinois
40. Mississippi State
41. West Virginia
46. Texas Tech
48. Fresno State
50. NC State