It's June, so all this talk is fun and speculative. The only time I usually react is when something seems grossly out of place. Yesterday, though, CFR posted something provocative. No, it was not his ineffective defense of HP's conference ranking mess.
Rather, CFR offered an early stab the rankings. In one sense, "Yeah, it's early, blah, blah," but also, it's June, the rosters aren't changing that much save drastic summer/fall injuries/arrests. Is it -that- more unreasonable to assess team position in June than it is in mid-August? I suggest the difference is mostly insignificant.
Anyway, CFR's Top 15 doesn't seem terribly offensive, which most pre-prognosticators manage to do when sputtering such projections in the dawn of summer. His offerings:
1) Ohio State
7) Notre Dame
10) West Virginia
13) Florida State
Let's start at the top and work our way down. CFR seems to agree with Chip Brown's take on the Longhorns, thinking that Ohio State is poised to take advantage of the Horns young QBs and steal one in Austin. If that proves true, positioning Ohio State at #1 isn't a stretch.
What about USC at #2? Lost in the all the wildly fun negative USC stories is that there remains a wealth of talent in Troy, especially with The Dirty Sanchez appearing to be the victim of poor judgment, rather than a perpetrator of criminal behavior. By most accounts, Sanchez is a good guy: this isn't surprising. What is surprising, however, is that a lot of people are confusing the off field troubles at USC (Bush and his family handling things like complete amateurs, Matt Leinart acting like a Hollywood prima donna - instead of an NFL prospect - and so on) with some sort of inevitable tumble -on- the football field. Facts are facts: USC has been the most successful football program in America over the last four years, they've recruited top five classes in each of those years, and if John David Booty is healthy this fall, they've got two strong options at quarterback to work with (just like Texas).
And as I don't worry about Texas and its situation at quarterback (because of the team's overwhelming strengths elsewhere), so, too, I think that USC may be slightly underrated this year. (And I say this despite the fact that they will be highly rated.) Many will bally-hoo about Nebraska's trip to play USC, but the Trojans should handle the Huskers just fine. It's Notre Dame that stands between them and another chance to compete for the national title. The Pac 10 will offer some challenges to the Trojans, but USC is still quite a few heads above the rest of the class, despite the protestations of some that it's an uber-competitive conference. The fact remains: there's USC, and then there's everyone else. Bottom line: USC ranked at #2 isn't nearly as unrealistic as some may wish to believe.
Auburn at #3 is an interesting pick, but not an altogether disagreeable choice. The SEC's biggest problem this year (and many years, I'm afraid) is that there are a lot of high quality teams that can win on any given Saturday. With so many tough games week in and week out, it's hard to emerge unscathed. Still, it seems wise to take a chance that one of these elite SEC teams will put it all together for a season, and Auburn's a sensible choice. Really, though, we shouldn't be shocked if LSU or Florida is the team to put it all together. Or Georgia, even.
Texas at #4. I guess it boils down to who you think will win in Austin on September 9th. CFR picks OSU, but credits the Longhorns with running the table elsewhere. I'm more optimistic about our matchup with Ohio State, but I'm also beyond biased. We haven't lost in 20 games; I've practically forgotten what it's like to lose. I'd be more concerned about Icarusian hubris were it not for my Woody Allen-esque paranoia about acting like a 2005 Trojan goon.
Still, my inner instinct says that the Big 10 is stronger than the Big 12 this year, and though I haven't invented any criteria to support this claim, I'll go with it for now. Something tells me Ohio State has the tougher road to #1 than Texas, what with a road game against Iowa and a strong Michigan team to deal with. Lloyd Carr may get in the way of the Michigan potential, but he may not. We're doing this in June, remember.
Georgia at #5, I'm afraid to say, is where we diverge. With apologies to all the guys I've grown to love that love Georgia... this looks to me like a letdown year. The questions on the offensive line spell to me: not enough ability to actualize a dominant running game in order to compensate for quarterback weakness/newness. Mark Richt always has a strong team, and runs a terrific program, but this doesn't like a top five team to me.
Cal at #6 might be a stretch in terms of the talent of their team, but not necessarily in where they'll wind up in the rankings. One of the hilarious eye raising findings of HP's "study" was that the Pac 10 is a competitive conference. It is, in that in any given year, 7 teams are gonna suck, and those 7 teams take turns sucking to various degrees. But year in, year out, there's USC, then one or two strong-but-not-elite teams. I see no reason why Cal can't win all but two games and finagle a Top 10 ranking out of this. I also don't want to quibble about my theory. Just my theory. No graphs or ad hoc quantitative criteria to back this claim. Take it or leave it.
CFR slots the Fighting Irish in at #7. To me, Notre Dame is the most interesting team in college football this year. You've got the inevitable media blowjob onslaught that's gaining steam by the day. Heisman frontrunner. Charlie Weis is a God and heals cancer (except the kid who called Pass Right). NBC television. And... most importantly... a pretty tough schedule this year. I honestly won't be surprised if Notre Dame runs the table, or loses four games. Or anything in between. In other words: mulligan. No idea what to expect. CFR slotting them at #7 seems to reflect a similar ambiguity.
Next up is Louisville, which means it's time to stop before this post gets even longer. We'll recap the rest with a few quick hits:
*I think CFR's right that neither West Virginia nor Louisville will escape unscathed, but that both may wind up with one loss. One will beat the other, and yet that team will also probably blow a game they should win. The fireworks in the BCS if one of those teams -does- run the table... will be interesting, to say the least.
*CFR rightly sees Oklahoma as a Top 15 team, but not much better. They'll be good, but not great. If either of Texas' quarterbacks proves to be solid (no need to be more than that), the Sooners won't beat Texas.
*No ACC teams analyzed here, and I think it's a pretty wide open race amongst this conference, balanced with quite a few solid teams at the top. One of them will have a strong year and finish in the Top 10, but I'm not ready to predict who, yet.
Apologies for the length of this rambling, but I was inspired. Discuss.