BTD's Take On The Top 25

Perception can affect reality when it comes to who plays in which game at the Rose Bowl this season.

In an unprecedented show of either agreement or copy and past proficiency, both the USA Today Coaches' Sports Information Directors' Poll and the AP Poll not only had the same 25 teams on the list, they even agreed on where to slot the vast majority of teams, including those at the top.

When I put my list together, I not only came up with the same cast of characters, but didn't differ all that much on the order either, though there are reasons for a few adjustments.

Like it or not, polls do matter, and not just because it keeps pollsters employed. They not only reflect perception, they contribute significantly to shaping it. And they could play a role in whether not 1, but 2 Pac-12 teams play in the Rose Bowl this season, a possibility because the Pasadena Grand-daddy stadium (not game), will be hosting the last BCS National Championship Game before the expansion to a 4 team playoff format after next year.

The Pac-12 Champion could play themselves out of New Years Day and into that game, or they could go 13-0, or even 14-0, and wind up relegated to Rose Bowl, depending not only on what happens elsewhere, but what people think of what happens elsewhere.

Last year, Oregon St. was one of several teams that played themselves into the top 10, and wound up in the top 20, despite being no where near being ranked when the season began, and USC wound up unranked despite a winning season, after beginning the season ranked #1. And there will be comers and goers again this year.

But overall, where a team starts does impact where they finish, and so does where the teams they play are ranked.

And while that obviously matters if you and your team are in quest of a Crystal Football (and everyone is), it also becomes a factor in who winds up in the Vegas Bowl, or another that might pay more, be more fun, be more beneficial for recruiting, and garner more respect.

Compounding the issue are differing ideas about how to rank teams. How much does record matter vs. perceived relative strength of teams who probably not only didn't meet, but didn't have common opponents? Should the poll at this point reflect how the teams stack up now, or where they will be come the end of the season? Should anyone ever promote a team, be it "their" team, the team they cover, or just a team they believe to be mis-judged? Opinions on these questions out-number voters in both official and unofficial polls. (Which is one reason why the SB Nation Blog Poll is on hiatus this year, as technical and political issues are addressed in a land far away.)

That doesn't impact BTD's mission of covering not only the Beavers, but all things affecting them, and with 5 teams ranked in the top 25, Oregon St. being one of them, and 3 more that are in the conversation, the state of affairs in the college football community certainly does.

So here's my Preseason Top 25:

1. Alabama. Consecutive National Championships, and 3 of the last 4, are evidence that the Tide has not only been rolling, it has the ability to continue to do so. A lot could change in week 2 in College Station, but like him or not, Nick Saban has proven he's better after he learns something about the challenges he faces.

2. Ohio St. Make no mistake, the Buckeyes are very good, and Urban Meyer has that same trait as Meyer. I don't think they are this good, but their schedule probably won't dis-prove it.

3. Louisville. I agree with nearly everyone that the Cardinals aren't this good, but I also don't think they are as far down the pecking order as most believe, because Teddy Bridgewater is that good. I also don't think they "cruise" to 12-0; Cincinnati for one will be a bigger test than most think. But like Ohio St., superior coaching coupled with a soft schedule will produce results.

4. Oregon. I seriously doubt the Ducks wind up here; they will be even higher if Mark Helfrich makes a successful transition and they beat Stanford, or lower if either doesn't happen. But the Helfrich question mark means we have to average out 2 different outcomes.

5. Georgia. The 'Dawgs are good, but I think this is an over-valuation. However, a favorable schedule, and a stretch run that will allow them to look this good will carry them to this high of a finish.

6. Stanford. The Cardinal, like Oregon, probably finish higher or lower than this, but probably actually are about this good. I don't think their offense is explosive enough to avoid getting taken down at some point, and probably even more than once. But they could also win the Pac-12, even with that happening.

7. South Carolina. The Gamecocks are actually probably under-valued here, but the location of the Georgia game matters.

8. Clemson. The Tigers are SEC-wannabes, and could prove they should be if they can beat both Georgia and the other USC. Which they actually might. But are they deep enough to beat everyone else as well?

9. Oklahoma St. This is another case where I see the schedule and a strong run through the Big XII are going to favor the Cowboys.

10. Florida. Perception of the strength of the SEC, and the need to rank the Gators ahead of the Seminoles after they beat them, will garner them a top 10 season with a top 20 team.

11. Florida St. A good, and fast team, which will disappoint at several points, but still get votes they shouldn't for beating other over-rated ACC opponents.

12. LSU. A top 10 defense without a top 30 offense, but with SEC street cred.

13. Texas. Mack Brown needs to get something close to the potential out of his program in order for it to remain his program. That's motivation.

14. Texas A&M. The Aggies will fall farther than this if Johnny Manzel isn't there all year, but even if he is, SEC defenses now know what they are up against.

15. Boise St. The Broncos will pile up the wins and eventually some other teams are going to pile up too many losses. But the desire to avoid getting exposed will keep people from allowing that to happen.

16. Michigan. The Big 10 is more than just a slower version of the SEC, but there's an interesting phenomena at work here. The SEC beats each other up in a series of games between pretty well matched teams, but the losers get credit for playing competitive opponents, while the Big 10 does the same thing, and their losers get penalized more for losing to competitive teams than they get credit for beating them. The Wolverines will win more than their close competition though.

17. Oklahoma. Bob Stoops will get at least 1 big win to keep the Sooners in the national conversation.

18. Notre Dame. The Irish deserve credit for a Irish-Top-10 worthy schedule, but they will need their brand name to get them a better bowl game to get blown out of than their talent will earn.

19. TCU. Everyone seems to forget the Horned Frogs were as good as they were despite losing their quarterback, and just how good a coach Gary Patterson is. They will have their memory refreshed.

20. Nebraska. Their schedule is favorable, and Bo Pelini, like Mack Brown, needs to deliver a big win at some point. He has the talent to do so.

21. USC. I don't know if the Trojans will put the pieces together, but 10 wins is a magic number, and USC plays 13 regular season games, and could well play 15 total. Double digit wins will trump winning percentage here.

22. Northwestern. The Wildcats will quietly be around that 10 win total too.

23. UCLA. The Bruins are probably actually better than this, but they also have a brutal road schedule that will answer in the negative some of the question marks they have.

24. Northern Illinois. There will be a MAC team in the top 25 by the end of November, if not well before. I think the Huskies are the better bet to wind up there than Ohio, who could beat them into the top 25. And I think the coaching change at Wisconsin will keep the Badgers out of the top 25.

25. Oregon St. The Beavers begin the season ranked in both polls for only the 3rd time ever (disclaimer; there were a lot of years where the poll only went down 10 spots when the Beavs would easily have been in the top 25), and a schedule that there will be no good reason not to open 7-0 against will set them up for a stretch drive that's very tough. But 3 of those are at Reser, and the matchups are favorable for another top 20/25 season.

The 5 I left out that have the best shot are media market darling Michigan St., aforementioned Ohio (or the surprise MAC team of the year), Kansas St. who still has Bill Snyder, and all that entails, Fresno St., which as the schedule to make a Mt. West run, and Baylor, who I would have put in the top 25 on the strength of their offense alone, had it not been for the foregone conclusion that a MAC team will win their way into the conversation.

Feel free to disagree, but save some comment energy for Connor, who will be along shortly with his well researched, and always provocative enough to send someone overboard, alternate take.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com







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