The summer has again gone missing. As I wrote last year, I always suffer through the pangs of sorrow as warm weather recedes into memory and the depressing long of winter takes hold of New York like Phillip Fulmer gripping a Big Mac. Luckily, I always have college football to help get me through this annual march of misery.
You know that the leaves are set to change and that the wool sweaters are around the corner when the BlogPoll starts, and so it is that we have arrived at the first regular season ballot of 2006. Unlike last year, I chose to refrain from voting in the preseason poll. I found that the weight of pride that stemmed from the preseason rankings was too much to bear at times. No one ever likes admitting that he or she is wrong, and beginning the season with a de facto prediction can be onerous.
In general, I'd like to think my voting behavior this season will be a little less vain--I want to do a better job of responding to what I see and read, more fully ignoring the theoretically principled positions that I have taken via the previous week's ballot. Of course, this is tricky. Auburn looked great this weekend, and I think highly of it. Were it to struggle mightily next week and were I to strictly adhere to a renewed focus on the immediate and an eschewing of prior positions, I might be inclined to send it plummeting. But that wouldn't necessarily make sense if Auburn still seemed to meet the most important criterion that I always seek to answer each week with my ballot: Head to head and playing on Jupiter in a stadium simulating Earth conditions, who wins?
Thus, this is still a work in progress, and during the opening weeks of the season, I imagine that there will be a lot of fluctuations as I try to understand which teams, in general, are the 25 best. As always, please post any feedback in the comments section if you think I am making mistakes or if there is more information which you think I should consider.
And before we get to it, I'd just make a few points:
1) Fuck the schedules. I am not ranking who will likely have the easiest path to the national title game, so don't respond with shit like "Why isn't West Virginia #1?" I am most certainly not attempting to predict the national champion. That's what Las Vegas is for.
2) Fuck last year. I don't think that polling is a continuum with continuity from year to year. Penn State was 11-1 last year, you say? Well that's just great. But please remind me, what happened in the offseason? Oh, it lost most of its offensive line, defensive line, secondary, and senior quarterback, you say? Well, that's why it's not in the top five. Show me something.
3) Fuck the rosters. Well, not fully. Talent is an important component in the formula for success in college football, but so are coaching, preparation, and intangibles like emotion, confidence, and experience. Michigan might have as much talent as any team not from L.A. (not so fast, UCLA), or maybe Baton Rouge, but it also has Lloyd Carr, his retrograde offensive mastermind, and a persistent aversion to caring about special teams. That matters when a road opener in South Bend presents a team with oh so many of the usual excuses for a loss. So please, none of those "Suchandsuchteam has such better personnel than soandsoteam." That might be true, but recruiting rankings don't guarantee wins. Nor are retroactive national titles awarded after each spring's NFL draft.
Instead, and as stated before, I am just trying to answer one question: Relative to each other, which teams would beat the others were they to play on a completely neutral field?
1) Southern Cal - Defense looked really fast, offense still has playmakers. Booty's accuracy and daring--that pinpoint pass to Turner when he was double covered in the endzone was something you don't see from many guys--were encouraging.
2) Auburn - Put a convincing beatdown on a BCS-conference opponent. Maybe not a perfect analysis, but the offense is hard to stop and the defense always seems to be anonymous and stout.
3) Texas - Obviously, still hard to tell what this team is about, but McCoy seemed alright, and with that offensive line and those backs, that may be enough.
4) Columbus Institution of Sucking at Life - 28 points in 16 minutes. Was the defense even paying full attention?
5) Louisiana State - Cupboard stocked, as usual.
6) West Virginia - I have some questions about the defense, but that offense is explosive on the ground.
7) Tennessee - One of the best wins of the weekend. I hate the Vols, though, so it hurts to have to acknowledge their success.
8) Iowa - Drew Tate is my Heisman "dark horse." Love his game.
9) Notre Dame - I can only imagine that the struggles against Georgia Tech will prompt a ten-part series on ESPN this week about how great Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn are at overcoming adversity. The piece will surely include: the harrowing time when there were only 20 pancakes for breakfast in the Weis household and Charlie wanted them all but could only have 15; the daily problems Quinn encountered coming to grips with the fact that his sister actually looks so worn out and that his brother-in-law takes steroids.
10) Florida - 4 fewer possessions means that there are fewer moments for the running backs to severely disappoint Urban Meyer. Percy Harvin is teh fast.
11) Georgia - Is there a single more boring "good" team? Every year, I want to watch and like this team and it just isn't ever interesting enough. No offense, Georgia bloggers. You're among my favorites, but I'm saying...
12) Oregon - Conference-game beatdown to open the season? Kudos. Michigan didn't even want to beat a non-conference team at home by more than 20.
13) Florida State - Congratulations on once again emasculating all of your skill position players during the season's first 60 minutes.
14) Miami (Florida) - Michael Irvin may well be the best player on this offense. Still.
15) Virginia Tech - I would imagine that for the next set of rules changes, the Hokies are advocating that scoring over the course of a season become aggregate. That way, the 37 extra points that they wouldn't need against a Northeastern could be applied later in the season when they inevitably fell apart against real teams.
16) Oklahoma - Good thing that UAB wasn't TCU, huh?
17) Louisville - I feel really bad about Michael Bush. That's horrible.
18) Nebraska - When your coach is Bill Callahan and you play in such a shitty league, you have a hard time earning respect. I am really not into this team, but we'll see...
19) Michigan - Chad Henne is not the brightest bulb; the offensive line is not so into that whole "pass protection" thing that the kids are talking about; and the WRs are all limited at best right now. Plus, Lloyd Carr hates special teams. This group goes no higher until it can beat a real team.
20) TCU - We have entered the part of the ballot where I place teams semi-randomly based upon some loose nuggets of information and general impressions that may or may not be informed.
21) Clemson - So far, it sounds like incoming high-school sensation Willy Korn is a great fit for the Tigers: Despite the hype, he didn't look so great on TV and will likely wind up being a letdown.
22) Fresno State - Pat Hill's moustache! (It's Wednesday, right guys?)
23) Georgia Tech - You know, the Devil hasn't been able to get it done, either. No shame in that.
24) Cal - Nice effort, gang. We here on the East Coast can now go back to seeing you on the post-midnight highlights and generally not caring.
25) Northwestern - This is for Coach Walker. And my sister, The Buckets, a proud NU student. Besides, the Wildcats are undefeated, more than I can say for Cal or Georgia Tech.
Not ranked and not all that close: Penn State. Anthony Morelli is said to have had trouble learning the offense and reading defenses, the lines are new, the secondary is new, and playing Akron close isn't so impressive. Start whining now and then keep that going through October 14th. That will make it more fun.