This is part two of McD’s college football “preview.” Which really means he finally got off his ass and wrote some stuff. Go here for part one. Enjoy. — Ed.
The new AP and USA Today polls are out! Yay! The college football world has order again. All the teams know where they stand based on criteria other than games played in 2009. Hey, the season’s gotta start somewhere.
But I’m an agent of chaos. I want to introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order. We all know these things are bullsh*t. Several teams who are ranked now are going to crash and burn by the end of October. They’re gonna be just like Auburn and Clemson last year, and I’m not even talking about Auburn and Clemson in 2009! Let’s make this fun and figure out who it is now so we can mock them and say “I told you so” to their fans. Because what is college football without gloating? Here’s the poll as it currently stands.
Now, here are the teams who will be remembered as failures and get these very polls mocked by everyone not too long from now.
Florida (2008: 13-1, SEC Champions, BCS National Champions)
Now how could a team that is the defending national champion, has a Heisman Trophy winner/deity at quarterback, and is returning a crapload of starters end up a disappointment? Easy. All they have to do is lose one game. The expectations for this team are way, way too high. And while faith in Tim Tebow is never misplaced, it’s absurdly hard to repeat in college football. Worse, Florida has done some of the overrating themselves, what with the several players who apparently run a sub-4.2 40-yard dash. Don’t make me declare shenanigans on you too, Gator fans/program/time keeper.
The best comparison, even though they didn’t set the preseason poll record, is USC heading into the 2005 season. They were returning a whole bunch of players who got them the national title the year before (against Oklahoma too, by the by) and expectations were sky high. Now that poll wasn’t as unanimous as this one is for Florida. In 2005, some people actually thought Tennessee should have been number one heading into the season. Looking in your direction, SEC homers.
Which is my entire point about Florida. There is simply no way this team cruises through the SEC and dominates the way everyone thinks it will. Didn’t even happen to that USC team in 2005, and they were more loaded than this year’s Florida team. Things always go wrong a year later, just as with the 2007 Florida Gators. And all the ’09 Gators need is one small chink in their armor and it’s all over. For ’05 USC, it was their defense. Dunno what it will be for Florida.
If I had to pick, it’d be the offense, specifically the passing game since there is a feeling around the Gators that Tebow needs to prove himself as a professional passer and not a glorified fullback. It’s just like when USC decided in 2005, the year after a national title, that they wanted to throw deep more with their own left-handed, questionably-armed quarterback. Everything regressed a step for USC’s offense that year, and only through Reggie Bush’s transcendence did they continue their success. (and by the way, screw the actual stats. I watched every USC game that year. They were worse offensively than in ’04.)
I also think the schedule is going to work against them. They’re going to be huge favorites in every game they play in ’09. Worse, there isn’t hardly a good team on the sked and their out of conference games are indefensible, even by the die-hardiest of Gators fans. I don’t give a sh*t how good Troy is in the Sun Belt. They’re f***ing Florida! Play some one good! On top of that, all the usually good teams in the SEC East are down this year. Georgia lost everyone, Tennessee still sucks, it goes on and on like that. The only trap game for them is at LSU in October. But even that is taking place relatively early in the season, probably before LSU’s extremely mediocre team has figured everything out. If Florida is going to lose, it’s going to be a random-ass game or very late in the season, but no the FIU game on Nov. 21. Really, Florida? FIU? Really?
When they could lose: at LSU Oct. 10, vs. Florida State Nov. 28, SEC Championship game
Iowa (9-4, 5-3 Big Ten, Won Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina)
When every season preview of Iowa talks all about the importance of Ricky Stanzi to this year’s team, you know your team is screwed. Stanzi was only even mildly effective last year because the running game was so good. When a Doak Walker Award winner is in the backfield, teams tend to be less concerned with the passing game. Shonn Greene moved on after one good year, and now Iowa is unproven at best at every offensive position. At their worst, Stanzi isn’t dependable enough and their receivers aren’t fast enough. But hey, it’s the Big Ten. Since when did speed matter there? I also know all about Jewel Hampton and very much respect him as a runner, but the transition from backup to starter, especially as a sophomore, is tricky at best.
Defensively, Iowa lost the heart and soul of that unit in Mitch King and Matt Kroul, the two defensive tackles. Iowa was very, very good at stopping the run last year, one of the reasons they managed to be Penn State’s only loss. Well, before USC destroyed them, that is. King and Kroul’s replacements are unproven, just like the rest of the team. Expect a step back in the defense’s effectiveness early on in the season.
In Iowa’s defense, they’re only starting out ranked 22nd in the AP Poll, so obviously the voters are wary as well, and the only reason they’re ranked now is because they were last year and they won their last game of the season. Hence the pointlessness of preseason polls.
When they could lose: Sept. 19 vs. Arizona, Sept. 26th at Penn State, vs. Michigan Oct. 10, at Michigan State Oct. 24, vs. Northwestern Nov. 7, at Ohio State Nov. 14
Utah (13-0, 8-0 MWC, Won Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama)
I mean, they went undefeated, got into the BCS, and beat Alabama. They even won the Rumors and Rants National Collegiate Football Championship. That’s a pretty GD amazing season for a Mountain West team. But for 2009, they’ve lost a hell of a lot of players, including quarterback/heart and soul of the team Brian Johnson. The receiving corps is still good, but even that is a shadow of what it was in 2008. The Utes are coming back to earth.
They’re replacing too much. There’s simply no way the Utes will be as good as they were in 2008, but Utah fans probably already know that. In 2009, they’re gonna struggle to be ranked too. Teams just can’t lose this much and expect to cruise. Kyle Whittingham isn’t an idiot, but that’s the reality based on what that team has lost after the best season the school has ever had. Expect Matt Asiata to be a beast, though.
On the bright side, an 8-4 Utah team is still a pretty good bet to be the class of the Mountain West, though the usual suspects are going to be a bigger challenge than last year.
When they could lose: at Oregon Sept. 19, vs. Louisville Sept. 26, at Colorado State Oct. 10, vs. Air Force Oct. 24, at TCU Nov. 14, at BYU Nov. 28
LSU (8-5, 3-5, won Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Georgia Tech)
The Tigers just aren’t nearly as good as they used to be, when they backed into a tainted national championship. The defense isn’t the amazing unit it used to be, and SEC teams have figured that out. They’re still strong along the defensive line, but not nearly as talented at linebacker and in the secondary. But the cardinal sin in 2008 on the part of the defense was that they were slow. Really slow, and they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the country.
Worse, their quarterback situation is a little better, but still wildly unproven. And even if Jordan Jefferson is better than he was last year, Les Miles loves nothing more than sucking the life out of an offense and win 21-10. He lives for it. It’s why LSU is routinely unwatchable even when they’re good.
Using a glorified fullback like Charles Scott to be the primary ball carrier is a recipe for karmic disaster, and the main reason the Tigers won’t be as good as you think they will be. They don’t have a playmaker anywhere on offense. They have to grind it out and hope the defense can stop some one. Didn’t work last year and it won’t this year, even with an improved defensive unit.
When they could lose: at Georgia Oct. 3, vs. Florida Oct. 10, at Alabama Nov. 7, at Ole Miss Nov. 21, vs. Arkansas Nov. 28
Georgia (10-3, 6-2, won Capital One Bowl vs. Michigan State)
Speaking of coaches who love to strangle the life out of otherwise talented units, it’s Mark Richt! He even took the fun out of an offensive unit featuring AJ Green, Knowshon Moreno, and Matthew Stafford. That’s two first-day draft picks, including the first overall, and a freshman receiver so amazing, he may also be a high first round pick when he’s eligible. This was the kind of offense that would have won a national championship in the 1980’s.
So what happened at Georiga? The same thing that always happens. Richt’s schemes stop working, Stafford never learned to check down, and Moreno had to carry the load. Plus the defense melted down. Georgia was a mess at the end of 2008.
Now, they’ve lost all those guys, the offensive line is way worse, and Richt is still the head coach. No one expects too much from them this year anyway, especially after they blew their shot at a title last year. 2009 is The Year After for the Georiga Bulldogs. Another 10-3 season would be a miracle for this team. Plus, they start the season against an Oklahoma State team with the whole world behind them. A bad performance there could set this time off on the wrong kind of streak for the entire year.
That’s actually the good news for Georgia fans. No one expects anything from this team, so maybe they overachieve. Or at least a 10-3 season would feel a lot more miraculous and amazing than it did a year ago when it was the end of a disastrous last month of football.
When they could lose: at Oklahoma State Sept. 5, at Arkansas Sept. 19, vs. LSU Oct. 3, at Florida Oct. 31, vs. Auburn Nov. 14, at Georgia Tech Nov. 28
Ohio State (10-3, 7-1, lost Fiesta Bowl to Texas)
Ohio State has exactly one playmaker. One. And Terrelle Pryor is only a sophomore. He gained a ton of experience starting most of last year, but now there’s no Beanie Wells. The success of the offense depends entirely on Jim Tressel’s willingness to tweak OSU’s boring offense to suit Pryor and Pryor’s ability to pass the ball effectively. Would you bet on that? I wouldn’t.
Their defense, while still talented and the best in the Big Ten, lost its heart and soul from the last four years in James Laurinaitis. He was the transition from AJ Hawk et al and now all those guys are gone.
Ohio State still plays in the Big Ten, so it’s not like they won’t win the conference again and get themselves a BCS bowl berth. But two or three losses isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Buckeyes. Even when Vince Young took over for Texas, there were questions and worry from Longhorns fans. But with Terrelle Pryor, this offseason and fall camp has been more of a coronation than anything else. Everyone seems convinced he will show up in September and dominate. I’m not so sure.
When they could lose: vs. USC Sept. 12, at Penn State Nov. 7, vs. Iowa Nov. 14, at Michigan Nov. 21