Tue Aug 19 11:26am EDT
In Western society, anyway, and probably most others, you can always be sure of the eternal maxim: follow the money to the truth. It works for cops and reporters, and for college football, too: the magazine polls are one thing, and the Official Mainstream Polls generally fall into a sort of lazy consensus that looks suspiciously similar to the end of the previous season. But as with everything else, if you’re really for real about ranking teams, you seek out the people who literally can’t afford to work off pat assumptions, crazy sleepers or letting things shake out over time: bookies.
Given the best guesses of writers, who are interested in narratives; of coaches, who are interested in their left tackle’s torn meniscus and the third-and-short zone tendencies of next week’s opponent; or of Vegas, which is interested in using said guesses to make golden fountains that spew cash, whose opinion do you really trust? When it comes to pure, good old-fashioned power polling, as Dan Steinberg asked in 2006, who wouldn’t want to have the oddsmaker’s top 25 next to the mainstream versions?
If you buy that, the initial top 30 poll released Sunday by Las Vegas Sports Consultants is probably for you. USC, not surprisingly, is at the top for sheer, unadulterated strungth, and you won’t slip past anybody by putting the chips on the Trojans. But you can get in on the ground floor with a few teams the moneychangers expect much more from than the scribes:
9. Texas Tech: Vegas is buying the buzz: Tech cracks the top 15 in both the Coaches’ (No. 12) and AP (No. 14) polls, but LVSC ranks the Raiders ninth, in a dead heat with No. 8 Texas; along with No. 3 Oklahoma, three Big 12 South teams are in the bookies’ top nine.
11. BYU: The consultants rank the Cougars higher than anyone, writer, coach or magazine, carrying over their strong opinion of BYU from the end of ‘07 (13th, according to the LVSC poll).
14. South Carolina: Actually ranked a tenth of a point ahead of LSU (see below), apparently with the expectation that the veteran defense is poised for a breakout --with Jasper Brinkley back in the middle, the November collapse is being taken as a kind of mirage, I guess. Phil Steele agrees about the Cocks, for what it’s worth, even if he was completely off the mark about their prospective insurgency last year.
17. TCU: The Frogs received five points in the AP poll (good for No. 42) and zero votes from the coaches, but their disappointing finish last year is no deterrent for Vegas: “Attention AP Voters!!! TCU 30-8 last 3 yrs & getting better.” We’ll see about that.
24. Arizona Here we’re getting out on a limb almost no one in the media would even consider: “New offense has been a roaring success. Tuitama will go wild.” O rly? LVSC has the Wildcats three spots ahead of Arizona State, good for fourth in the Pac Ten. You’re not...scared...are you?
On the other end, the oddsmakers are counting on people -- perhaps from a certain region of the country? -- getting a little carried away with:
7. Georgia: Steele’s is the only other opinion that dares drop the mainstream favorite ranked outside the top five (No. 9), behind Florida, West Virginia and Missouri. “Suspensions may hurt cohesion” -- maybe, or maybe they’re more skeptical about the lifespan of the surge over the last six games following a year and a half of mediocrity.
15. LSU: Again: ranked here behind Texas Tech, BYU, Kansas, Penn State and South Carolina. They really don’t trust the new quarterback.
18. Auburn: Take the aforemention teams ranked ahead of the other Tigers, and add No. 16 Oregon and No. 17 TCU. It’s not unanimous, but the Tigers come out in the 10-11 range in both of the mainstream polls and in the consensus take of the magazines.
So: SEC West hatin’ = $, apparently. Remember: it’s only entertainment.
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Photo of Mark Bradford flouting the oddsmakers via the Associated Press.