Fri Jun 05 04:45pm EDT
The Doc, Holly Anderson and Doug Gillett wrap up the week with our written equivalent of tossing a beach ball around the office. This week's topic: interlopers in preseason polls.
Holly: Finally, the major preseason rankings emergeth this week. There are the perennial favorites, your Floridas and USCs, the ever-present hangers-on like Georgia and Penn State. And then there are the trendy darkhorse picks. In exploring the hype around that third category, what jumps out at you? The attention focused on some teams can be largely attributed to a single event (see Ole Miss's upset of Texas Tech in last year's Cotton Bowl), but what else are we seeing?
Doug: In general, "returning talent" is a pretty good indicator of how good or bad a team's going to be, but sometimes we have the tendency to see it as a be-all end-all. The lesson here is that sometimes you have to temper your enthusiasm with an honest assessment of a team's track record. In the case of, say, Ole Miss or Notre Dame or Oklahoma State, you're really basing your assumptions on a one-year uptick. They've got plenty of personnel coming back, sure, but that's still kind of a small sample size to be judging from.
Doc: I think "upset at Florida" and "double-digit win at LSU" have had as much effect on the Ole Miss hype as the bowl game, although "lost at home to Vanderbilt and South Carolina" has not, for some reason. But I agree -- as I've said before, I'd rather be surprised by the best teams at Ole Miss and Oklahoma State in the last 40 years than be on record predicting them and turn out to be hilariously wrong. Because what are the odds? The preseason magazines are littered with corpses of Purdues, Clemsons and Pittsburghs that failed to break through.
Holly: Doug, not to reopen this nasty wound, but what do you make of Georgia Tech being widely ranked above Georgia?
Doug: To the victors go the spoils, I guess, and that goes for bragging rights and preseason rankings just like everything else. Tech has a ton of talent coming back, particularly at the skill positions, and underestimating Paul Johnson seems like a dangerous game to play.
We will see, however, how Tech handles the expectations game. Can the triple-option attack be quite as successful now that Tech's opponents have a year's worth of game tape to help them plan against it?
Doc: That's another case where anyone getting carried away with Georgia Tech needs to ask themselves: "How good can this team really be?" I love Jonathan Dwyer and see Tech as a sort of consistently fringe top-25 team, but even before the bowl game, you know, losses to Virginia and North Carolina in the second half of the season don't really scream "top-15 material."
The magazines do seem to be a little more bear-ish on Tech than the initial stabs that came out closer to the end of the season.
Holly: Speaking of Virginias and Techs (sorry), VT is way up there as well. Is this the year they pull it off, or will that bandwagon empty after the opener against Alabama?
Doc: I think Tech gets a nod for consistency and will be hovering around at the end of the year, as usual, just because those SOBs are survivors, and they can handle the low, low-octane nature of the ACC. But I don't think they'll have any championship steam after the opener. Not that they're destined to get wiped like Clemson last year, but either way ... that's not going to be a pretty game.
Holly: Poor little guys. Moving on: My biggest point of pride last year was my utter disbelief in Clemson from the start, an instinct Alabama helpfully bolstered for me in that same Georgia Dome opener. Who is most egregiously overrated in this preseason, and why?
Doc: The usual suspects for me: Oklahoma State and Ole Miss, only because they haven't played or recruited on the level of the other teams up there, and they both have to play three or four other teams who have. OSU, at least, has been a steady upward incline for the last three years, as opposed to Ole Miss' suspicious rocket shot, but I'm suspicious of any top-10 projection for a program with no recent history of playing on that level across an entire season.
I don't particularly like anyone in the Big Ten, but someone's going to win the conference and look good doing it.
Doug: I'm with you on the OSU pick, Matt, despite the fact that I'm practically begging for a karmic beatdown for the Dawgs in their season-opening trip to Stillwater. They have yet to field a really solid defense under Mike Gundy, their receiving corps was decimated in the offseason by dismissals and transfers, and when you get right down to it, the most notable thing they did last year was lose by only five points to Texas. Yet they've been a top-10 pick in nearly every set of preseason rankings I've seen so far.
Doc: True. They got a lot of mileage out of upsetting Missouri.
Doug: Who turned out to be not nearly on the level of the South Division trifecta that made everybody think the Big 12 was such a juggernaut last year.
Doc: The bigger question is why teams like Clemson and Oklahoma State are able to get so much traction in the first place. Herd mentality? Or the opposite of herd mentality -- a universal need to break from the pack? A couple flashy players like C.J. Spiller and Dez Bryant? Or just a short memory and a lot of bold type on the depth charts?
For the record, I was sold on Clemson as ACC bully last year, but mostly because it didn't have any other elite teams on the schedule. Neither Ole Miss nor Oklahoma State is in that position.
Holly: You're onto something there. It's like the sportswriting equivalent of affirmative action -- "Well, somebody from South Carolina has to be good at football." No. No, they don't.
Doug: Sometimes pundits just overthink things. In the case of Clemson last year, the punditocracy was attracted by shiny stuff like Offensive skill players! Easy schedule! Chance to be dominant in the ACC! But if only they'd stepped back and asked themselves, "Is picking Tommy Bowden to go to a BCS bowl the act of a sane individual?", they might've backed off. When in doubt, let Occam's razor do your cutting for you.
Doc: Yes, it was a sane reaction to the available information. There's a reason they call them "surprises."
The real darkhorse, of course, is going to be a total, stunning surprise. Another Missouri, Ole Miss, Oregon State, whose players actually perform on a completely different level than anyone has any right to expect them to right now. Remember where you heard "N.C. State-Colorado Orange Bowl" first.
Holly: Yes. For all our hindsight nattering, we're all three going to be utterly wrong about everything. Relish it.
Doug: Fortunately, in my neck of the woods, I'm used to that. UAB in the BCS! Fear the Dragon!