Preseason Blogpoll Ballot 2009
[Editor's note: I'm handing the blogpoll ballot to Tim this year; it was always a little weird to act as both a voter and the poll's editor or whatever.]
Voting criteria: As per Brian's mission with the Blogpoll, my goal will be to rank the "best season" at a given point. Very early in the season, pre-season ranking may be a contributing factor to "best season" (unless you get pasted in your first game, a la Clemson). After 3 or 4 games though, it should transition into a resume ranking of which teams you've beaten, and how convincingly.
1. Florida. They're probably a near-unanimous choice at the top, and with good reason. The Gators return all 11 starters (and their 10 backups) on a defense that finished #9 in yardage and #4 in points ceded. By the way, they also return The Tebow Child. The holes on this team are basically nitpicks when you look at how solid the rest of the lineup is.
2. Texas. The Longhorns are in a similar situation as Florida: they return most (though not all) of a pretty good defense, a robo-QB in Colt McCoy, and a solid core on offense. Texas will have to prove that the pass rush is still strong without Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton, but returning 4 starters on the offensive line, including 3 who were all-conference to some degree, gives a sense of certainty on that side of the ball while the defense has some time to come around.
3. USC. I'm hesitant to put the Trojans here because they lost so much talent in the NFL Draft. However, it's hard to find another team that deserves to replace USC here. With an outstanding defensive player in Taylor Mays and an already-impressive offensive line that returns almost entirely intact, it's hard to bet against the team that recruits at least as well as any other.
4. Oklahoma. I was initially hesitant to put Oklahoma in the top 5, because their offensive line, though it performed as well as nearly any in the country, loses four multi-year starters. Considering it struggled against the more talented defenses the Sooners faced (18 sack yards, only 107 rush yards against Florida, 3 sacks allowed and only 48 rush yards against Texas, 4 sacks allowed and 25 yards rushing against TCU), and that could bode ill for a rebuilding line. Still, the defense, while only mediocre last year in the high-flying Big 12, returns nearly everyone, and could be better this year than last.
5. Alabama. The defense, which owned fools left and right through most of last year, as Florida, Utah, and Georgia were the only teams to hit the 30-point mark - and the Bulldogs only did it in garbage time in a game that was a blowout at halftime. The offense loses quite a bit, otherwise the Tide would probably be among the nation's top teams. Still, I like Julio Jones no matter who's throwing it to him.
6. Virginia Tech. Tyrod Taylor has to live up to the hype sooner or later, right? If he does it this year, VT could be a very dangerous team. They boast a bruising attack on offense (though diminished with the loss of Darren Evans), and their always-rockin' defense returns 7 starters. The offense being able to come together without the rising star RB will be key for the Hokies.
7. Cal. I came into the offseason thinking that Minnesota's tilt with Cal would be a winnable non-conference game for the Big Ten. While any game is theoretically winnable, I have changed my mind on the Golden Bears. They return 8 starters on defense, including the entire secondary. The linebackers may be a liability, but there is enough talent there to make up for a deficiency. On offense, Jahvid Best is enough to like Cal, but hopefully a restructured offensive line will be able to get him into space.
8. Georgia. Though the Bulldogs lose their starting QB and RB, the entire offensive line is back, along with most of the defense. They were overrated to start last year, but maybe slightly lower expectations will help this team, especially with a slightly stronger core.
9. Ohio State. It is super-annoying to continually rank Michigan's biggest rival this high, but them's the ropes sometimes. While Ohio State has a lot of weak-ish areas, I don't see any serious liabilities. Terrelle Pryor might mature (or he might get in a fight and be kicked off the team, if there's a just and loving god), the offensive line will be boosted by some guy at left guard, and the defense in Columbus, as much as it pains me to say, reloads year after year. Since the Buckeyes weren't elite last year despite having more talent, I could see them moving down from this spot.
10. Ole Miss. I do not like the Rebels this high, do not like it one bit. However, what other reasonable options are there? Houston Nutt's team is riding a wave of momentum of last year's upset of Florida and a huge win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. I think they're likely to fall flat a couple times during the season, as this team wasn't as good last year as the hype indicates (Wake Forest? Vanderbilt? South Carolina?).
11. Penn State. Daryll Clark and Evan Royster will really have to carry this team on offense, as the majority of the offensive line and most of the receivers have left Happy Valley. If Clark can consistently lay like he did early in '08, that might not be a huge problem. Defensively, the front 7 should be pretty good, though there isn't a ton of depth along the defensive line. The secondary is scary though, as all 4 starters depart, and AJ Wallace's situation is in question.
12. Georgia Tech. This may be my first wildly divergent team, but look what Tech returns: Only every starter on offense (save one), and 8 defensive starters. Losing 3 outstanding defensive linemen might hurt them, but nearly everyone else is back. Also, I just really want to see this team do well, because the offense is so damn much fun. If they can smooth out the offensive production in year 2 under Paul Johnson, it could be a fun season in Atlanta.
13. Miami (Yes That Miami). Randy Shannon has been stockpiling talent in Coral Gables over the past couple years, and it's only a matter of time before they break through and start reliving the glory days (either that, or Shannon is gone). Jacory Harris was a more efficient passer last year than starter Robert Marve, and if you believe in talent over scheme, the defense has to be awesome sooner or later.
14. Oklahoma State. I really, really like Dez Bryant, and Zac Robinson can certainly get him the ball. Though both guards are new, the offense has plenty of experience at the other positions. Defensively, there are more questions. The unit wasn't too good last year, and losing 5 starters isn't going to help. If they can slow down some of the better Big 12 offenses (no easy task), the Cowboys could have a quality 2009 season.
15. Iowa. I didn't like Iowa heading into the offseason, but taking a closer look at how the team actually performed, especially over the second half of last year, convinced me otherwise. Shonn Greene is a special back, but the offensive line that helped him to 1850 yards last year returns 3 starters, along with a couple of upperclassmen to fill the void. Speedster Jewel Hampton is no Greene, but he'll have to get at least a bit of success behind that line. Defensively, the Hawkeyes should be golden if they can handle the losses of their two defensive tackles.
16. Illinois. This may be a bit high for the Illini, especially coming off a bowl-free year. However, Juice Williams, Rejus Benn, and Co. showed some serious flashes of brilliance last season. If they can harness all that power for good, this can be an awesome offense. The defense has some serious question marks, but the Illini might be in "outscore everybody" mode.
17. TCU. The Horned Frogs have been among the better defensive teams over the past few years, so I don't doubt their ability to rebuild a bit on that side of the ball. Returning sackmaster Jerry Hughes should help smooth the transition for 7 new starters on that side of the ball. Offensively, the line is the question mark, but it's got some older players, even if they don't have starting experience.
18. LSU. The offense will be less tumultuous with Jarrett Lee on the bench instead of throwing touchdowns to the other team. Jordan Jefferson wasn't exactly a world-beater himself, but at least he wasn't giving away points left and right. Defensively, plenty of starters return, but they'll have to improve as well: they gave up more than 50 points twice, and over 30 thrice more.
19. UCLA. They weren't particularly good last year, but I'm totally feelin' the Rick Neuheisel vibes, man. That and the QB situation should be improved by removing Kevin Craft from the starting spot. The offensive line is experienced, which should cut down on QB pressure and the resultant turnovers. Defensively, 7 starters return.
20. Nebraska. It's time, especially with the division entering something of a down period, for the Huskers to return to their rightful place at the top of the Big 12 North (where they've been only once since 1999). The defense should see some real improvement in year 2 under Bo Pelini, especially with so many offensive skill players leaving the Big 12 North.
21. Boise State. I don't like basing pre-season power rankings on a projected finish, as that's not what power rankings are supposed to be, but Boise state has been so consistently excellent over the past decade (averaging fewer than 2 losses per year) that it's hard to doubt them. They'll have a chance to prove themselves early in the season, as they kick off 2009 with a Thursday game against Oregon.
22. Notre Dame. South Bend, Indiana: Where 5-stars go to die. Notre Dame has loaded up every February, and has been between awful and mediocre the past two seasons. The Hawaii Bowl victory has everyone high on them, but Notre Dame also lost to Syracuse, and was mostly outplayed by a terrible Michigan team, only winning thanks to 6 Wolverine turnovers. The light schedule will have pundits falling in love with them, but this Irish team is nothing special.
23. Pittsburgh. The defense returns 7 starters, and it was actually pretty good to start with last year. The offense takes a big hit with the loss of LeSean McCoy, but senior Bill Stull should be a steady quarterback. The offensive line has some experience, and the Panthers look like the early favorite in the Big East. Also, including Pitt gives me an excuse to post a picture mocking Notre Dame.
24. Clemson. The Tigers are routinely one of the most talented teams in the ACC, but that hasn't meant results. As a matter of fact, Clemson has never even won the Atlantic Division, despite being favored at some point in each of the past three seasons. CJ Spiller is among the best offensive playmakers in the ACC, and a pretty good offensive line will clear the way for him. The defense returns 8 starters. The team chemistry seemed to improve after Dabo Swinney took over last year.
25. Oregon. This may be my version of the "OMG OLE MISS BOWL VICTORY WOOOO!!!!!1," but Oregon looked kind of awesome against Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, and Jeremiah Masoli really came of age. The offensive line will be mostly new, but that hasn't prevented Oregon from putting up huge rushing numbers in the past. The defense could be a huge question mark, but what team at this point in a ranking doesn't have obvious deficiencies?
The whole thing:
Where have I gone horribly wrong? Let me know in the comments.