Who Needs a Blog Poll '14: Preseason Part One

0-2 start to 2014 can't make ANYONE happy.

The post-NSD, pre-fall camp edition is ready to throw down on you. Come at me, bros.

When last we met five months ago, I was angering some of you for ranking Alabama #9 in the final poll. As CarrotTop and others noted, Alabama lost to not one, but two teams that were ranked below it. That is, as we say, underperformance. Alabama therefore starts at 0-2 going into this season. Those are not my words, as you may be very familiar with by now (hint, see above.)

A new season is upon us, and it's time to look forward to 2014 in this post-signing, pre-camp edition of a Who Needs a Blog Poll. Herein, we shall consider momentum, injuries, signings, early enrollees, post-spring evaluations and how I think each team will fare. This is a bit more in-depth than the usual non-Blog Poll, so we'll break it up into three-four parts. Each day we'll go over a few teams, as well as who we shall not be ranking. Today, start from the bottom:

Rank

Team

Final '13 Who Needs A Blog Poll

20

Louisville Cardinals

16

21

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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22

Iowa Hawkeyes

---

23

UCF Knights

5

24

Nebraska Cornhuskers

23

25

Indiana Hoosiers

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  1. Louisville Cardinals: It's really hard to shrug off the loss of a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, the exodus of players when a new coaching staff enters, and the loss of key playmakers on the DL. That said, Petrino inherits a veteran back 7 and proven guys at every offensive position - save QB (the latter is an area where he is among the best coaches in the nation.) Say what you will about Petrino - he's a liar, a mendicant, an adulterer, irresponsible, insubordinate, a serial snake, etc - but he can flat out coach. And, in an ACC that is increasingly driven by passing games, he's got it all over most others in that league. The schedule is somewhat tough, as Miami and FSU both come to the Pizza Dome, while the Cardinals face Clemson and Notre Dame on the road. Still, the Cardinals should be favored in every other game. There will be ups and downs, but an excellent coach and an experienced team are good enough for an 8-4/9-3ish kind of season, and the final stop and vindication for Bobby Petrino.

  2. Mississippi State Bulldogs: This is a helluva risk, I know. Mullen has a decent SEC record, but is 0-fer the Alabama/Aggie/LSUs of the world, and has beaten Auburn just once (the historically awful 2012 season. Although, weirdly, the only East teams he's not beaten are South Carolina and Mizzou -and that's because they haven't played MSU has not played Mizzou, and lost to OBC). However, I think CLANGA can finally do some damage this year. Dak Prescott is the best starting QB in the SEC-West as of this writing, but Josh Robinson is going to have big shoes to fill with the departure of Ladarius Perins. Still, add good recruiting the past few years to a vicious defensive line and improving secondary (as well as the closing momentum from 2013), and the Bulldogs are poised to do good things. Will this team win the West? Not a prayer. In fact, I'd be stunned if they won their tough road games (Alabama, LSU). Still, Auburn and Aggie come to Starkville, the OOC schedule is a joke, and the Bulldogs duck South Carolina, Florida and UGA out of the East. Nine wins with a New Year's Bowl are not out of reach.

  3. Iowa Hawkeyes: Ho-hum, another good running game, veteran QB, deep offensive line, underrated defense, and guys on the outside who will never wow you, but will be productive and move the chains. This could be one of the better (comparatively speaking) Hawkeye offenses of the past few years, and the defense will be as stifling and opportune as ever. Ferentz's teams run hot and cold, and the pendulum seems to have swung back to the 2009ish Hawkeyes, who cobbled together improbable wins on the back of an excellent defense and a serviceable offense. The schedule is also generous for the first ten games: Not a single one is unwinnable, and the Hawkeyes dodge Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. The final two-game home stand vs. Wisconsin and Nebraska will determine whether Iowa has another merely good season or an exceptional one. Given Ferentz's milquetoast? I'm guessing somewhere in the middle.

  4. Central Florida Knights: UCF has a dirty secret: The defense was only in the top 1/3d and was not, statistically, the shut-down unit they appeared to be. That's fine. O'Leary's teams don't need the all-world talent or all-world statistics; they just need to play within the system and be disciplined. With ten starters returning, the defense should be even better than they were last season and finally achieve the stats to match how big they play. Gone are Storm Johnson and Blake Bortles, the best 1-2 punch in team history. So, the offense has to make hay with veteran receivers, TEs, and find answers to serious questions (not to mention youth) O- the line and in the backfield. The kids better learn fast too, because the front-loaded schedule is daunting for Big 5 elite teams: Penn State in Dublin, Mizzou at Faurot, conference opener at Houston (which figures to challenge for the AAC title), then BYU at home. If the defense can hold serve, particularly in-conference, and UCF can cobble together a few points with minimal mistakes, the Knights figure to square off against Cincinnati for the AAC crown...even if Knight are somewhere around 8-4ish.

  5. Nebraska Cornhuskers: I want to believe in this team. The Huskers can be physical. The Huskers can run the ball. The Huskers can stretch the field. The biggest problem is that, frankly, Pelini is a bit of an idiot, and the Huskers play like inconsistent idiots. On the offensive side, Taylor Martinez is gone, but that's addition by subtraction. Still, the team's success will rely on getting a retooled offensive line to pave holes for RB Ameer Abdullah, who's a good one. Defensively, the Huskers are in a little better shape, returning 6 starters, including its top five tacklers. More importantly, no one unit (aside from OL) was decimated by graduation -there is a good mix of youth and experience at every unit. But that schedule. Man, the schedule does NU no favors, featuring roadies to Fresno State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and a host game with Miami (as well as the suddenly physical Gophers.) As usual with Pelini, this team will win some they shouldn't and lose some they shouldn't -but mainly lose them. Another 8 wins or so are on the horizon, but this team could just as easily finish .500.

  6. Indiana Hoosiers: The good news is also the bad news: Indiana returns 9 defensive starters. They have to be better, right? They can't get worse. As exciting an offense as you'll find with a returning QB, WR and veteran OL. Last season Kevin Wilson's squad lost some true heartbreaker shootouts. This season, I expect a few of those to swing in the Hoosier's favor. The backloaded schedule has roadies to Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Hoosiers win at least one of those. And, I'm putting Mizzou -the lone tough OOC team, on upset alert: this Indiana team score a ton. 7 wins and the Heart of Dallas or Detroit Bowl beckons.

Nope, Nuh -Unh, Not Happening (SEC):

  • Missouri Tigers: Some teams in the SEC can handle the loss of a senior QB, senior RB, four wide receivers, half the OL, half the DL, the SEC DPOY, and 3/4ths of the secondary. Mizzou is not in that class -not even close. It's going to be a struggle to even get to .500 in conference play. I'm thinking a scenic Christmas in Shreveport or Nashville...if that.

  • Ole Miss: More young talent than you shake a bag man at. But, with the worst coaching in the SEC, and the deficient quarterbacking of Bo Wallace, I don't see it. Take that garbage offense, remove any threat of power running, toss in a little Moncrief to the pros, and the fact that a bad offensive line only got worse, and there is no way this team is better. Oxford is thinking a break-out; I'm seeing a regression to the Ole Miss mean. Seven wins seems about right.

  • Texas A&M: Take one of the worst defenses in the SEC, remove the dynamic playmaking of Johnny Manziel, send all-everything linemen on both sides of the ball to the pros and you have one hot mess waiting to happen. This is a system team that, even in its exciting peak, finished no better than third in the division. This year, they'll be scrapping with the Mississippi teams for fourth or worse.

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