Who Needs a Blog Poll '14: Preseason Part Two

Enjoy your Holiday Bowls...and not being ranked in my stupid poll! - Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Yup. Ranked Indiana. Long hair; don't care. Now, let's talk about some teams in the teens.

Yesterday, we started at the bottom -like Drake, only not as terrible as that buffoon (As an aside: worst "rapper" of the modern era - makes Master P look like Marcel Proust.) The inclusion of the Indiana Hoosiers may seem an odd choice to some, but I'll justify it like this: If you have an 8-4 Ole Miss team and an 8-4 Indiana team, given the relative disparity of talent levels, you have to pick Indiana. Ole Miss should, with an elite coach, be a 10-win team and in the mix for the West every year. Do the Rebels scare you? No. Do they scare anyone outside of LSU or Directional HBCU? No. That said, the Big Ten is going to be stronger than in years past and the simple reason is that the conference has finally upgraded its coaching talent.

Enough of that. Today, we'll wind our way through the Upper Teens with some teams that could make the noise, even if they don't challenge for the conference. Likewise, they could just as easily drift away to "others receiving votes" purgatory.

Rank

Team

Final '13 Who Needs a Blog Poll Ranking

14

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

22

15

Florida Gators

---

16

Texas Longhorns

Also Considered

17

Cincinnati Bearcats

Also Considered

18

Clemson Tigers

13

19

Houston Cougars

Also Considered

  1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Last season was considered a step-back for the Irish, despite going 9-4 and handing Michigan State its only loss of the season. I think of it more as a holding action. With the putative starter suspended, and losing 2 NFL defensive linemen, the Irish were more than respectable against a tough slate, including wins over Sparty, USC, Arizona State and BYU. This year, the schedule eases up somewhat, though the Irish are adding their de facto ACC Coastal schedule by adding Louisville and UNC at home. The Irish also get Michigan, NW and Stanford at home. The only tough road trips figure to be at Arizona State and at USC. Still, the Irish must get better running the ball, and against the run, to build on last season's effort. Another 9-10 win season is not out of the question, particularly with a veteran OL and front seven laden with upperclassmen.

  2. Florida Gators: There was no team more crippled by injuries last season than the Gators (nod to UGA, tho.) This year, Driskel, Jones and Debose all return (throw in Jackson and Mack into the TB rotation as well) to run Roper's fast-paced offense behind a veteran OL. On defense, the front 7 returns almost to a man, and Hargreaves III still locks down the corner. The secondary is talented, but young and will have a few stumbles along the way, especially against the UGAs and FSUs of the world. That said, you will not be able to run on this team, and the pass rush will be lethal. The only real impediment to another 2012ish season is the schedule: at Alabama, at FSU, the WLOCP, and home v. Sakerlina and LSU. Even if the Gators go 8-4, 7-5 that's enough to earn Muschamp another season. Also, credit to Muschamp on recognizing that his preferred pro-style system just isn't made for that division and the players on-hand. It's rare to see a coach completely scrap his philosophy to steer a different course.

  3. Texas Longhorns: The Longhorns got about ten times tougher overnight with the hiring of Charlie Strong. Strong is not a "player's coach," nor does he run a "laid back" program. His is a program about no-frills football, one that emphasizes strength up front, going to class, staying out of trouble, and not being a distraction. To say that it's a culture shock is to do disservice to how hard-ass Strong can be...and how unfocused the 'Horns had become. The good news in the inagural campaign is that Texas has Texas talent, particularly at running back and with a defense that is loaded with returning starters and upperclassment. QB Ash will benefit too, in that he won't be asked to be the savior, rather just work within the system. The major personnel question is along the OL, but even the projected starters are upperclassmen with some experience. The OOC is somewhat daunting, and features back-to-back home games v. BYU and UCLA. The road games are all winnable, but the B2B home games vs Baylor and OU make for an unpleasant October (as long as the RRR is played in Dallas, that is a home game.) Aside from Oklahoma, there is not a team -on paper, that the Horns can't beat. Invariably, though, Texas will drop another 1-2 along the road. Still, a 9-win season, and a culture change, are more likely than not.

  4. Cincinnati Bearcats: Lookie what Tubs is doing with traditional pass-happy Cincinnati: turning them into a defensive power (to no one's surprise,) as the Bearcats finished 9th in total D, 14th in scoring, 6th against the run. And, while the passing game was far better than the rushing game, expect that to change behind an OL that returns four starters and all three leading rushers (of course, having QB Gunner Kiel to fall back on in a pinch ain't too shabby either.) This is a veteran team with a tremendous front-7, and the recruiting trail/juco signings only made the Cincy D stouter. There are roadies at Ohio State and Miami, and, if Tubs' past record is any indication, you can see Cincinnati splitting those and dominating the league schedule.

  5. Clemson Tigers: Sammy Watkins is irreplaceable, less so Tajh Boyd. If anyone can get a system guy in place, it's Chad Morris. What separates the Tigers from the rest of the ACC's also-rans are the exceptional players along the defensive line, and the overall talent throughout the roster. The run defense must get substantially better, and the secondary needs to improve in big situations, where it was burned far too frequently when it counted. For a team that wins with eye-popping offense, and given the loss of those playmakers, you don't see Clemson being a serious threat to Seminoles. The overall impression you always get from the Tigers is that they are the Tedford Bears of the East: recruit incredibly, but, for reasons of chemistry, coaching or one crucial piece, they just will never get over the hump. This year's 8-9 win campaign will solidify that impression.

  6. Houston Cougars: How can you not like the Cougars here? Houston returns approximately elebenty starters [citation needed], including most of its ball-hawking defense (finished +25 in TO margin). The losses on defense, though, are dramatic: both corners are gone from a pass D that finished 108th in the country. Still, with returning phenom QB John O'Korn, veteran WRs and backs playing behind an all-Jr./Sr. OL, the ceiling is very high for this team. What was most striking about Houston in last year's breakout campaign is the variety of ways they played: they went defensive in 5-7 point losses to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati; played frenetic arena ball versus BYU (46-47), and smacked around teams they should have (59-28 v. UTSA; 49-14 v. Rutgers; 34-0 v. SMU.) With Cincinnati and UCF, this team should be the class of the AAC, with a caveat: The secondary must be more fundamentally sound; +25 TO margins don't happen everyday.

On the outside, looking in (Big 12:)

  • Oklahoma State: Just when the Pokes started turning everything around last season, ending a quiet 10-win campaign, graduation gutted Okie Light. This is still a dangerous team, and one I expect to go about its business and finished ranked with another 8-9 wins or so, but it's going to take time. Too bad FSU is the first game of the season and not the last: In December OSU will be very different from September's version.

  • Texas Tech: The Red Raiders were riding high at 7-0, then reality (and injuries) kicked in, as Tech finished 1-5 down the stretch. This team cannot run the ball, gives it up like a hooker in Amsterdam, and cannot stop the run. Typical ole' HUNH stats. Before I give Tech the benefit of the doubt, they're going to have to show me more.

  • Kansas State: Most are high on the Wildcats, and, like Oklahoma State, I think this team will be a solid one throughout the season. Ignore the so-called "hot finish" The Wildcats beat a total of two teams with a winning record down the stretch (and all season): aforementioned Texas Tech and woeful Michigan. Like the Red Raiders, this team is going to have do something substantial. I don't think they will.

Maybe next year (AAC/C-USA)

  • Marshall Thundering Herd: 2013 Marshall may be the weakest 10-win team this side of Hawaii '07. Very good passing offense, very pedestrian in aught else. Will likely win 10 games again this season against a dog poop slate, and still wouldn't be worthy of inclusion. Seriously, C-USA is far worse than the Sun Belt now.

  • East Carolina Pirates: Like Marshall, won 10 games against C-USA cold cuts; stepping up in class to the AAC, and losing all those starters on defense, won't do the Pirates any favors. The offense is lethal, though, and ECU will still be a bowl team.

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