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Alabama and the Pre-Season Polls

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The Associated Press released their pre-season poll this morning, an event which marks pretty much the final ritual before we start heading into the 2011 college football season proper. Now before we all begin disparaging the particular ranking and discussing how flawed polls are in general, lets take a look at what it says about Alabama and the SEC.

There aren't a lot of surprises here. Alabama and Oklahoma are considered the two teams to beat with Oregon and LSU sitting right outside that lofty perch. The Southeastern Conference is expected to be a right beast this season with the SEC West being the "group of death" to borrow the soccer parlance. A record eight SEC squads made the AP rankings with no less than five from the west division.

Here is the AP rankings side-by-side with the pre-season USA Today Coaches Poll that was released August 4. While the AP poll has a certain gravitas given its longevity, the Coaches Poll is more important of the two ranking as it counts for one third of the BCS formula. The other poll that is used to determine which teams will play in the four BCS bowl games is the Harris Poll which does not release a pre-season ranking. SEC teams are shown in bold and first place votes in parentheses.

Rank Associated Press USA Today/Coaches
1 Oklahoma (36)
Oklahoma (42)
2 Alabama (17)
Alabama (13)
3 Oregon (4)
Oregon (2)
4 LSU (1)
LSU (2)
5 Boise State (2)
Florida State
6 Florida State
7 Stanford Boise State
8 Texas A&M
Oklahoma State
9 Oklahoma State
Texas A&M
10 Nebraska Wisconsin
11 Wisconsin Nebraska
12 South Carolina
South Carolina
13 Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech
14 TCU Arkansas
15 Arkansas TCU
16 Notre Dame
Ohio State
17 Michigan State
Michigan State
18 Ohio State
Notre Dame
19 Georgia
20 Mississippi State
Mississippi State
21 Missouri Missouri
22 Florida Georgia
23 Auburn Florida
24 West Virginia
25 USC Penn State

So, in a nutshell, Alabama faces a total of five foes ranked in the AP poll and no less than six teams in the Coaches Poll. Among the top ten teams in both polls, only LSU faces a rougher slate. It's times like this I really hate perceptive and insightful analysis driven by statistics rather than gut instinct.

Number of Ranked Opponents per Poll
Team AP Coaches
LSU 7 6
Alabama 5 6
Oklahoma 4 5
Texas A&M
4 5
Oklahoma State
3 4
Wisconsin 3 4
Nebraska 3 4
Oregon 3 2
Stanford 3 2
Florida State
2 2
Boise State
2 2

Auburn, as noted by Cecil Hurt, will face every other SEC team ranked in the AP poll. So good luck with that. In any case, these are just the two most prominent pre-season polls. After the jump we've collected a few more of the Top 25 lists that have cropped up this off-season.

Now aside from the official polls there are the prognostications of the sports media mavens ESPN, SI and Rivals that come immediately prior to the season. The Power Rankings, the Rivals rankings and the SI rankings have the benefit of coming after a good deal of the off-season has been concluded. Here are their tallies of the Top 25 teams in the land.

The Power Rankings are selected by 25 of the WWL's print, online and broadcast staffers. The Sports Illustrated and Rivals pre-season poll is draw up by in-house writers as well. Since these media outlets pretty much dominate the process of providing information college football audience, their opinion of which teams are the best carries a lot of weight.

Rank Sports Illustrated ESPN Rivals
1 Alabama Oklahoma Oklahoma
2 Oklahoma Alabama Alabama
3 LSU LSU Oregon
4 Stanford Oregon LSU
5 Oregon Florida State Boise State
6 Florida State Boise State Stanford
7 South Carolina Stanford Wisconsin
8 Boise State Texas A&M Florida State
9 Nebraska Oklahoma State Nebraska
10 Texas A&M Arkansas Texas A&M
11 Wisconsin Wisconsin Oklahoma State
12 Oklahoma State South Carolina Virginia Tech
13 Michigan State Nebraska Notre Dame
14 Notre Dame Virginia Tech Arkansas
15 Virginia Tech Notre Dame TCU
16 Arkansas TCU Ohio State
17 Arizona State Michigan State South Carolina
18 TCU Ohio State Michigan State
19 Ohio State West Virginia USC
20 USC Georgia Arizona State
21 Mississippi State Arizona State Florida
22 Missouri Texas Texas
23 West Virginia Mississippi State Penn State
24 Auburn Missouri West Virginia
25 Florida USC BYU

Like the regular polls, Alabama and LSU are represented up at the very top. The all include South Carolina, Arkansas but vary pretty widely on how good they think each will be. Rivals breaks with convention by being somewhat down on Mississippi State.

More interestingly Sports Illustrated has Auburn and Florida clawing in at the very bottom of their list but omits Georgia entirely (projecting a 3rd place finish for the Bulldogs in the SEC East). ESPN takes the opposite take, omitting the Tigers and the Gators and slotting Georgia at No. 20. Rivals omitted all three.

Lastly, we have the Top 25 rankings from the various season preview magazines. For the most part, these were done sometime after spring training and so don't reflect the injuries, suspension and general chaos that some programs have endured over the past four months. Still, they offer an interesting yardstick as to what preconceptions continue to hold about the season to come.

Rank Athlon Lindy's Sporting News Phil Steele
1 Alabama Oklahoma LSU Alabama
2 Oklahoma Alabama Oklahoma Oklahoma
3 Oregon Oregon Alabama Boise State
4 Florida State LSU Stanford Oregon
5 Boise State Florida State Oregon Virginia Tech
6 Notre Dame Boise State Boise State Notre Dame
7 Virginia Tech Oklahoma State Florida State LSU
8 LSU Stanford Ohio State Texas A&M
9 Ohio State Nebraska Texas A&M Georgia
10 Nebraska Arkansas Nebraska Florida State
11 Texas A&M South Carolina Arkansas TCU
12 Oklahoma State Virginia Tech Oklahoma State Nebraska
13 Stanford Texas A&M Virginia Tech Arkansas
14 Georgia Ohio State Penn State South Carolina
15 TCU TCU Mississippi State Ohio State
16 Arkansas Georgia Northwestern Stanford
17 West Virginia Wisconsin Michigan State USC
18 Florida West Virginia Notre Dame Texas
19 Miami Notre Dame  South Carolina Oklahoma State
20 USC Florida TCU Southern Miss
21 South Carolina Mississippi State Auburn Houston
22 Michigan State Michigan State Utah Arizona State
23 Wisconsin Missouri West Virginia Wisconsin
24 Texas Auburn Arizona State Penn State
25 Missouri Arizona State Wisconsin USF