Going into our season’s first blog poll, let’s distill what makes the Top 25, aside from records: Who has the best offense, the best defense, the best special teams? Who’s done the best coaching job. Who has great line play. How did the rest of the conference look when it stepped onto the national stage. Who’s played the toughest schedule? Who’s done the most with that schedule. What do analytics say about a team? Can you cover a spread? What is the schedule projection?
Then do we get to W/L.
So, it’s no surprise that the Top 25 is usually riddled with SEC programs. And that is true this year as well. However, we also have perhaps the strongest top-to-bottom P12 we’ve seen in literally decades, on top of an uncharacteristically weak Big 10, a rebuilding Big 12, and an ACC that is turmoil with two good programs, perhaps a dark horse, and not much beyond that.
And what is defining the preseason narratives here? Quarterback play — and lack of it. Worse, those teams that have elite QB play (grading on a curve here), also have glaring holes that preclude them from being title contender locks.
Let’s dive in.
The Elite Contenders with QB Questions
Each team has some sort of secondary, smaller question, but with the exception of QB, you can see each and every one of these hoisting the CFP trophy at the end of the year. These are not small programs either. We’re talking: Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia, and Clemson. Make no mistake: UCLA’s defense will be elite, but it too needs a new QB. Aside from State and UCLA, everyone of these programs has made multiple CFP appearances, and they have a combined seven titles in the playoff era. Who gels first, and the favorability of a schedule that permits them to do so, may be the most meaningful at the end of the day. In that respect, UGA as always is in the best shape: Not a single ranked opponent until November the 11th. Right behind the ‘Dawgs are Penn State and Ohio State. It’s a full month before either faces a real test: PSU vs. Iowa, Ohio State at Notre Dame. Clemson and Alabama have the least wiggle room. The Tigers host CFP contender FSU and travel to dangerous Duke in the first month. The Tide gets the No. 8 Longhorns in the second game of the season, then No. 22 Ole Miss two weeks later.
Will New Signal Callers Bring Elite Results?
Notre Dame and Kentucky and Iowa won the derby here. Sam Harman, Devin Leary, and Cade McNamara could be the pieces they’ve been missing all along. It remains to be seen if DJ Uiagalelei can revamp his career in a far more generous P12. If so, then Oregon State is a national title contender. For that matter, any of the three above them can be dark horse contenders, as well.
(Likely) Elite Quarterback Play, But So Many Defensive Issues
You could practically just call this one “the Pac 12,” but for completeness, we’re talking about USC, Washington, Oregon, and Tennessee. All of them had huge defensive deficiencies last season, and it kept three of the four out of playoff contention. Gun to my head? It does so again this year.
Was Coaching the Cure?
Then there are the intriguing cases, where the talent is certainly there to compete at an elite level — perhaps even a CFP level — but have new coaches to get them over the hump. Did a new OC at Texas A&M do the trick? What about Luke Fickell at Wisconsin?
Enough in the Tank?
We also have the teams that on paper look great — title contenders, for sure. But because of personnel, coaching, past biases, schedule etc., you just get a nagging feeling that something may be off. For instance, FSU is loaded...except in the secondary. Ole Miss will be salty...but do they have a passing attack? And you can throw a few more in here too: Texas, owing to poor road play under Sarkisian. And Utah, for much the same reason. What about Michigan for both that reason, and their lack of competitiveness against elite team speed and NFL-caliber DL play?
Just Good, Solid Teams
Not much else to say about these guys. They’re good solid teams: UTSA, Tulane, UCF, and Texas Tech qualify.
In all, we are staring down perhaps the most contested Top 10 in recent memory. There is a glaring lack of star power for many contenders, and the contenders that have it in place, appear to have very fatal flaws. Is it shaping up to be a 2007, 2014-type season? I honestly don’t know. But for now, this is a wide-open race.
Is Texas Back?
This poll is closed
Yes, they are.
Nope, still not sold.
Maybe? It’s Texas. They’re erratic as hell and have been since Mack Brown got ran out.