UPDATE: This was written before I knew about Steve Kragthorpe. I don't know if it would change my assessment of LSU, but I wanted that disclaimer out there. Oh, and obviously, this was before the coaches' poll; I obviously feel very different about OK ST than they do.
Here it is, the FTS Preseason Poll. It took longer to get finalized and posted than I though it would (real life will do that to you), but it's up now in all its glory. It's another exercise in pessimism and inaccurate, useless fun, but it's mine.
This defense is going to be nasty; it will be the number one unit in the nation and lead the Tide to the BCS Title game. 'Bama will have a VERY rough road-to-hoe through the SEC West, but I think they'll make it. I see them getting matched up with an undefeated Oregon squad and winning a close one to bring home the trophy.
Remember: this team was only 3-points short in last year's title game. In that game, their high flying offense did get stuffed and their O-line got dominated in the trenches, but the Duck-D (11th in the nation, we forget) did get their gameplan to go almost perfectly. Kelly relied on massive substitutions and speed all season to nullify opponents and it worked on what had been Malzahn's flying circus starring Cam Newton.That's why I'm still high on this team: systems. Only 5 defensive starters back? Cool. There's 20 that have serious game experience. Only 6 offensive starters back? Cool. One's the QB, one's the Heisman finalist RB, and the schemes are still tough to stop. I might be taking a risk on the O-line, but we'll have all the answers about that in week one.
What got Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl last year? The offensive line, two thousand-yard rushers, and a responsible QB. It wasn't flashy, but it worked...but it also might never get you to a national title. Enter Russel Wilson. The NC State transfer might just be the spark Bielema and the Badgers need to finally make the jump. He upholds the Wisky tradition of ball protection - he owns all-time NCAA record of consecutive pass attempts without an interception - and adds a true dual threat athleticism that defenses will have to account for. They'll most likely play Nebraska twice, but I feel good picking the Badgers in both games.
4. Virginia Tech
Look, the Hokies are a FG away from 12-0 last year. Follow me on this: No 3-point loss to Boise, no funk-induced loss to James Madison and the typical run through the ACC. Now, they did lose Tyrod Taylor, but I've read a lot of people who are high on Logan Thomas (6'5'', 245 lbs - sound familiar?). I'll trust him to lead Tech through a very easy OOC slate and the Coastal Division. Florida State will not be a pushover in the ACC championship game, but if I have to make the call right now, I'll take this team over the 'Noles.
This will be the best two loss team in the country...and those two losses will be close. I feel like the Tiger defense could be disruptive to Oregon in week one, a la Auburn's in the BCS title game last year, but not enough to control the game; they're missing that Fairley-level player. In the end, the Ducks will squeak by. LSU will rebound with a run through the SEC. Unfortunately, that streak will end in November in T-town. While there's athleticism in heaps in Baton Rouge, I don't know if I trust Kid History and the Grass-Eater to lead it to a BCS Title.
6. Florida State
FSU might end up being a 3-loss team once the ACC's settled, but I'll keep them this high right now because I'm still predicting them to win head-to-head with one of the next teams on my list, Oklahoma. Jimbo and the 'Noles will be on top of the world after that win, but they'll come crashing down in a road game somewhere down the line; I don't trust EJ Manuel as a lock in the big game...yet. Look for a sloppy drop at Clemson or BC and a loss to VA Tech in the ACC CG. Despite how high I feel on them right now, I'm not fully confident they won't still screw the pooch somewhere else. That said, I'm holding them here right now on faith they'll be 11-2 headed into their bowl.
Good news: The Huskers have a great team and play in a division they should easily win. Bad News: They'll play Wisconsin twice and their offense will let them down in some key games. Defensively, the Blackshirts will dominate and finish in the top-3 of unit rankings. But it won't be enough; Martinez and co. will fail to top 14-points in at least two games: the two match-ups with Wisconsin. There might be another flub in there somewhere, but I can't see it right now. A 10-win Nebraska that's B1G runner-up would probably earn a BCS at-large bid from the Fiesta Bowl where they'd play the Big-12 champ; I'm taking NU over Oklahoma in this way-too-distant, way-too-specific decision.
The Sooners are my reluctantly chosen team to win the Big-12, but I don't have the faith to invest too much more into them right now. They'll be a lot of folks' pick for the BCS title, but I'm not seeing it. I think they'll drop the game against FSU in Tallahassee and stub their toe in a conference game somewhere, maybe the RRR or Bedlam. They'll be no conference championship game for a BCS bump, either, so the Sooners will need to be perfect for a return to the national title match-up - and that's just not gonna happen. They will, however, play host to the Fiesta Bowl as Big-12 champs where I have them welcoming an old friend, Nebraska. It'll be close, but call it the Sooners' third loss.
9. Texas A&M
I honestly came pretty close to picking the Aggies as surprise Big-12 champs, but just couldn't do it in the end. I think they'll get edged out by a feisty Arkansas squad in the Jerry Dome and get dropped by OU in Norman. Beyond that, though, Sherman's charges should be favored until, maybe, the finale with Texas. I honestly like A&M to roll at Kyle Field to finish up 10-2. They won't make a BCS bowl and could get a shot at revenge against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, which I'd see them getting for an 11th win.
10. Notre Dame
I don't like the bump the Irish get any more than you do, but I feel like Brian Kelly can actually get this team over the hump. I guess it's a matter of choosing his overachieving over the programs last two decades of underachieving. They finished last season strong and while the schedule's stronger, it's still not a true murderers' row. Look for ND to make it back to double digit wins. But, they need to be careful; if they make it to a BCS bowl, they likely be matched up against someone who blows the doors off of them. Still, as long as they don't drop the ball Davie-Willingham-Weis style, they'll hover around the voters' minds and the top-10.
I like Andrew Luck, but without Jim Harbaugh's sideline grittiness, the Cardinal will lose a step. They get Oregon at home, but will let the Ducks slip away late. I also don't like back-to-back road trips to USC and overlooked Oregon State late in the season or the finale with Notre Dame. I think a 3-loss regular season is very realistic and Stanford will need a bowl victory - likely over a team from Texas - to get back to double digit wins.
12. South Carolina
I think the Gamecocks have the potential to reach 10 wins...but it won't matter. Whether they have 9- or 10-victories under their belt heading into the SEC championship game in ATL, they'll still get beat - solidly - by Alabama. I don't see Stephen Garcia letting his team down in his last bowl game, so the season should end on a high enough note to keep SoCar in the top-15.
13. Boise State
I think Boise loses a game this year: the season opener against Georgia in ATL. After that, they'll cruise through their new conference schedule with the only real test coming at the hands of visiting TCU. The Broncos will pull out a close one on the blue turf and finish with 11-wins, but it won't be enough to keep them from a crappy bowl, as I think Houston will finish the regular season higher-ranked. Once Boise knocks off a mid-tier Pac-12 team in Las Vegas, they'll pass Houston in the final rankings.
Right now, I feel Case and the Cougs will run the table. If they do, they'll likely automatically qualify for a BCS bowl bid since they'll be a top-16 team and ranked higher than the Big East champ. The place it looks like they'd end up is the sugar bowl against the at-large bowl host, LSU. It'd be a great bayou battle in theory, but the Tigers would win this cat fight and send Houston home with their first blemish.
Here are the re-bounding Longhorns. I've got them finishing third in the Big-12 behind Oklahoma and Texas A&M and dropping a third game somewhere else along the way. A 9-3 Texas team is nothing to scoff at, but the Horns could easily be sitting at 9-4 after a bowl loss. To me, no. 15's a nice, safe place to pick this team.
Um, 11-1, MWC runner-ups, a little lost luster, and who knows what in the bowl. The loss to Boise State, who will already have a loss, will drag the Frogs out of the top-15. It might not be a fair placement based on their talent, coaching, and program stability, but that's just how it is.
Being banned from the Pac-12 title game and the post-season will have a decent Trojan team left at the back of most voters' minds. They'll have the best record in their division and a head-to-head win over Arizona State, but they'll be relegated to the doldrums of the rankings with 3- or 4-losses and no national presence after Thanksgiving.
18./19. Arkansas/Mississippi State
A little cheating here, I know. But, the SEC West is going to be brutal and these two teams will be part of the reason why. Right now, I'll call for both teams to wrap-up 8-4 with the head-to-head game between them way too close to call in August. In reality, both of these teams are better than a few of the higher-ranked squads, but that's just not how the poll works. Did I mention how strong this division's going to be?
20. Ohio State
A coach and a QB gone forever and five more starters out the first five games equals a big time slip in Columbus. However, this team does not need to be forgotten about and should be clicking by season's end, if it's under Fickell and Bauserman instead of Tressel and Pryor.
21. Oklahoma State
Dez Bryant thinks this team could win a national title, I don't. The AP and coaches will have the Pokes in their top-10, I won't. I can realistically see five losses, but will give a little benefit of the doubt until that Thursday night game against Arizona.
22./23. Michigan State/Penn State
Another lump. I think Dantonio's a good coach - the little giants play against Notre Dame, anyone? - and these last two seasons have seen his best teams. Penn State will have some QB issues early, but could have everything figured out by mid-season. A couple lucky breaks and either of these teams could sneak their way into the B1G title game.
Sure, why not.
25. West Virginia
I like Holgo to be clicking by season's end in Morgantown.The Mountaineers will start slow, losing to LSU, but they're more athletic than most of their league. I see them losing the Backyard Brawl and the season finale to South Florida, which will cost them the Big East title. They will however be higher ranked than the Bulls, even though the Bulls will get a BCS bowl...and an ass-reaming.