The one bothersome element in the 2008 preseason college football polls you’ll see in various outlets is the inclusion of schedule strength. A team will move up (usually Ohio State) or down (typically Georgia) because of the schedule.
Look, I hope no one who votes in the preseason coaches’ poll — because it does matter — factors in the schedule. If you do, and I’ve seen it done in numerous publications, you’re trying to rank the team in January of 2009 before preseason camp, starting lineups are settled and the impending injuries and suspensions.
You’re also trying to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the 12 teams on the schedule. So in each case, you’re attempting to determine the fate of 13 teams eight months before the season ends.
That seems like a pretty lofty task. Or impossible. And pointless. Take your pick.
But with spring practice over, rosters mostly settled (sorry, LSU) and a general idea of what each team will offer on the first Saturday, here’s the Sweet 16 preseason college football poll.
Why 16? Because this intro was too long. To the rankings:
1. Georgia (17 returning starters)
Do you realize, if Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno play well this year and enter the draft early, scouts say both could be top-10 selections? The senior quarterback class is, at least right now, wretched next season. Add Caleb King to the backfield and we have shades of Auburn 2004. The defense, like that undefeated Auburn team, is extremely fast.
2. Southern Cal (11)
Take away the absurd number of injuries — including an ill-timed one to John David Booty against Stanford — and USC easily had the best team last year. Defensive tackle Fili Moala, linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and running back Joe McKnight will ensure the Trojans are among the best once again.
3. Ohio State (18)
I can’t believe the Buckeyes lost only one junior, defensive end Vernon Gholston, to the NFL draft. Malcolm Jenkins is an exceptional cornerback and linebacker James Laurinaitis was likely a first-round pick. I know that even Vanderbilt thinks the Buckeyes’ bowl record against SEC schools is terrible, but you have to acknowledge their talent this season.
4. LSU (12)
The loss of quarterback Ryan Perrilloux shouldn’t penalize the Tigers too harshly. First, they cleansed themselves of a completely unreliable player at the most crucial position on the field. Secondly, plenty of teams have enjoyed success with freshman quarterbacks, and Jarrett Lee is extremely talented. None of those teams had the talent LSU boasts on both lines. Ciron Black is one of the top left tackle prospects in the country, and Tyson Jackson is almost impossible to block. This is still an extremely gifted team.
5. Oklahoma (14)
I don’t subscribe to the belief that a certain team is motivated after losing badly in a BCS bowl game. If that was the case, Oklahoma could be a three-time defending national champion. None of the Sooners will be thinking four months from now, “Man, we lost badly to West Virginia. Let’s play hard!” They will be thinking, “We’ve got two super-awesome offensive linemen, a great quarterback in Sam Bradford and a good runner in DeMarco Murray. We should score lots of points.”
6. Florida (16)
The Gators will be better in the secondary, but how much better? They were pretty awful there last year, and co-coordinator Greg Mattison bolted. I don’t think USC transfer Emmanuel Moody is quite what the Gators thought they were getting. But Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin give Florida an element most teams cannot defend.
7. Clemson (15)
Any time someone mentions Clemson’s uncertain offensive line, I’m just going to cover my ears and yell loudly. I don’t want to hear it. Quarterback Cullen Harper, running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis along with receiver Aaron Kelly (88 catches in that offense!) and a formidable defense make this team deserving of this lofty ranking. What are you saying about the offensive line? Not listening, not listening, not listening ...
8. Texas (12)
The Longhorns landed defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, so that has to help. Quarterback Colt McCoy must be more than a game manager this year after running back Jamaal Charles left early for the draft (and went in the third round).
9. Wisconsin (17)
Travis Beckum is probably the best tight end in America, and a strong running game makes the unsettled quarterback situation a little less of a problem.
10. Missouri (16)
Like Texas, the Tigers would be much more complete if their running back (in this case, Tony Temple) was still on the roster. Safety William Moore is a star.
11. BYU (13)
Meet your new non-BCS entry into the BCS. And due to the Mountain West’s stupid TV contract, you will not be able to see one of the best offenses in college football.
12. Texas Tech (18)
If it doesn’t happen this year under Mike Leach, it won’t. We all know about the incredible offense, and the defense should be at least decent. And that might be enough to beat the elite.
13. Auburn (17)
The Tigers beat Clemson with an offense they practiced for two weeks. The defense suffered some losses, but Tommy Tuberville is always prepared. See: Sen’Derrick Marks.
14. Tennessee (16)
Love the offensive line. Love the running backs. Love the fact that defenses will actually have to study Tennessee’s tape. Not so sure about the defensive interior.
15. Oregon State (13)
The Beavers barely allowed 2 yards per carry last year (tops in the nation by far) and return nine starters on offense.
16. Pittsburgh (15)
Tailback LeSean McCoy, who is a sophomore but spent a year in prep school, is an elite runner, and the Panthers showed they were close last year by losing four games by seven points or less.