You'd be hard-pressed to find any sport that has as much pageantry and tradition as college football. You'd also be hard-pressed to find any sport where reputation alone counts for so much from season to season.
Every year, we get the pleasure of gazing at a preseason top-25 poll only to see certain teams stand out like a sore thumb at a knuckles convention. Inevitably, every year we see some of these teams fall faster than space junk entering the earth's atmosphere.
For evidence, one only needs to look at last year and see that Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida State all fell from the early catbird seat and ended up in the equivalent of the junk heap of the college football rankings in comparison to where they started.
It's way too early to get excited about the prospects of name ranking this year, but here is a post-spring look at seven teams who are likely to be ranked on name alone.
Admit it. You really have no clue what to expect from THE Ohio State Buckeyes this year.
There is plenty to get excited about. The team returns a lot of guys on both sides of the ball—notably a cathedral-ceiling guy named Braxton Miller. There's also a certain big name, big ego coach looking to put his stamp on the program. And if recruiting rankings are any indication, the scarlet and gray have plenty of athletic talent on the roster already.
But there are also reasons to temper the optimism emanating from the banks of the Olentangy. The team is undergoing the equivalent of an extreme makeover on offense—going from a pro-set to spread attack. That's never an easy task, as players already on scholarship resemble square pegs trying to squeeze into round holes.
It'll take Urban Meyer time to recruit his guys to fit his system, and things could get just a bit sketchy on the field while going through these growing pains.
Ohio State also has to find some playmakers. The lack of consistency at the wide-receiver position last year was jaw-dropping, and while there are solid tailbacks, nobody jumped out as THE guy.
That's all before we even begin to discuss the motivational tactics that might be needed to get a team that has no postseason to play for tuned in all year.
Still, it's Ohio State, and Buckeye Nation will more than likely get the benefit of the doubt when the polls come out because of the history of the team and its new coach heading into 2012.
The Horned Frogs have crashed the BCS darling party the last few years, and voters have taken note. TCU has continued to excel on the field in a perceived weaker conference and have clearly separated themselves from most other non-BCS schools.
But wait—doesn't the purple power enter into a new league this year? A league in which some of the programs that sit at the big-boy table gobble up opponents? Yup.
But will it matter? Most voting precincts will have likely fallen for the propaganda that has been thrown out there revolving around a returning quarterback and the continued momentum of being steered by head coach Gary Patterson.
Never mind the fact that the program is dealing with some off-the-field issues or that the level of competition has gone from YMCA-intramural level to the NFL minor-league level. The overwhelming majority will believe that the program can enter into the new choppy waters and be just fine.
Don't be surprised if the Horned Frogs flash into the preseason rankings when they're released because of the recent name they've made.
The Gators reside in the SEC. That alone seems to cover up many warts that teams residing in sweet-tea country have.
In Florida's case, being just a few years removed from a couple of national championships and being in the football recruiting pool that is the state of Florida seems to sway public opinion no matter what the program is going through.
A new coach, off-the-field issues or even a drop in recruiting talent can't provide enough resistance to the perception of how talented the University of Florida will be on a yearly basis. Not even a Hurricane can stop the sea of opinion.
This year, Florida is still young, still looking for leaders and hoping to rebound from a very disappointing 2011 campaign. You get the feeling that Will Muschamp has a good shot at getting the program back toward the elite level, but it will probably take time.
Don't tell that to the power-brokers of the rankings. The Florida Gators have a good chance of chomping their way right into the top 25 in the fall preseason based solely on the letters F-L-O-R-I-D-A.
Everything's bigger in Texas, most notably the media's expectations.
Real or unfounded, it doesn't matter. Because Texas is THE program in the state, shows up in the top recruiting rankings year after year and has had cream of the crop success just a few years ago. All of it has combined to make Texas a name on the tip of voters' tongues.
Still, the Longhorns had a very average year last year by their standards, but did finish the season ranked in the top 25. That's not enough for this proud program, however. It has the taste of fine wine and gourmet cheese.
Texas struggled to settle on a quarterback last year because of inconsistent play, and that will also need to be ironed out this year to have any shot at much bigger things. Whether it's David Ash or Case McCoy, the starting quarterback will need to grab the reigns and gallop away in full confidence.
There is talent to surround the quarterback, but it has yet to totally gel because of the uncertainty.
The problem is the old adage, if you have two quarterbacks, you probably don't have one talented enough to steer the steer. Okay, so maybe the last part was added.
Texas will undoubtedly make a cameo appearance high up in this year's preseason rankings again even though the quarterback position is highly unsettled.
Look, it's second media darling in the countdown.
Perhaps no team is more polarizing today than the inhabitants of smurf field. Long thought to be a byproduct of an easy schedule and league, Boise State first started making a name for itself in the epic 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.
Since then, the Broncos have taken on some of the bigger names in college football—and won. In it's vast wasteland are Oregon, Oklahoma, Georgia and Virginia Tech. Rome wasn't built in a day, but Chris Peterson has seemingly brought the Boise State program front and center over the last decade. And the perception is that the little engine that could will continue.
But there could be a bit of trouble in Spudville this year. Boise is replacing all-everything quarterback Kellen Moore, and there is almost no experience on the roster to point toward a seamless transition. The task of integrating a new signal-caller has got to take time, right?
But this is Boise State where all odds seem to be beaten. Plugging a new quarterback into a situation in which the roster will still be the most talented in a weak conference—just a year prior to a move to the Big East—will be perceived as no big deal.
Chances are that Boise State will make another mythical run toward a BCS bowl this year, as it starts its climb in the polls because of the all-name game.
Welcome to the top two in our countdown where perception is far from reality.
It used to be that teams "feared the spear" and the "awe shucks" demeanor and southern drawl of its head coach Bobby Bowden. But he is no longer on the sidelines and instead working on his tan while moonlighting in Capital One commercials.
The entire state of Florida college football has been sliding the last few years, but it all started with the demise of Florida State. Under Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles made the first three national title games in the BCS-era, but the slow and steady decline has yet to mark a trend back toward the top.
Over the last decade, we've witnessed high preseason expectations being tempered by unexplained losses and underperformance on the field. Over the same period though, voters seem to be yearning for the team of the '90s to be back.
The result: Florida State is like a turtle on a lamp post. Someone—namely the voters—has put the team in its lofty spot in the polls rather than the program earning it by climbing there on its own accord.
Clearly injuries played a part in last year's swan dive out of the top of the polls, but the overall talent level is simply not where it was during the Garnet and Gold's heyday, and won't be in 2012 either.
The stark reality is that the Seminoles have been living off their very impressive run in the '90s for quite some time now in the polls.
Don't look for that trend to stop this year.
The luck of the Irish? Who needs it? If it weren't for bad luck, the Irish would have none.
Notre Dame was hands down the best college program just a little more than a decade ago. Nobody came close. And despite the yearning and wanting of the collective college football world, it has not made it back to the top.
The decline has been such that other programs are now right in the conversation, if not spoken for before the Irish.
Sure, the golden domers have tempted us here and there with an early season run that captured the interests and fancies of the pollsters, but the program that everyone loves to hate has continued to stub its toe on a yearly basis. What's left is a name—and only a has-been name—of a college football program limping on the line of respectability.
Even though it is now far removed from its perch on the throne of college football royalty, Notre Dame seems to keep getting an invitation to the grand ball.
Yes there is all kinds of tradition, history and nostalgia, but the program is more washed up than Fabio is as a female love symbol. Both of those ships have sailed and the quest for the fountain of youth is not going very well.
You'd like to think that Brian Kelly has this program headed back toward the shores of respectability and even BCS talk, but last year was just another in a long line of unrealistic expectations for a program trying to tread the icy water that it's in.
There is no doubt that Notre Dame will again appear in the preseason rankings somewhere, just as there's little doubt that touchdown Jesus has adjusted his tolerance for field goals.
Stir up the echoes...