The USA Today Coaches' Poll was released on Thursday afternoon, a welcome (and long-overdue) sign that football season is finally descending upon us.
Alabama, fresh off its second-consecutive BCS national championship, was the predictable No. 1 team, garnering 58 of the 62 first-place votes. But some programs weren't as happy with the results.
Here are the full rankings:
|2.||Ohio State||1,427 (3)|
|6.||Texas A&M||1,215 (1)|
Eight months had passed between the Cardinals' Sugar Bowl upset over Florida and the release of this poll. With such a vast gap, there stood a chance voters would forget what happened in New Orleans and skew toward an SEC bias.
Not only did Teddy Bridgewater and Co. place in the Top 10, they came one spot ahead of the Gators team they beat in January—which means the coaches, or at least a large enough portion of them, watched that game and didn't think it was a fluke.
SEC bias be damned!
LSU was ranked No. 1 in last year's preseason coaches' poll, and all it did in the interim was go 10-3 with wins over top teams like South Carolina and Texas A&M.
The Tigers also played Alabama to the wire last year, eventually falling 21-17 after a late touchdown by T.J. Yeldon. They came that close to altering the course of college football history.
And this is their reward?
Yes, there is some defensive attrition. But that's nothing Les Miles and Co. have ever been unable to handle. And an offense coming back largely intact (plus the addition of coordinator Cam Cameron) should be much better than it was in 2012.
Would Notre Dame honestly be favored over LSU on a neutral field? Would Louisville?
It's not that the Wildcats shouldn't be ranked, because they probably should. It's that the coaches actually went through with it.
Northwestern won its first bowl game since 1949 last season, beating Mississippi State by two touchdowns in the Gator Bowl. For the Wildcats, who also beat Vanderbilt in September, it was their second win over an SEC bowl team.
Few non-conference teams during this modern SEC run can claim to have done that.
But still, the "unofficial" Big Ten media poll projected a drop-off in 2013. The 26 writers polled had Northwestern fourth in the Big Ten Legends Division, a few points behind third-place Michigan State.
The Spartans found themselves unranked in the coaches' poll, though, while Northwestern sits comfortably at No. 22.
Miami went just 7-5 last year, losing games to Kansas State and Notre Dame by a combined 77 points. In that respect, perhaps the Hurricanes didn't deserve to start this season ranked.
On the other hand, the rest of Miami's losses came by an average of six points each, and one was against Florida State—the third team it lost to that played in a BCS bowl.
This year, the Hurricanes return 20 starters, including 10 on one of the nation's most explosive offenses. Sophomore running back Duke Johnson is a legitimate threat for the Maxwell Award, and quarterback Stephen Morris has NFL scouts drooling with over his deep ball.
The Hurricanes won't be unranked for long.
Again, it's not that Stanford doesn't deserve to be ranked fourth. That's not what makes this a surprise. What's surprising is that an SEC team wasn't in its place.
Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon were a clear top three in the poll. The second tier that followed them consisted of Stanford, Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina. And despite that triad of SEC powers, the one school from outside the Southeast finished on top.
Stanford is the only team in that group that played in a BCS game last year, winning the Rose Bowl, 20-14, over Wisconsin. But the other three, despite playing in "lesser" bowls, were all impressive in their own right, beating Nebraska, Oklahoma and Michigan, respectively.
When a new season dawns and the pieces reset along the poll lines, SEC "bias" typically factors into play. But Stanford was able to defy that trend.
The Mississippi Rebels went just 7-6 last year, but they improved as the season went on and lost a number of close, heartbreaking games. This year they not only bring back 19 starters, they also add No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche and the No. 8 recruiting class.
Seen as a legitimate dark horse by some SEC outposts, Ole Miss received little respect from the national coaches' poll. Not only were the Rebels not ranked, they weren't even close, finishing 103 points behind No. 25 Oregon State.
Hugh Freeze is about to change some perspectives on Ole Miss football.
Despite losing 12 of 22 starters—including nine on defense!—from last year's 11-2 squad, Kansas State was the first team excluded from the Top 25.
With 113 points, the Wildcats were just 22 behind Oregon State, finishing ahead of Miami, Michigan State, Fresno State, Arizona State and Ole Miss—teams that, by and large, came back with most of their roster intact.
Kansas State also placed ahead of in-conference rival Baylor, which finished comfortably ahead of the Wildcats in the Big 12's preseason media poll.
Opposing coaches, apparently, have come to adore and revere Bill Snyder—at least that part isn't hard to understand. This high of a ranking, on the other hand, most definitely is.
The Huskies capped a fantastic year with a subpar bowl performance in 2012. But apparently, if these votes are any indication, that's the only game coaches watched them play all season.
NIU brings back 12 starters from last year's Orange Bowl representative, including quarterback Jordan Lynch and seven other offensive starters. That unit led them to a MAC championship last season and has them poised to do so again this year.
But the sting of last year's 31-10 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State remains in voters' mouths—which seems a little unfair since head coach Dave Doeren jumped ship to North Carolina State before that game, forcing his replacement, Rod Carey, to undertake a trial by fire on national TV.
Northern Illinois could still earn a Top 25 spot this season, but doing so will require hard work. The Huskies start the year with just 19 points, behind the likes of Utah State and BYU.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeighDAT