Nebraska Football: How USA Today Coaches' Poll Reflects Faith in Cornuskers

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 17: Nebraska Cornhuskers cheerleaders race across the field with flags after the team scored another touchdown against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 17, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won 38-14. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Nebraska football fans opened their copy of the USA Today on Friday to find NU ranked No. 18 in the initial coaches’ poll. This is up five spots from Nebraska’s no. 23 ranking at the end of last season.

The coaches are also more bullish on Nebraska than most of the college football preseason guides (based on the summary of the guides written by the Omaha World-Herald’s Sam McKewon). While numbers guru and hater of double-spacing Phil Steele does rank Nebraska at no. 16, the rest of the guides with national rankings all put NU at no. 21. pegs Nebraska at no. 20, while ESPN’s Mark Schlabach has NU at no. 22.

So what does this ranking mean for Nebraska?


The Coaches Still Believe In Nebraska

No, I don’t mean that Nebraska is some fictitious destination like Atlantis that starry-eyed coaches dream about at night. While it’s true that There Is No Place Like Nebraska, it’s quite real.

But it does mean that the coaches think Nebraska is still a force to be reckoned with, even after being humbled on a national stage against Ohio State and (particularly) Wisconsin. Even though Nebraska has not won a conference title since 1999 and has not won a bowl game since 2009, the coaches still see NU in the tier of schools that could contend for a conference title, if not a national title.


The Coaches Think the Legends Division Will Be Tight

2013 will mark the end of the “Legends” and “Leaders” monikers for the B1G’s divisions. And the coaches think the swan song season for the Legends Division should be a doozy, apparently.

The preseason poll puts Michigan at No. 17 and Northwestern at No. 22. Michigan State just missed the cut, but would be ranked No. 28 if you took into consideration the “Others Receiving Votes” data.

So the coaches have three teams vying for the Legends Division crown within five spots of each other in their preseason poll. That’s far closer than they see the Leaders Division, with No. 2 Ohio State’s closest rival being No. 23 Wisconsin. Indeed, the only conference race the coaches might think is closer is the Big XII, with Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma bunched together at No. 14, No. 15 and No. 16, respectively.


But Remember, This Is The “Coaches” Poll

2013 is also the final year of the BCS, which means it will be the final year that the coaches’ poll will actually make a difference. As you well know, the coaches poll is part of the fuzzy math that generates the final BCS standings and chooses who will play for the national title.

We don’t need to re-litigate how ridiculous it is to allow coaches to influence the participants in a national title game. But this preseason poll does highlight the other problem with the coaches’ poll—namely, who is doing the voting on the poll.

Take a look at the bottom of the page and you see the 62 participating FBS head coaches, guys like Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Mike Gundy, Rich Rodriguez and even one Bo Pelini. Think about these guys and their laser-like focus on their teams. Does anyone seriously think that Urban Meyer or Nick Saban has spent more than five seconds pondering whether Oregon State or Kansas State deserved the final spot in the poll?

Of course not. Some graduate assistant functionary or media relations drone filled the poll out for these guys.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, Nebraska fans, but really all we know at this point is that the graduate assistants who fill out the coaches’ poll ballots like Nebraska slightly better than the preseason magazines. And, crazily enough in the through-the-looking-glass weirdness of BCS-era college football, that actually makes a difference.

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