LSU Underrated, Florida Overrated and Other SEC Thoughts from AP Preseason Poll
The Associated Press Poll is no longer part of the equation for the Bowl Championship Series, but the release of the second of the two major preseason polls was met with quite a bit of intrigue on Saturday morning.
To the surprise of nobody, Alabama came in at the top spot of the AP preseason poll, earning 58 of 60 first-place votes and holding a commanding lead over second-place Ohio State. Behind the Crimson Tide, four other SEC teams made the Top 10: Georgia (fifth), South Carolina (sixth), Texas A&M (seventh) and Florida (10th).
LSU is the only other SEC team in the Top 25, as the Tigers will start the season in the No. 12 spot.
Did the AP voters get it right? Which SEC teams are overrated, underrated and have the most pressure heading into the 2013 season?
LSU Is Still Being Overlooked
In many regards, the AP poll isn't much different than any of the other 2013 preseason polls. LSU is again left outside the Top 10 looking in, and that's a shame.
Too much has been made of the roster attrition on the defensive side of the ball, and a solid foundation was again overlooked. Sure, defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are gone. But the foundation of the Tiger defensive line was, is and always will be the big uglies in the middle, and Anthony Johnson (30 tackles, 10 TFLs) and Ego Ferguson return to clog up the middle.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis has never had an issue figuring out his roster at linebacker, and Lamin Barrow—LSU's second-leading tackler last season (104)—returns to anchor a talented group that features Tahj Jones back from nearly a year off, Kwon Alexander back and 100 percent after last season's ankle injury and a laundry list of 4- and 5-star linebackers ready to step in.
Jalen Mills was solid at corner as a freshman last season with 57 tackles (fourth on the team) and two picks, and Jalen Collins will step into more of a leadership role this season. At safety, Craig Loston and his 55 tackles (fifth on the team) returns as well.
Yeah, LSU lost some folks. But there's still plenty of talent to go around. Since when has roster attrition been an issue in Baton Rouge?
Offensively, the Tigers can still run the ball with Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill (if and when he moves back up the depth chart). Plus, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's desire to stretch the field fits right into quarterback Zach Mettenberger's strength—that big arm.
LSU's "rebuilding year" has been a myth all offseason. The Tigers are legitimate national title contenders.
Florida Is Overrated
The Gators will have a solid defense, no doubt. A solid core returns with defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler, linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive backs Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy.
But can that group be as opportunistic as last year's squad?
Florida led the SEC with 20 interceptions last season, and finished third in turnover margin with 1.15 gained per game.
That's asking a lot on the defense to replicate that performance, but with the offensive questions facing the Gators this season, they may have to.
The Gators haven't been able to develop a deep passing threat over the last couple of seasons and finished last in the SEC in passing offense last season with 146.3 yards per game. Will Quinton Dunbar take that next step? Will freshman Demarcus Robinson emerge as a deep threat? Can quarterback Jeff Driskel do it himself?
Those questions haven't been answered during fall camp. Plus, the running game has been without starter Matt Jones—who's stepping in for Mike Gillislee—due to Jones' battle with a viral infection.
There are more questions than answers in Gainesville, and too many are calling the Gators a Top 10 team in August.
Alabama Is Cursed
It wasn't a surprise to see Alabama at the top spot in the AP poll, but that designation carries a dubious distinction. The preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn't won the national title since 2004, when USC claimed the top spot in the final AP poll (its BCS National Championship was vacated).
According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, only three times since 1993 has the preseason No. 1 finished the season in the same spot.
Only 3 preseason No. 1s in last 31 years have won national title: FSU in 1993 & 1999; USC in 2004— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 17, 2013
This is nothing new to Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
He successfully coached against complacency in 2012, leading his program to back-to-back BCS National Championships with a target on its back. The backbone of that team was a veteran group of starters, many of whom went through the disappointment of the 2010 season.
Those players are gone, and Saban is forced to fight against complacency again. With fewer players on the roster who are familiar with failure, that's a tall order.
No Johnny Manziel Hangover
The deadline for voters to turn in their ballots was last weekend, according to the AP's Ralph Russo. That gave voters plenty of time to adjust Texas A&M on their ballots based on the uncertain status of Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has been under fire this month after reports surfaced that he allegedly took money for autograph signings.
Johnny's drama didn't matter.
The Aggies would certainly be competitive without Manziel thanks to a four-headed monster at running back and wide receiving corps that—other than Mike Evans—is largely unproven but loaded with talent. Are the Aggies a Top 10 team without Manziel? Probably not.
Voters obviously erred on the side of caution. Since Manziel is practicing and no announcement has been made regarding his eligibility, A&M didn't move much in the poll.
Hello? Is this thing on?
Ole Miss surprised the college football world with a 7-6 record in 2012 that could have been much better had the Rebels closed out games versus Texas A&M, LSU and Vanderbilt.
There's no such thing as "should haves" in college football, but the Rebels were still on the brink of greatness last season, return 18 starters and got a talent injection with a top-10 recruiting class this summer.
That should have been enough for the Rebels to slide into the back end of the Top 25, but no dice.
In fact, the Rebels come in ranked 36th in the initial AP Poll after earning just 11 votes, according to ESPN.com. That puts them behind the likes of potential BCS-busters Northern Illinois and Fresno State.
Quarterback Bo Wallace nursed a sore shoulder towards the end of last season. As long as he's near 100 percent following offseason surgery, he should cut down on those 17 interceptions and become even more of a dual-threat QB than he was last season, when he added 390 yards and eight rushing touchdowns to his 2,994 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Ole Miss will be competitive in virtually every game, and when it springs that upset—which, based on the trajectory of this team, is inevitable—it should find its rightful place in the Top 25.
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