The first AP poll of the season was released Saturday, and some of the rankings were more justifiable than others.
Nobody thought Alabama would place anywhere but first, and hardly anyone (save two renegade AP voters) thinks it deserves to be elsewhere.
But other parts of the list were curious—either surprising or difficult to understand (though often predictable). The first AP poll is always covered in red ink by year's end, and the following teams seem most likely to play a part in that inevitable sea of ink this season.
The excitement surrounding Arizona State, at least as far as the polls reflect, can be best described as "tepid." But that's a little hard to understand.
The Sun Devils went 8-5 last season and 8-1 outside of a brutal four-game stretch in Pac-12 play. Their five losses all came against quality teams (Missouri, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC), making them something of a benchmark in 2012.
But now, with almost everyone of importance back in Tempe, including potential first-round NFL draft pick Will Sutton, ASU should be able to surpass that benchmark and succeed in a bigger context. The Pac-12 media projects ASU to finish right behind UCLA in the South Division and ahead of third-place USC.
So why no love in the national polls?
By voting the Cardinals No. 9, AP voters ostensibly believe they will go undefeated. Losing even one game against their cupcake of a schedule is something no legitimate top-10 team would do.
But can they really be counted on? Because of Louisville's brilliant bowl performance last season, voters seem to have forgotten its two regular-season losses—at Syracuse (by 19) and home to 5-7 Connecticut. It also struggled to beat Cincinnati, 3-9 South Florida and (yes, even) 0-12 Southern Miss.
As good as Teddy Bridgewater is, the Louisville defense (and collective competence) doesn't give it the profile of a top-10 team. By the end of the season, and probably much sooner, voters will come to realize their mistake.
Les Miles is still in Baton Rouge, right?
The Tigers got more respect from the AP than the coaches, but No. 12 still seems like a small shaft job. Yes, the defensive attrition is concerning, but this is LSU we're talking about. When has that ever slowed the Tigers down?
And of its perceived "down" year last season, LSU lost only to Florida, Clemson and Alabama—the last of whom, 2012's eventual national champion, it really should have beaten. The Tigers also beat South Carolina and Texas A&M, two teams that combined for just two losses the rest of the season.
That 2012 was considered a "letdown" speaks volumes about where this program is. For most schools, that would be a year to remember for decades. If that's LSU's absolute floor in 2013—and its ceiling is markedly higher—it's hard to reconcile leaving it outside the top 10.
It's hard to put supreme confidence in Miami. The 'Canes went just 7-6 a season ago and suffered blowout losses to Kansas State (52-13) and Notre Dame (41-3) in nonconference play. There are definitely reasons to believe they aren't ready for prime time.
But there are also reasons—a lot of them—to believe the contrary. With almost everyone of importance returning from (and one year older than) last year, it's hard to imagine Miami not improving by at least one or two wins.
Led by Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, one of America's elite QB-RB-WR tandems, Miami would be disappointed by anything below 9-3.
Sparty parlayed big preseason expectations into a sorry 7-6 record last year, finding new and different ways to bungle close games each week. Their five conference losses came by a combined 13 points and none came by more than four.
That type of close-game ineptitude is bound for progression to the mean. And following an impressive (though ugly) bowl win over TCU, there is reason for hope in East Lansing—regardless of who wins the starting job under center between Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor.
Football Outsiders (subscription required) projects them to win the Legends Division, gives them a 20 percent chance to win the Big Ten and a 40 percent chance of finishing conference play at 7-1 or 8-0. Those are numbers the AP would regret leaving unranked.
Miami deserved to be ranked higher than No. 29, but Ole Miss deserved to be ranked higher than Miami.
The Rebels also went 7-6 last season but did so against the SE- (not AC-) C. Their six losses came against six of the country's best teams (Texas, Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia, Vanderbilt and LSU), and with better late-game execution they might have been able to steal a couple of those wins.
Like Miami, Ole Miss also brings back most of last year's starting lineup—and adds a top-heavy recruiting class that includes No. 1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche and No. 1 receiver Laquon Treadwell.
If Bo Wallace continues his improvement, this team has BCS-busting potential.
The opposite of Louisville, Notre Dame's poor bowl impression made voters forget the quality of its full-season resume.
The Irish beat 10 bowl teams in the regular season last year, more than any other school in the country. That list of victims includes Stanford (the Rose Bowl champion), Oklahoma (by 17 in Norman) and Miami (by 38 on a neutral field).
Everett Golson is suspended, but a Tommy Rees-Malik Zaire dichotomy, however it works out, should be competent enough to plow the offense forward. Even with Manti Te'o gone from South Bend, the defense returns enough pieces, including defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, to be even better than last year.
This is no doubt a top-10 team.
The media, like the coaches, pledged its faith in Gary Andersen by ranking the Badgers 23rd. But they're unlikely to be there for long.
The former Utah State coach hasn't had any time to implement his system. The offense he ran with Chuckie Keeton requires true explosion under center, something neither Curt Phillips nor Joel Stave (to a much greater extent) has showcased at the college level.
Wisconsin salvaged its season in 2012 with a surprising trip to the Rose Bowl. But if not for the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State, it never would have gotten a shot to do that. In a normal year, Wisconsin's season would have been deemed a "bust" and earned it a spot among the unranked next season—especially after losing its head coach to the SEC.
We'll learn a lot about Wisco in Week 3, when it plays host to Arizona State.