The first regular-season edition of the 2014 Associated Press Top 25 poll is set to be released on Tuesday, encompassing the results of the first week of action in relation to how teams were rated in the preseason poll.
But just like George Bailey wondered how things would be different if he were never born in It's a Wonderful Life, we can't help but speculate how the AP Top 25 would shake out if this first in-season ranking was, indeed, the actual first ranking of the season.
Pretty darn different, for sure.
Without a preseason poll, voters would be forced to base more on the opening week's results and not have the backup of a baseline ranking. There would likely still be a bias toward teams who were good the year before and received lots of offseason hype, but at the same time a perceived power who struggled in its first game wouldn't automatically remain high in the poll just because it won.
It would almost be like a poll put together by a committee of people whose job is to determine which teams are the best in the country, not the most well-regarded. Such a ranking could maybe be used to select, say, a four-team playoff?
With all of that in consideration, here's how we think the Week 1 AP poll would look if it didn't have a preseason version to build from:
|What Week 1 AP Poll Would Look Like|
Looks quite different, huh?
That's because this first poll would be truly a result of first impressions, how those opening-week results made the teams look. Consideration would be made for the opponent, but with so many high-profile schools opening against cupcakes, a runaway victory wouldn't hold as much weight as a solid win over a quality foe.
Because of that, some teams' spot in the poll would be much different than in the actual poll, the one influenced by a preseason ranking:
The No. 1 team in the country should be the team that's considered the best in the land. And based on the first week of 2014, it's hard to argue that Georgia wouldn't be deserving of that spot if outside influences weren't involved.
The Bulldogs were masterful on offense and surprisingly dominant on defense in their 45-21 win over Clemson, particularly in the second half when they limited Clemson to just 15 yards and one first down.
But even without that defensive effort it would be hard not to be high on Georgia with the way it ran the ball and with how absolutely electrifying junior running back Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards, 100-yard kickoff return TD, four total touchdowns) looked.
While Georgia coach Mark Richt might not be convinced after one game, telling Marc Weiszer of the Athens Herald-Banner, "I don't know how good we are, quite frankly," the voters would say otherwise. Several national experts have the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff after Week 1, Weiszer noted, and voters would likely follow suit with that nod.
When scanning through resumes, it's often the first and last ones read that make the most lasting impressions. Texas A&M was part of the season's first big game back on Thursday night, but we're still talking about that runaway 52-28 win at South Carolina.
Much like how Florida State had an untested quarterback heading into its season opener the year before—which happened to be the final game of the first week, for the record—A&M came in with a big offensive question mark regarding how sophomore Kenny Hill would fare as the successor to Johnny Manziel.
The answer? Quite well, thank you very much.
Hill threw for a school-record 511 yards and four touchdowns, looking nothing like a guy making his first career start, let alone one doing so on a national stage in a stadium where a visiting team hadn't won in nearly three years. Throw in a seemingly unlimited supply of skill weapons and a defense that at least has a clue how to slow a team down, and after one week the Aggies will have gone from an enigma to a legitimate contender.
In the real world, the preseason No. 1 tends to stay in that spot until it loses. But in a land without early projections, even the defending champs have to put up a good result in their opener to be worthy of the top spot.
Florida State did not look like the best team in the country in its 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, not with a suspect running game and a quarterback whose late-game exploits were almost overshadowed by his early miscues. And because of that, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 in the first poll.
Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde wrote that "the defending national champions escaped with the desired result but some undesirable play that will keep them grounded going forward," a fancy way of saying that a win is a win. Improvement will be needed, and voters will echo that opinion with their ballots.
The Crimson Tide weren't expected to be tested much in their opener game against West Virginia, but instead had themselves a tight game that sparked more questions than it did provide answers. While the closeness of the 33-23 win will no doubt help Alabama in the long run, in the short term it will mean having its lowest ranking in several years.
There were so many standout team performances during Week 1 that voters will be hard-pressed to put the Tide in the Top Five, where they've more or less gone in on a timeshare under Nick Saban. But no team that was abused in the secondary as much as 'Bama, which allowed West Virginia's Clint Trickett to throw for 365 yards, is deserving of a high ranking this early.
After one game, many voters will already be convinced that Charlie Strong's will has been imposed at Texas. Ignoring the fact that it was against North Texas, a box score that shows the opponent had 94 total yards and the Longhorns registered six sacks and four interceptions will hold more weight than whom it was against.
Texas might end up a little lower, though, depending on how voters take Monday's news that quarterback David Ash would once again miss time because of a head injury, according to Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press. Not having Ash available for Saturday's visit from BYU could impact that result, but since this opening poll would reflect how teams have looked to this point rather than how they'll end up, it might not have an effect yet on their ranking.
The blue bloods of college football tend to get the benefit of the doubt at the start of each season, regardless of how they performed the year before. It's likely why Florida nearly opened 2014 in the preseason rankings, despite a 4-8 record last season, and why Michigan had 19 voters in that initial poll despite looking very bad down the stretch in 2013 en route to a 7-6 record.
And with that in mind, a runaway win in Week 1 by a traditional power will tend to be given far more weight than a strong effort by a lower-profile team, no matter whom it was against.
Michigan looked great in crushing Appalachian State, but odds are most teams would have beat the FCS-newcomer Mountaineers as convincingly. Why the Wolverines will get extra credit for the performance, though, is because of how it compared to results in 2013 when their offense sputtered and stalled more often than it excelled.
It's the power conferences that get most of the attention—and by definition, most of the accolades—but voters who pay attention to all of the results might use those final spots in their ballot to reward teams who surprised with how great they looked in their openers.
Teams like Arizona, Temple and UTSA all had big wins in Week 1, earning them enough nods to crack the first Top 25. Of that trio, though, Temple would draw the most attention because of how superior it looked in its 37-7 win at Vanderbilt and because the Owls were 2-10 a year ago.
That 30-point margin might be more an indication of how bad Vandy is than how improved the Owls are, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be worthy of a token ranking.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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