If you've been an Auburn football fan for a few years, you're aware of how important preseason polls can be. In 2004, undefeated Auburn was left out of the national title game, in large part due to the fact that they began the season behind fellow unbeatens USC and Oklahoma. So as unfair as it may seem, preseason polls do matter in college football.
The 2010 AP Poll was released today, and Auburn came in at number 22. The various voters had Auburn anywhere between number seven and unranked. Five other SEC teams made the cut: Alabama (No. 1), Florida (No. 4), Arkansas (No. 17), LSU (No. 21), and Georgia (No. 23). South Carolina and Ole Miss were just outside the top 25.
Number 22 is a pretty good place to be if you're Gene Chizik. It shows that Auburn has earned some respect through an 8-5 season and a strong recruiting class, but leaves plenty of motivation on the table being behind three other SEC west teams. It seems to be a fair evaluation for what Auburn has proven up to this point, and they are being voted as equal to teams they will be trying to beat out, like LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia.
Obviously, that number 22 ranking could be grossly underestimating the potential of this year's team (see 2004 where Auburn began 17th). Or, putting Auburn ahead of teams like Georgia, Ole Miss, and South Carolina could be a mistake. We'll begin to find out where Auburn really stands two weeks from today.
The thing that really jumps out from an SEC perspective is the perceived gap between the recent champions (Alabama/Florida) and the rest of the conference. The modern-day SEC has always been a league where teams beat up on each other and a league where undefeated teams are extremely difficult to come by. There have only been five teams to go undefeated since the SEC championship game began in 1992—Auburn twice (1993, 2004), Alabama twice (1992, 2009), and Tennessee (1998).
This year, that kind of parity should continue. The balance of the conference has the potential to be the main storyline in the SEC. The other four ranked teams have a legitimate chance to compete for the SEC title, and thus, a national championship.
And that kind of competitiveness is what makes the SEC the best conference in America. The madness is almost here. Hold on for what should be an exciting ride in 2010—both for Auburn and the rest of the SEC.