As the early, early Top 25 polls are released, there are some teams who have well-deserved rankings.
Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Stanford, Boise State and many others show up at or near the top of many lists because, quite frankly, they're going to be pretty darned good in 2011.
There are other programs though, that show up in the Top 25 without any explainable reason—or at least any reason that makes sense to an objective person. After all, you could put abysmally bad Western Michigan in the Top 25, and chances are you'd find an entire cadre of Broncos fans from Kalamazoo who could justify it in their own minds.
The reason these teams find their way into the preseason rankings is quite simple: the credibility given simply by their names.
Here are those teams for 2011.
Before we delve into who belongs and who is on the list because of their name, we have to determine who is on the complete list. So, for our purposes, we're going to use the following Top 25:
No. 1 Oklahoma
No. 2 Alabama
No. 3 Louisiana State
No. 4 Oregon
No. 5 Stanford
No. 6 Boise State
No. 7 Ohio State
No. 8 Oklahoma State
No. 9 Florida State
No. 10 Texas A&M
No. 11 Michigan State
No. 12 Wisconsin
No. 13 Auburn
No. 14 Texas Christian
No. 15 Arkansas
No. 16 South Carolina
No. 17 Mississippi State
No. 18 Virginia Tech
No. 19 Notre Dame
No. 20 Nebraska
No. 21 Missouri
No. 22 Texas
No. 23 Florida
No. 24 Georgia
No. 25 Michigan
OK, so they have Denard Robinson. But one man a team does not make.
Michigan hasn't really had a season anyone could call successful for a number of years. Last season was U-M's best showing under Rich Rodriguez, and the Wolverines barely finished above .500 with a 7-6 record.
And did we forget the 52-14 embarrassment at the hands of Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl?
With Brady Hoke taking over, Michigan's stock is certainly on the rise. But if Michigan is anything, it's unproven. Their inclusion in the Top 25 is more about the fact that it's Michigan, and they're expected to win more than they lose.
Only time will tell if that's true for the 2011 season.
Things could not have started off worse for the Bulldogs in 2010. Losing four of their first five, the Bulldog faithful were on the verge of mutiny, and Mark Richt was the target of their scorn.
After losing to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, Georgia finished with a losing record for the first time since 1996.
Georgia still has a lot of talent in their locker room, as most SEC schools do. But like Michigan, that talent hasn't translated into wins on the field. Also like Michigan, it's easy to be optimistic about Georgia's future, but optimistic enough to put them on a preseason Top 25?
Aaron Murray is the real deal, and he should be good enough for a surprise win or two in 2011. But until Georgia proves they can win the games against foes like Colorado and Central Florida, they probably show up on a Top 25 list more because voters hope they'll do well without much evidence that they will do well.
As the saying goes, “Don't mess with Texas.”
Well, here's hoping Texans are in a forgiving mood, because they're about to get messed with just a little.
Find any other team from 2010 than went 5-7 and point out where they are on the Top 25.
In fact, point out any other team that didn't make a bowl game.
You can't. Texas is the only one on the list.
Why? Because it's Texas.
Under Mack Brown, no one can dispute that Texas has been a powerhouse. Granted, they've had tremendous trouble winning their own conference, but their record is impressive, winning 10 or more games every year since 2001.
Then along came 2010, and the Longhorns laid egg after egg after egg.
The season started out well enough, with three straight wins. A Week 4 loss to UCLA spelled trouble going into the annual rivalry game with Oklahoma, and Texas lost that one, too.
After dispatching Nebraska, many people thought Texas was back on track and could salvage what was left of their season. They couldn't.
Texas lost every Big 12 game remaining on their schedule. In fact, their only win came against Florida Atlantic.
For 2011, there's not too terribly much that will change for Texas. Many of the same players that gave coaches fits will be back this season.
So why are they ranked?
Texas fans will tell you that there's new coaching staff in place. They'll tell you that the players are more experienced and more mature. They'll tell you that 2010 was a fluke. They'll tell you absolutely everything and anything imaginable to explain away 2010.
But when a team returns most of the skill position players from a 5-7 squad, there's no reason that team should be ranked in the next season's preseason poll—unless their name is Texas.
Before the hate mail begins and people start throwing ears of corn, here's an explanation.
If you ask anybody in the Big 12 or anybody in the Big Ten, they'll tell you that those two conferences are very different conferences.
The dynamic of competition is different. The playing style is different. The normal recruits pursued by teams are different. The weather conditions are definitely different.
Now, granted, it's not quite as different as the Big Ten and Pac-10 or Big Ten and SEC, but it's still different.
Add in the fact that Nebraska is only returning six offensive starters from last season to all of the adjustments the Cornhuskers will need to make in the Big Ten, and there's the definite potential of a “less-than-10-wins” season.
Nebraska also has to face a pretty rough Big Ten schedule in the first year. At Wisconsin, at Penn State, at Michigan, with visits from Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa.
Apparently, the Big Ten powers that be wanted Nebraska's football program to have a baptism of fire, and the Huskers are going to get all they can handle in 2011.
If they prove that they can handle it, great. They deserve a Top 25 ranking. But coming off losses in the Big 12 championship game followed by a somewhat embarrassing loss to a 7-6 Washington in the Holiday Bowl, combined with Nebraska's loss of experience in graduating starters, there's plenty of reason for trepidation about the 2011 season.
Apparently not enough to override Nebraska's name recognition, though.
The Horned Frogs arguably had their best season in the program's history in 2010. It's not every day a team from the Mountain West goes 13-0 and wins the Rose Bowl.
As good as TCU was last season, one truly has to wonder how good they can be in 2011. After all, the Horned Frogs are returning just 10 total starters from last year. It will be difficult to recognize the 2011 TCU squad, as most of the big playmakers from years past are gone. The biggest loss is easily quarterback Andy Dalton. But he's just one of six offensive starters the Horned Frogs will be without.
It's fairly clear that TCU's 2011 preseason ranking has more to do with their 36-3 record over the past three seasons than it does with their prospects for 2011.
Seriously, now. Does anyone actually believe that TCU will be the nation's 14th-best team in the country in 2011?
Before you start spouting off about how stupid of a selection this is, keep in mind that at the beginning of last year, Auburn's highest preseason ranking was No. 22. The 2010 preseason coaches poll ranked them No. 23. And many polls didn't rank them at all.
And that was all when Auburn had Cam Newton.
For the 2011 season, not only will Auburn be without Cam Newton, they'll be without 12 other starters!
Auburn returns just four starters on offense and four starters on defense for 2011.
Even Auburn fans aren't giving their Tigers much of a shot at repeating in 2011, even if they're only talking about the SEC.
It's become par for the course to have two or three SEC teams begin the year squarely in the BCS championship hunt. This year probably won't be much different, but Auburn won't be—or at least shouldn't be—in that discussion.
That's not to say that Auburn's new crop of starters can't surprise everyone this season. After all, their No. 22 or lower rankings in the 2010 preseason shows that no one thought they could do it last year, either.
But to be ranked No. 13 in the nation when you have a completely new offensive line, new quarterback, new receivers, a new defensive line and a new secondary is just silliness.