9 Programs That Will Be Ranked in 2011 AP Poll That Weren't in Coaches' Poll
Last season, the preseason AP Poll had one team included that the USA Today Coaches' Preseason Poll was missing. That team was Southern Cal. The coaches' poll had Utah in the Trojans' place.
To tell the truth, I'm not sure if the coaches weren't allowed to include USC, as they were on sanctions. Obviously, the coaches have to pay more attention to NCAA sanctions, regardless of how random and ineffective they are.
At the very least, the coaches, who owe their livelihood to the NCAA in one way or another, have to at least pretend to respect the NCAA's rulings.
Meanwhile, the press, while just as biased as the coaches, make it a point to thumb their nose at the NCAA, as that sells newspapers.
Either way, the question here is which teams, if any, might be included in the 2011 preseason AP poll—to be released Saturday, August 20—that didn't find their way onto the coaches' top 25 ballots?
Arizona State Sun Devils
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ASU is a hot team with the press right now, even though they were something of an afterthought with the coaches.
In the USA Today poll, the Sun Devils missed being in the top 25 by three votes.
In short, the press is onto the Sun Devils.
And why shouldn't they be? With 19 starters returning from a team that was much better than their 6-6 record, the Sun Devils are a lock to win at least eight games.
If the AP doesn't start ASU in the polls this week, they'll be sure to have them there in December. And you know how the national press likes to be in on the ground floor.
West Virginia Moutaineers
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Currently, the Big East is non-existent on the USA Today poll.
That seems unrealistic, as the Big East may or may not be the weakest of the AQ conferences, but a team will win the conference. And that team will go to a BCS bowl.
The three favorites to win the conference are West Virginia, Pitt and South Florida.
Both WVU and Pitt will be breaking in new coaches. However, while the change from erstwhile Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart to current Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen could not be called smooth, the scheme transition shouldn't be too bumpy.
The same cannot be said for the Pitt scheme transition.
As for South Florida, they only return 12 starters.
Topping all of that off, out of the three programs, West Virginia has the most national prestige. So much so that Lindy's has them at No. 18, while Athlon Sports has them at No. 17.
Again, somebody is going to represent the Big East, and that team will probably be ranked. West Virginia seems the most logical choice.
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Did somebody say something about selling magazines?
Well, there are very few teams in this country that sell magazines like the Wolverines.
Admittedly, at this point it might be something of a stretch to put Michigan in the top 25. Certainly, they've got the talent, but this year, there is the possibility of another rough transition from former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread option offense and disastrous 3-3-5 defense to new coach Brady Hoke's West Coast offense and traditional 4-3 defense.
Still, I wouldn't count the Wolverines out. With 18 starters returning, including a loaded receiving corps and a strong offensive line, there is a chance for fireworks on the offense. Add to that Denard Robinson, who is dangerous no matter what scheme he is playing in.
It is unlikely at this point in the season, but Michigan will get some votes. Maybe they'll get just enough to squeak in at No. 25.
Brigham Young Cougars
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In 2010, BYU went 7-6. It was the first time the Cougars didn't win at least 10 games since 2005, Bronco Mendenhall's first season as the head coach.
Four of the 2010 losses were to ranked teams.
Much of the reason for this was a very large graduating class in 2009. Last season, Brigham Young had six returning starters on offense, and only five on defense. Among other things, the departing players included three-year starting quarterback Max Hall. Taking his place was true freshman Jake Heaps.
Not surprisingly, Heaps had the lowest quarterback efficiency rating—115.89—of any starting BYU quarterback Mendenhall has worked with. The closest was John Beck in 2005, who had a rating of 137.6. Of course, he was a junior at the time.
On top of that, the Cougars got clobbered by injuries, losing 15.5 percent of their starts.
Next season, BYU is leaving the Mountain West and beginning life as an independent.
They also return 10 starters on offense and six on defense. Furthermore, due to experience gained via last season's injuries, they will be extremely deep.
Their schedule is decidedly front-loaded with September matchups at Ole Miss, at Texas and home games against Utah and Central Florida.
A vote in the poll makes sense for those in the press that feel they can get through September with at least a 3-1 record.
Southern California Trojans
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Southern Cal is on sanctions. Southern Cal can't compete in bowl games and they are short a few scholarships. Southern Cal is coached by Lane Kiffin. But they're still Southern Cal. They are still as talented as any team in the country.
In a transitional 2010, USC went 8-5. They were hurt when their quarterback, Matt Barkley, went down.
This season, they'll return seven on both sides of the ball including Barkley.
Can Kiffin bring the Trojans to where they were under Pete Carroll? Can he do it without breaking rules?
I don't know, but USC is still the most marketable team west of Texas. That matters to AP writers.
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Last season, following four straight years of eight wins or more, Houston slumped to a 5-7 record.
Much of the reason for that was the injury to starting quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum, who began the season as a Heisman contender, was lost for the season following an ACL tear in the Cougars' third game.
This is good news for the Cougars, who will be in a decidedly competitive Conference USA in 2011. Luckily, Houston's schedule sets up nicely, as two of the other three front-runners to win the conference—Southern Miss and Central Florida—are not on their schedule.
On top of that, three of Houston's 2010 losses came by a touchdown or less, with two of them coming by a field goal or less.
Next year, expect them to turn those close games around.
Along with Boise State, Houston has the best chance of being a BCS buster.
Given their track record previous to 2010, some pollsters might take note.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
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Last season, Southern Miss went 8-5. Larry Fedora's squad finished the year poorly with losses to Tulsa and then Louisville in the Beef O'Brady Bowl.
Something to consider in the Golden Eagles' situation is they were hurt by injuries down the stretch, particularly on the defense.
Also, four of their five losses came by a touchdown or less, with three coming by a field goal or less and two losses coming by one point.
In 2011, they'll return eight starters on each side of the line. This includes their all-conference quarterback, Austin Davis, and six of their front seven on defense.
On top of that, they miss Houston and Tulsa on their conference slate; and they get SMU and UCF at home. Finally, their toughest out-of-conference games are at Virginia and at Navy, both of which are winnable.
Needless to say, the third team on the minds of Missippians is hardly going to garner much national interest. On the other hand, Phil Steele had them as his 20th team in the country.
For those few knowledgeable college football pundits, the Golden Eagles are a team to watch.
North Carolina Tar Heels
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The past two seasons have been a mess for North Carolina.
They went into 2010 as No. 18 in both the coaches' and the AP preseason poll. They had a defense that legitimately had four potential first-round draft picks on it.
Then came the suspensions.
When the smoke had cleared, 13 players were suspended for the Tar Heels' opening game. Four of those players were taken in the NFL draft, three of them in the first two rounds.
North Carolina wound up 8-5 and were ultimately a case of what-might-have-been.
Moving forward, head coach Butch Davis was fired on the eve of summer practices, putting the team in an awkward situation.
With 10 returning starters on defense, there is still plenty of talent to impress pollsters. The question is, will the pollsters have confidence that the Tar Heels' troubles are behind them?
Northern Illinois Huskies
The only non-AQ teams in the coaches' poll were Boise State and TCU. Needless to say, it hardly took any conviction to put those two in the poll.
The final 2010 poll finished with five teams in the top 25 and one at No. 2. This season, there are a number of worthwhile non-AQ teams that will vie for a spot.
Among them are the Northern Illinois Huskies.
The Huskies will break in a new coach in former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, but the transition from former coach Jerry Kill to Doeren shouldn't be bumpy.
Furthermore, NIU, which went 11-3 last season, returns nine from the Mid-American Conference's best offense. This includes their all-conference quarterback Chandler Harnish, and the fifth most experienced offensive line in the country.
The defense will need some work, but that is Doeren's specialty.
In short, NIU is not a "sexy" pick. But at this point, they have as good a chance as a down TCU has at winning 11 games.