AP Top 25: From Oklahoma to USC, This Season Packs Plenty of Punch
The inaugural AP Top 25 Poll came out this morning and it is notable for a few reasons.
Oklahoma is number one—again. Will this be the year they live up to their preseason hype? The Sooners have been No. 1 in the preseason poll a record 10 times; however, during this period, they’ve only won one national championship, despite four appearances in the title game. ( Side note: I will not capitalize the MNC. When the governing body of NCAA football comes up with its own NC, then and only then, will it deserve capitalization).
Will this be the season the Sooners become the third team to go wire-to-wire as the AP No. 1 and win the national championship? (Florida State did it in 1999, USC in 2004) Only time will tell for these Sooners—but a clarifying moment will come on September 17, when the Sooners head into Tallahassee to take on No. 6 Florida State.
The Seminoles have a lot of buzz heading into the season and are considered by many to be a contender for the MNC. Could the Seminoles knock the Sooners out of the game this early in the season? Absolutely.
Last season's national champion, the Auburn Tigers, check in at No. 23—hardly surprising for a team that lost the bulk of its stars to the NFL, including Cam Newton and Nick Fairley. Their opponent from the BCS title game—the Oregon Ducks—check in at No.3, just one spot behind the formidable Crimson Tide of Alabama. While this disparity between the Ducks and the Tigers makes absolute sense, it's still rather amusing to see. When was the last time the previous season’s champion started the next season near the bottom of the top 25?
Who will win the Sept 3rd game between Oregon and LSU?
Alabama is looking good at No. 2. All they have to do is win, and wait for either Oklahoma to lose, or for the AP to elevate them based on their own merits. With eight SEC teams in the top 25, Alabama controls its own destiny if they can just keep winning.
The top four will start the season off with a shake up. On September 3, the Ducks face the LSU Tigers in Dallas for the college kick-off special. These are two wildly different teams. Oregon is fast and flashy and likes to put a lot of points on the board. LSU, on the other hand, digs in and practices the type of monster defense that frequently results in those wonderfully exciting 6-3 SEC final scores. Will LSU be able to stop Oregon similarly to how Auburn did in the BCS title game? Or have the Ducks learned from that experience, gone back to the drawing board (as well as the Nike R&D lab) and come out with a plan to run their hurry up offense against a tough defense?
In two weeks, the top four will look entirely different, as one of those four teams will have a loss to start the season. My money is on LSU for the win. Typically, Oregon sputters out of the gate. (See Boise State 2009.)
Stanford checks in at No. 7 and I have one word for you: Overrated. Andrew Luck and the rest of the Cardinal are going to see a big drop off this year from last year. I expect the Cardinal to enter the season with a bit of swagger and fall on their face. The key to the fluke season Stanford had in 2010 was Jim Harbaugh. Specifically, the chemistry between QB Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh.
Mark my words, Stanford will struggle. Stanford faces their Pac-12 North foe Oregon on November 12 in Palo Alto. If they get that far into the season without a loss, look for them to stumble here. However, I believe they will lose on October 29 at No. 25 USC. The Trojans are hungry for some Cardinal blood. That will be an ugly game.
From No. 8 through No. 25, it is less clear on all but a few fronts. Wisconsin has a pretty clear shot at an undefeated season, with UNLV, Oregon State, South Dakota, Nebraska and Indiana at Camp Randall for five of their first six games in 2011 and the sixth game versus Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. Realistically, the Badgers could have a championship run and undefeated season. The trick will come in the latter half of the season vs. Michigan State. Penn State and Ohio State could present themselves as spoilers, especially if the Badgers don’t stay healthy.
Standing out at No. 16 is Notre Dame, who is ranked for the first time since November 2009. Notably absent from the Top 25 is Texas, who has not entered the season unranked since 1998.
Perennial poll favorites Ohio State and Florida check in at No. 18 and No. 22, respectively. This is no surprise for both these teams, since they've undergone coaching changes and have QB issues to resolve. Expect Ohio State to fall as they struggle to find an identity in the wake of the scandals, while Florida rises to the middle of the pack.
Two weeks until kick off, football fans! The long cold offseason is almost over!
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