It’s T-minus four nights until the highly-anticipated 2011 college football season kicks off. Aren’t they all?
Before I reveal the final preseason Top 19, let’s review several rules governing the poll:
- This poll is a “non-quant,” subjective, one-man operation. I’m the man, a man who has been an ardent college football fan since Ohio State’s super-sophs won it all in 1968.
- The results of the more well-known polls, especially the computer rankings, will probably not influence the Top 19 poll.
- The final preseason rankings are based on where each ranked team begins. For example, Louisiana State was tied with Florida State for fourth in the initial rankings. Two investigations later, LSU is not the team it was in early August and therefore drops to 10th.
- A win is a win is a win, but the margin of victory is definitely a factor to be considered.
- The quality of the opponent in terms of ranking and record is as important as the margin of victory.
- My knowledge of the 2011 season was garnered through assiduous study, reading and writing college football since May 2011. During the season, I will get my information from the Internet, ESPN and the print media. That’s the best I can do. Similar to the coaches voting in the USA Today poll, it is impossible for a human with a day job to watch every game.
- I wholeheartedly welcome comments, especially the critical ones. I will gladly respond to critique written with a positive tone. I will ignore offensive, insulting, deprecating comments. Life is too short.
Now, for the Top 19:
The first five: Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Boise State.
Rounding out the top 10: Stanford, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Louisiana State.
Taking it to number 15: Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Texas A & M, Ohio State and tied at 15th are Arkansas and Texas Christian.
The cabooses are: South Carolina, Florida and West Virginia.
Five teams are On Deck, poised to take over if or when a Top-19 team slips and stumbles. In alphabetical order, they are: Georgia, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Penn State and Texas.
Finally, 10 schools each field a team that is way out of consideration, but for intriguing reasons may get it together and vault into the Top 19. Those Intriguing Ten are again in alphabetical order: Air Force, Arizona State, Clemson, Maryland, Miami Fla., Missouri, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, South Florida and Washington.
In a week of Top 50 schools playing bottom-fishers and FCS teams, there are still seven games that attract interest of the zealous college football fan.
South Florida at No. 8 Notre Dame
It’s been years since the Fighting Irish have embarked on a season in which a head coach who has been around the block a few times takes the field with a team of seventeen returning starters. That being said, Notre Dame will need all the experience they can muster to handle talent-laden, Skip Holtz-coached South Florida. Advantage: Notre Dame.
Nevada-Las Vegas at No. 9 Wisconsin
The Badgers opener against Mountain West cellar-dweller UNLV is important if only to watch dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson—a transfer from North Carolina State—and how he leads a team that heretofore effectively had no quarterback. Advantage: Wisconsin.
No. 15 Texas Christian at Baylor
The persuasive powers of TCU head coach and supreme motivator Gary Patterson will be tested as he prepares a Horned Frogs team that returns only eight starters to take on Baylor and world-class hurdler/outstanding quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Texas Christian absolutely needs this win. Advantage: Baylor.
Akron at No. 14 Ohio State and Marshall at No. 19 West Virginia
Following a spring of surprising controversy for the Buckeyes and their long NCAA rap sheet as well as the Mountaineers and their sordid coaching row, each of these two top programs ended up with young head coaches completely inexperienced as field generals.
Luckily, this week’s competition for each is anything but. Advantage: Ohio State and West Virginia.
Miami Fla. at Maryland
The Hurricanes have athletes two-deep, but those who were “helped” by felon Nevin Shapiro may not play. Maryland smells blood. With head coach Randy Edsall ushering a new era, you can bet the Terps will show no mercy for the anarchy that is Miami. Advantage: Maryland.
No. 5 Boise State versus Georgia at the Georgia Dome
At this “neutral site,” Boise State will play perhaps the biggest game in the history of the school’s extraordinary football program. A win over a Georgia team that could likely play for the SEC championship will place the Broncos squarely on the fast track to the BCS title game.
Boise State/Georgia will be a classic battle of two essential aspects that determine the outcome of any college football game: A. can Bronco quarterback Kellen Moore and his offense adjust to the Bulldogs’ exceptional defensive speed? B. can Georgia’s defensive line outmuscle Boise State’s offensive counterparts? Advantage: Toss-up.
Week One’s Game of the Week: No. 3 Oregon versus No. 10 Louisiana State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas
Chip Kelly takes his Oregon Ducks—last year’s national runner-up—to Cowboys Stadium to face off against Les Miles’ Louisiana State squad, a team that has become scandal-plagued at a most inopportune time.
Ultra-talented LSU wideout Russell Shepard’s ill-timed one-game suspension is difficult enough to handle. However, the arrest of starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson has wreaked havoc on the Tigers from the Bayou as they lose focus during game-preparation week—a time when the team has to come together.
Fans of the college game indeed remember that Oregon was recently in the spotlight for recruiting violations. The Ducks have been there, and because they have had a few months to get over it, may know which buttons to push to derail coach Miles' machine.
Who’s going to win this Immorality Play?
LSU is returning eight offensive starters, but the aforementioned two are suspended for this game. The Tigers will sorely miss Shepard and must lean on Reuben Randle, their big receiver, to pull in some slack around Duck linebacker Josh Kaddu and in the formidable Oregon secondary. Oddly, the legal troubles of Jefferson, a quarterback not known for his stellar play, may open the signal-caller position for last year's top junior college passer, the big-armed Zach Mettenberger.
Oregon returns the phenomenal spread option team of quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, a 2010 Heisman finalist. Those two operating behind an experienced offensive line will be Oregon’s best chance to defeat LSU. However, the Tigers have an outstanding defense getting in the way of Thomas and James. With three defensive linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs returning to Baton Rouge, Oregon may be forced to go for the win with a one-dimensional attack.
Advantage: Oregon, in this close, hard-fought game.
In this calendar year 2011, too many top gridiron programs have dragged us fans through their muck. It’s gotten to the point that we don’t know what to stomach, much less what to believe. Teams disgraced, one after another, make the annual BCS controversy seem like a schmaltzy episode of any Disney network show.
Through it all, we have to keep our focus. In a matter of days, all the preparation comes to a close. The young men will take the walk to the stadium through the electric atmosphere charged by the multitude of us fans. These young men then become a team, a team attacking the field to the tumult funneled into their headgear.
The first coin will be tossed and first ball will be teed up. As the kicker approaches that tee, unscrupulous boosters and police blotters, money and yachts, and the wayward few among the thousands who play by the rules, will suddenly evaporate. We will then be reminded of that which is true every season:
College football is awesome!