There’s one reason why preseason football polls are ridiculous. We don’t even know whether the Heisman Trophy winner will be present when Texas A&M hosts Alabama on Sept. 14.
OK, I’ll admit the first coaches poll was fascinating. It drew my attention. But this is the one, you’ll recall, that in 2012 picked USC No. 1, the same team that closed the season 1-5 and ended unranked.
I’ll get around later to overrated Ohio State which, based on the evidence, is not better, if as good, as five SEC programs. Alabama is loaded again. Georgia, LSU and Florida are strong. Word out of the Carolinas is that Steve Spurrier has the best-ever squad at South Carolina.
But first, let’s understand something about coaches polls. These men are America’s busiest workers this month and, while they endlessly study foes on the schedule, the coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference aren’t worried about what’s happening in the Pac-12. It’s a long way from Syracuse (yep, the Orangemen are newly enrolled in the ACC) to Colorado and Utah, and the latter pair are eastern members of the Pac-12. As for what’s happening west of the Rockies, none of us know.
My next problem is that once a voter decides, with no 2013 games to instruct him, it’s not only love at first sight, but forever. He owns those choices, and we see an undeniable tendency to base future lists on the original, regardless of its accuracy. Like the Buckeyes, playing a pansy schedule (compared to SEC teams), will probably remain No. 2 no matter how unimpressive their victories.
What we need Oct. 1 are Men in Black to zap each voter and erase the memory of his previous votes. But that’s another story.
Ohio State far from great
Alabama received 58 first-place votes, and runner-up Ohio State got three.
The Buckeyes, riding the Meyer mystique and Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, stack up as clear favorites in every game of the regular season. The nonconference lineup pits them against Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M. They play six of the first eight at home. Between the Big Ten opener with visiting Wisconsin and the finale at Michigan, the Buckeyes play six straight vs. Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana. Some say their biggest stumbling block (prior to Michigan) is Northwestern’s homecoming Oct. 5. Really?
From their viewpoint, this is opportunity ... and their fans will whoop and holler and cry out for No. 1 status. As seen by SEC powers, it’s a cakewalk. Imagine throwing Alabama against that schedule, or Florida, LSU, Georgia or South Carolina.
In analyzing this, we must remind ourselves:
Ohio State, coming off a 6-7 season in 2011 (Tim Beckman’s Toledo team reached the 17-yard line in the final minute of a 17-12 loss), went 12-0 last year by scraping by, week after week, against so-so teams. They defeated 3-9 Cal 35-28, Michigan State 17-16, Indiana 52-49, Purdue and Wisconsin in overtime, and Michigan 26-21.
Meyer may be the closest thing to a genius since Bill Walsh, but Lady Luck had to play a part in wins by 1, 3, 5 and 7, plus two in OT, against six teams with a cumulative record of 28-35.
Disregarding the coaching change at Oregon (the Eagles snapped up Chip Kelly), are you telling me that the Buckeyes have more returning talent than those Ducks with the strange uniforms? All the Ducks did, after going 12-1 and 12-2 in 2010-11, was steamroll everybody in 2012 by double figures except Stanford, which defeated them 17-14. Ohio State was an impressive 30-8 the last three seasons, Oregon 35-4.
Go with the SEC
Here’s my contention. If you made me oddsmaker for a preseason bowl game between Ohio State and any of the top five SEC teams, and my decisions were unaffected by gambling sentiment or geography, I would probably favor Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Let’s not involve Texas A&M here, not with all the confusion around Manziel.
This rash opinion is based on a run of seven straight national titles by SEC teams and a 9-1 record in BCS championship games, that lone loss administered by Alabama over LSU. Since 2006, the average margin of SEC title-game victories has been 17 points.
History shows Ohio State is 0-9 against SEC teams in bowl games, losing recently to Florida 41-14 in 2007 and to LSU 38-24 in 2008.
OSU is the northern power, but they play better football down South.
I am further influenced by two showdowns that weren’t as close as the scores: Alabama’s opening 41-14 rout of Michigan last season, and the closing 42-14 defeat of a Notre Dame team that earlier downed Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. During the season, Georgia and LSU each played Alabama within 4 points and, as noted, A&M topped the Tide.
Obviously, all these SEC teams won’t be able to hold up. They face games against each other, and losers may lose steam. Georgia opens against No. 8 Clemson (12-2), then faces a South Carolina club coming of two 11-2 seasons and, in the fourth game, LSU. Georgia is on a suicide mission. But if the Dogs reach 4-0, they’d get my vote as No. 1.
LSU opens against No. 20 TCU. Florida plays Miami (Fla.) early. Alabama opens vs. Virginia Tech before tackling Texas A&M.
Last word to Buckeye fans: Just because you produce a better record doesn’t mean you’re a better team. Maybe they’ll skate by, as happened in 2002 when the unbeaten Bucks outlasted Miami (it was their seventh win by OT or 5 points or less). A lot will change by then, but it’s more likely they’ll be another SEC victim on the evening of Jan. 6 in the last BCS title game in the Rose Bowl Stadium.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com