My first look at the preseason rankings came whilst running to catch a green line train into Chicago over the weekend. Tripping over the Metra station stairs, I caught a glimpse of a USA Today newspaper in a curbside rack.
It was the wide-shoulders of Knowshon Moreno that first caught my attention -- elevated over the typeface like a boxed action figure.
The coaches have spoken and the Georgia Bulldogs are the No. 1. team in the country, at least for now.
I could take a minute to reflect on the particular dangers the honor affords. Premature accolades have a strange way of distracting the otherwise focused. The athletic psyche is profoundly sensitive: The more you're told you're the best, the more you begin to believe it. The drive to overcome the odds then transforms itself into a simple manifestation of destiny -- a rightful ascension of heir to throne.
Once that mentality takes over it's not a question of if, but when a team will fail. All of the talent in the world can't make up for an inability to deal with adversity -- an impotence to adapt.
Here are The Rivalry, Esq.'s thoughts on the 2008 Preseason Top 25:
For better or worse, it's clear the coaches haven't paid much attention to other programs since the conclusion of bowl season in January. From No. 1 Georgia's perch atop the count, to No. 2 USC's consolation entry, the ringleaders were obviously influenced by shock and awe season ending performances. And rightfully so. I can't think of school colors that feel more poisonous at present than red and black, or cardinal and gold.
Still, both programs have their weaknesses: Geogria's offensive line must replace two starters. And Stafford will have a new set of targets in a young receiver corp. USC's rising star offense returns only five vets -- Sanchez will have to step up, and grow up quickly. His limited appearances in 2007 were marked with missteps. The Trojan defensive line looks like a grinning eleven year old with noticeable holes from the lost teeth of Jackson and Ellis.
A No. 2 start might be a little premature for So Cal. If Carroll can live up to his infallible reputation for swatting premiere out of conference opponents like gnats with opening matchups against Virginia and No. 3 Ohio State, you'll hear no complaints from us. (In fact, the only registered groans on record might come from the SEC crowd, when they realize the new generation of championship foe might be a faster and flashier Blockbuster).
Speaking of the Buckeyes, thank God the water Buffalos didn't wade their way to the top of the list. While Ohio State might be the most statistically formidable calculus in the bunch, they'll have to prove it to a nation of skeptics. Additionally, little press coverage has been given to a dismal two weeks in Columbus that saw both the dismissal of Eugene Clifford, the Big Red Back, and the arrest of Doug Worthington for driving under the influence. (The Rivalry, Esq. has three words for Mr. Escalade: Motion to Suppress).
The only surprise about No. 4 Oklahoma is that they probably should have been ranked higher. We suspect it's another example of coaches influenced by last season's bowl blunders. Expect post-pubescent quarterback Sam Bradford to pop more cornerbacks than pimples in the Big 12.
Because it wouldn't be a Top 5 if the SEC didn't earn at least two entries No. 5 Florida is at least as good as any team Urban Meyer has ever fielded. In fact, The Rivalry, Esq. thinks they'd Leak the 2006 National Championship squad in a scrimmage (although it's not clear what side Tebow would play for). Whatever happens to the Gators before November 1st, expect them to give Georgia a helluva sticky scare in Jacksonville when the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party turns ugly.
LSU is an ambitious pick at No. 6 after gaping losses on both sides of the ball bled into a messy spring. With a definitive lack of leadership, and a shotgun schedule, the Bayou Boys might find themselves barely cracking the Top 20 by the end of November. That said, the Tigers are the only two-time BCS national champions for a reason, and accordingly the jury's still out on this one.
No. 7 Missouri should have been ranked in the Top 6 after showing in Spring Ball they've still got their stripes, along with 3 All-Americans, their top quarterback rushers, and a favorable regular season schedule. Still, two four-year starters and trench reserves walk away from an offensive line that couldn't be more crucial to the new Tiger's success. Gary Pinkel coaches granite tough, and quarterback Chase Daniel is as thick and consistent as they come. Expect Mizzou to be the new West Virginia, at least for the next eight months.
"All the talent in the world can't make up for an inability to deal with adversity -- an impotence to adapt."
And speaking of the Mountaineers, West Virginia is a familiar favorite at No. 8. Was their disrobal of Oklahoma in last year's Fiesta Bowl an emotional campaign, or does it represent the tent-pitch smarts of Boy Scout Bill Stewart's new troop? Two things are for sure: West Virginia is the best program in the country that's never won a national championship, and they got that way on the blue-collar back of Rich Rodriguez.
If No. 9 Clemson can't run the ACC this year, they never will. It's the exact opposite for No. 10 Texas who should be just good enough to lose a close game to Oklahoma, and get passed over in favor of Missouri for a wild-card BCS pick.
No. 11 Auburn will look different than ever before with Tuberville's new marriage to a spread offense that's ever en vogue. Expect Auburn to make a few waves when they travel to Morgantown on October 23rd and upset the Mountaineers. Whether the Wisconsin of the SEC can handle their conference contenders remains to be determined. And, yes, if you're keeping track the SEC does own 1/3 of the teams in the Top 12. Huge surprise.
The last time No. 12 Wisconsin looked this good in the preseason was, well, last year -- before injuries and a lack of creativity held back P.J. Hill and Co. It's not often that teams are given a second-shot at greatness. Expect Bret Bielema to capitalize off of his block of veteran talent, core physicality, and sleeper status. It doesn't hurt that the matchup that should determine the outcome of the Big 10 will go down in Camp Randall against the stalwart Buckeyes. You better believe Bielema is praying for rain.
Kansas is a bit of an anomaly at No. 13, although we don't doubt they've earned they recognition they've gotten after last-season's full-court press and Orange Bowl juicer. The return of Todd White Wine sparks consistency from the get go, but to make it past the fifteenth minute they've have to tackle rival Mizzou and hold the Big 12 north. Truth be told, they probably shouldn't be ranked ahead of No. 14 Texas Tech. If anyone doubts the potency of that other program in the Lone Star state, ask your friend who'se dating his DVD recorder to borrow last year's matchup against Oklahoma.
Frank's lunchbox work ethic has helped No. 15 Virginia Tech to consistently show up on the national stage. To stay there, a young defense will have to adapt to their featured role in Beamer's scheme, sans last year's front seven. Tandem quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Talor should spur an inventive merger between drop-back and option play.
Don't forget No. 16 Arizona State who, under the tutelage of Dennis Erickson should continue to challenge for rank in the upper eschelon of the Pac 10. An early visit from, and almost certain slaying at the hands of No. 1 Georgia will either inspire first-class play, or sink the encore ship.
The first non-BCS program to hang its hat in the Top 25 (thereby gaining premature favorite status to crash the BCS party) is No. 17 Brigham Young, whose name couldn't be any more misleading. Thirteen returning starters and the nation's longest winning streak (10 wins) form the vertebra of one of the most exciting offenses in college football. Still, the Cougars won't dance if they can't develop -- a second week trip to Washington, and away contests against TCU and Utah (they feel your pain, Rich) will determine if these cats have multiple wives -- um, lives.
Tennessee is a bit of a yawn at No. 18, but it's a mistake to overlook Phil Fulmer's raw achievement and returning stock. In the last five years he's seen three 10-win seasons and New Years day bowls. Last season's rebound from a Strawberry Canyon spanking by Cal to finish at the top of the SEC East is a testament to the Vol's core grit. With the loss of offensive coordinator David Cutcliff to Duke, no one is expecting the checkers to do much. Which is exactly why they might...
Still, I probably would have put No. 19 Illinois ahead of them -- that is provided Juice Williams can carry the pass.
No. 20 Oregon rounds out the Top 20. And, while they might struggle as they navigate the early season schedule (away at Purdue, home against Boise State), a step up in leadership under center might be enough to put them in the wings for the Pac 10 race, although they won't win the title.
What? South Florida at No. 21? Didn't they totally get mulled by Oregon in the Sun Bowl? 51-21 is no fun when you're trying to build a contender, but two nine-win seasons in a row means Tampa stays relevant. A veteran offense, led by quarterback Matt Grothe should keep things moving. Just don't expect a tidal surge to No. 2 in the polls.
Penn State is in a familiar position, starting the season at No. 22, and despite strong receiver, offensive line, and linebacker (you're kidding me) packages, the scariest thing in State College right now is probably the Beaver Stadium white-out crowd under the lights. If Joe Pa can coax consistency from his quarterback and replace begotten running back Austin Scott, this team should gel -- but The Rivalry, Esq. is still perplexed that many pundits have them finishing second in the Big 10.
Wake Forest, the team we're used to seeing in the "Also Receiving Votes" subscript, is in at No. 23, which is a testament to coach Jim Grobe. Quarterback Riley Skinner is the real deal, as is a defense that's strong up the middle. Expect this squad to continue to add to its 20-win mark over the past two seasons while challenging for the ACC title. And to stay in the Top 25.
At least half of The Rivalry, Esq. has no idea why No. 24 Michigan is No. 24 Michigan outside of the fact that 1. They're Michigan, and 2. They have Rich Rodriquez. Then again, when it comes to premptive valuations, these reasons are about as good as any. The architect knows the college game as well as anyone, and a new approach to strength and conditioning means this team could marry the best of Big 10 power with southern speed -- if it finds an offensive line, and a quarterback. The jury will be out on this one until at least Week 3.
The Top 25 begins and ends with Bulldogs. No. 25 Fresno State is another team that could spike the BCS punch, under the explosive aerobatics of wide receiver Marlan Moore. Easily the best of the Pat Hill era, this balanced bunch might play past December if it can at least split the out of conference gauntlet against Rutgers, Wisconsin, Toledo, and UCLA.