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College Football: A First Look

   by Larry Ness - 08/11/2009

College Football annuals have been at bookstores and newsstands for more than a month and this past weekend, USA Today released its preseason Coaches' Poll and some sports books posted pointspreads on college football's opening weekend's games (September 3 through 7). I guess it's "that time of year" for a first look at the 2009 season.

To no one's surprise, Florida was named preseason No.1 in the coaches' poll, garnering 53 of the 59 first-place votes. Texas came in No. 2 (four 1st place votes), Oklahoma No. 3 (one 1st place vote), USC No. 4 (one 1st place vote) and Alabama No. 5. The SEC had five schools in the top-25 (four in the top-10), with last year's preseason No. 1 (Georgia) getting ranked No. 13.

It's interesting to note that the MWC placed as many schools tin the preseason top-25 (three) as the Big 10. Boise State (WAC) was the highest-ranked school from a non-BCS conference at No. 16. Boise's ranking ties the highest preseason ranking of any non-BCS school (BCS' first year was back in 1998) and the four schools from leagues without automatic BCS bids (TCU is 17th, Utah 18th and BYU 24th) represents the most-ever in a preseason poll from outside the six BCS conferences.

Also of note is that the Big East did not place a single team in the coaches preseason top-25. It marks the first time that a BCS conference got shut out of the top-25. It should be noted that no school has begun a season unranked by the coaches and gone on to play in the BCS title game (11 years). More recently, no school not in the coaches' top-10 during the preseason has reached the title game over the last five years. So how did the coaches do last year? Actually, not so well.

Georgia was last year's preseason No. 1 but the Bulldogs would go on to lose 41-30 at home to Alabama (trailed 31-0 at the half), 49-10 to Florida at Jacksonville and 45-42 at home to Georgia Tech (led 28-12 at the half). Georgia would beat Michigan State 24-12 in the Citrus Bowl (trailed 6-3 at the half) to finish 10-3 and ended the year ranked No. 10. The coaches hardly got that one right. That may be too critical but consider the following.

How many of last year's preseason teams ended up in the top-25 at year's end? The answer is just 12 (less than half). That means that 13 schools chosen by the coaches to be among the coming year's top-25, didn't live up to expectations. Six of the 13 didn't even finish with a winning record, with 3-9 Michigan (ranked 24th in the preseason) and 4-8 Wisconsin (ranked 12th), being the "worst offenders." Just one school (9-4 West Va, which opened at No. 8) of the 13 which failed to end up in the final top-25 even won more than eight games.

Note that Utah was unranked going into last year by the coaches, yet finished as college football's only unbeaten team in 2008. The Utes finished 13-0, including their impressive 31-17 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Speaking of Alabama, the Tide were also unranked at the beginning of the 2008 season, yet won their first 12 games before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game and then to Utah.

TCU also began the 2008 season unranked but would finish at No. 7 in the season's final poll, after beating then-unbeaten Boise State 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State was also unranked in last year's preseason pool but would finished ranked No. 13.

I point this out for no other reason than to remind people not to put too much stock in preseason rankings (AP poll is due August 22) when handicapping this year's September games. The 2009 college football season kicks off on Thursday, September 3 with three games, including a doubleheader on ESPN. The second game of that doubleheader is an important one, as No. 14 Oregon will be at No. 16 Boise State. The early number has the Broncos as six-point favorites over the Ducks.

There are three meetings of top-25 opponents on Saturday, September 5. No. 3 Oklahoma hosts No. 24 BYU and is favored by a little more than three TDs (22 points). No. 5 Alabama meets No. 7 Va Tech in the Georgia Dome, with the Tide installed as a 5 1/2-point choice. No. 11 Oklahoma State opens its season with a home game against No. 13 Georgia, with the Cowboys favored by 5 1/2 points.

Good luck, Larry

Note: I had promised part-two of my NFL playoff preview this week but chose to talk some college football, instead. Join me Thursday, when I'll rank the non-playoff teams from last year which are most likely to be playing in the 2009 postseason field.

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