Tuesday, August 15, 2006
BLOGPOLLIN', PART ONE: THE SORROW AND THE PITY
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Before he logs his very, very official and very, very poorly-reasoned BlogPoll ballot later on today, SMQ would like to pause for a moment of silence in honor of the endless hours devoted to devising myriad systematic rubrics for determining a firm 1-119 ranking for every team this offseason, the late, spreadsheet-less nights, occasionally fighting sleep over an office-ledger type grid, illegible and blacked-out blocks of numbers combined with symbols decipherable only to SMQ, the increasingly complex fractions, hedges and corrections employed to push the systematic results into a form the abstract football mind could justify. Such innocence; such waste.
The goal was to come up with a poll that would most closely resemble the final poll of the season, which meant assessing every team in every game, devising fair ways to account for the various probabilities of given teams winning in evenly-matched toss-ups, the differences in potential upsets, probable competitive losses and likely blowouts and assigning points that would accurately account for wide strength of schedule variations. Months of this tedium resulted Sunday in this:1. Florida State
Um, not to disrespect Florida State, but...no. How to fix this? Count the championship games! Have FSU lose to Miami in the ACC Championship! That's the ticket!
But then:1. Ohio State
Which is a possible finish, in the broadest theoretical sense, but practically not feasible at all. And it took a minor form of cheating to get to 'not feasible.' So: strict adherence to the system=out the window.
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SMQ's efforts at systematic prognostication
The results are useful as a kind of guide, though. The estimation of some teams (Michigan, for one, and Clemson) rose somewhat dramatically; others (Georgia, UCLA) fell far out of favor relative to the initial gauges of their prospective success. Below, the order is basically the wreckage of SMQ's ill-fated rubric, with a few minor changes. The real adjustments are going to come among the top ten, which is much more closely scrutinized and, given Evil Dictator Brian's mandate that schedule strength - again, a major factor in all of SMQ's haphazard tabulations - be ignored entirely, open to more flexibility as well. Right now, four different teams, all intensely flawed in some fundamental and important aspect, are heavily vying for SMQ's top spot, and there is a good chance none of them will actually occupy it when the final results are submitted.
Take all indications of imminent demise here in the spirit they're offered - the 'Canes are still bad, bad men, and not only in the sense that they're linked to random and subsequent retaliatory gunfire. Last year's performance at Virginia Tech is a good indication of what Miami's still capable of and shouldn't be dismissed. Neither, though, should the embarassing Peach Bowl shellacking against LSU, which cemented this program's outsider status until further notice in terms of the mythical title race. Kyle Wright, like Hypothetical Rhett Bomar (see below), is a former No. 1 recruit who looks OK but doesn't show any signs after a full season of living up to that expectation. Given the ACC landscape, still a conference championship, and therefore big-money series, frontrunner, but expansion means even that status is losing prestige.
Could have finished as many as ten spots higher prior to Lexusgate, when everyone already assumed Adrian Peterson would be driven harder than an RX anyway. But Paul Thompson was actually named the starter before last season and played plenty early on, so the dropoff may not be very significant. If the offensive line holds up - big, big "if" with four new starters - there may be no dropoff. Either way, this is obviously a defensively-driven team, and will go far on those merits. The Sooners also miss rising Nebraska, so barring another TCU-level upset, Texas and Oregon will represent the only major challenges.
The Hawkeyes are a chic top ten "rebound" pick, but SMQ questions that level of progress minus the Hodge-Greenway linebacker combo he suspects had more to do with last year's run-stuffing abilitites than some more serious Hawkeye hypers may realize. The D-line looks generally tough enough, but bigger concern is at the speed positions, receiver and corner, which are newly staffed; the corners, especially, are a liability in a league whose other top five teams all have "above average" to "permanent prevent-inducing" receiving combos. Drew Tate, capable of beating Ohio State in Iowa City on guts of steel (or, should the NCAA take its cues from the World Cup and institute a tiebreaker format that has virtually nothing to do with the actual game, a closest-to-the-pin contest in overtime), keeps them in Rose Bowl contention.
A strength of schedule casualty, albeit one that has an excellent chance to run the table with Miami and West Virginia both visiting Papa John's Stadium (Score an extra point tonight...at the dinner table! Papa John's!). As we'll see later with another of SMQ's pet favorites for the season in the top ten, 2006 is sort of a "rubber match" for determining the program's baseline expectations under Bobby Petrino until further notice: is it the shoot 'em up, no holds barred fury that crushed virtually everyone in its path - including mighty Miami, but for a punt return and dropped icing interception - or the milder crew that was very good last year, but not great enough to avoid a weird letdown against a lesser opponent (South Florida), a blown opportunity against an equal (West Virginia) and a late capitulation to a superior team (Virginia Tech in the bowl)? Brian Brohm, assuming his leg's OK, has already entered and ought to be quickly surpassing Redman/Ragone/LeFors territory any minute now, with school hall-of-famer and giant running back Michael Bush in tow, which leaves it up to his underhyped skill guys and especially the Dumervil-less defense to put this bunch back on the road to dominance.
Alright, SMQ will bite on the Vols' relative resurgence, with a caveat: last season's defensive line was insane, one of the best of the decade at stuffing the run while also getting after quarterbacks, and it still wasn't good enough to push the one-dimensional offense to a winning record. So, query: is Erik Ainge, you know, stable? Enough to open up defenses against the run a little, and not nervous twitch himself into spastic mistakes against blitzes, at least? Cause there aren't really any other options, i.e. a Rick Clausen or Brett Schaeffer who can step right in, behind him. David Cutcliffe is supposed to be the zen master in this regard, but SMQ has his doubts the mantras will produce enough change to make up all of the difference sure to be incurred by a very talented but very young front seven. Still, too talented for now to write off that kind of collapse as anything but a momentary aberration.
SMQ says fear fear fear this team. It's not worth going overboard, but in last week's anatomy lesson on forecasting stunning mythical title contenders, the Huskers were the perfect storm of rising, highly-recruited talent, run-stuffing hellions and veteran quarterbacking cool under a new, big-name hire - i.e., a replica of Oklahoma in 2000 or Ohio State in 2002. Nebraska improved over the second half last year, played Texas Tech and Oklahoma very close in losses, detroyed division champion Colorado in a breakthrough game and capped it by hanging on against Michigan in a momentum-soldifying/building win. Definitely the Big XII North favorite, perhaps still a year away, maybe two (since Harrison Beck is out the door) from more. Or maybe waiting to pounce with cornfed, creepily-mascoted vengeance now. Don't say SMQ didn't warn.
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Watch out. Seriously.
The Tigers are tallying some tout, which Orson rightfully pegs as a historical harbinger of doom. Or something like that. But, even sans Charlie Whitehurst, or any other quarterback who's ever played significantly, the offense is pretty much loaded - all five linemen are back (assuming potential Bryant McKinnie-esque left tackle deity Roman Frye remains out of the soup over last month's jet ski tragedy), Chansi Stuckey is an all-ACC caliber receiver who could also take a few shotgun snaps in a pinch and there are about three running backs who can play, with another (C.J. Spiller) coming in. New QB Will Proctor's a senior and thus ought to be fine, if not a revelation (Whitehurst was good, not that good- Proctor would have been on the field before now if he were going to be a revelation). This will probably also be Tommy Bowden's best defense, led by Gaines Adams, who is not as dominant as Video Gaines, the highest rated player on NCAA Football 2007, but is a quality sack/TFL man. Given the annual inexplicable loss to, let's say, Wake Forest, the difference will be split with an equally stupefying upset and a potential New Year's Day visit - which would be Bowden's first here, for the record.
18. West Virginia
Probably the lowest you'll see the Mountaineers, "darkhorse" darlings with close to an entire offense back and some serious holes to plug from a good, senior-laden defense. SMQ has made his argument against the "BCS or Bust" campaign for WVU before, and will add only this: in the history of the poll system, West Virginia has never finished ranked in consecutive seasons, so if they do wind up in this area, it would best the school's historical trends. Also consider SMQ's "Purdue Rule," named for the high projections stemming from the quirky omission of Michigan and Ohio State from the Boilermakers' '05 schedule: when a team's most attractive asset is who it doesn't have to play (in this case, Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College), that is not a team hitching itself to the stars.
19. Virginia Tech
Ah, the aforementioned Hokies turn up at an appropriate time, for they, too, are benefitting in polls from an unusually soft non-conference lineup (SMQ's Golden Eagles are the toughest of the patsies) and an ACC slate that misses the Atlantic Division's likely best team, Florida State. Which means Tech, a team shuffling brand new, inexperienced quarterbacks behind a rebuilding line and replacing four draft picks on defense is likely to be a favorite in every game but one (at Miami). SMQ imagines a loss to either Boston College or Clemson, if not both, and despite the enormous speed at wide receiver and linebacker, no better than a prominent position in the snarling race for the Gator Bowl.
20. Arizona State
The quarterback depth isn't that big of a deal, since only one can be on the field, but whichever one that is at any given time is going to have many opportunities to succeed again in a geared-up offense stocked with talented, experienced, versatile skill guys who are proven commodities. This is so much a given that essentially all the focus will be on the defense to make the three or four stops per game necessary to outscore people. Northwestern transfer Loren Howard, a former all-Big Ten guy, is supposed to help out there, but his addition can't be much more than a wash with tackle factory linebacker Dale Robinson gone. A quality darkhorse candidate and an excellent video game team, if you're not one of those annoying scramble/option types, but a long shot to finish better than third in the PAC Ten in real life without some noticeable defensive improvement that will prevent repeats of '05 losses to the likes of Stanford and Oregon State. One of those - or Arizona, or Washington, or especially dangerous Washington State - is likely to slip through the cracks again.
A major beneficiary of Lexusgate. The Ducks' home date with Oklahoma now looks winable, very winable, and the boost was enough to vault a ten-game winner last season back into SMQ's poll. Despite much late season urging for BCS inclusion, this feels more like where UO probably should have wound up in a pure "power poll" style ranking in '05, and where a very similar team with a slightly stiffer schedule will likely end up. Very productive Kellen Clemens,Terence Whitehead and Demetrius Williams exit as more touted Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Stewart and Jaison Williams ascend to starting positions behind a fully intact offensive line. Very much in the Holiday Bowl race, and that's not snark or sarcasm. The Holiday Bowl is okay, man, so just lay off.
Even SMQ thinks this is close to excessively low for the ol' Dawgs, defending SEC champs, but the consistency of nine-win seasons under Mark Richt isn't going to magically uplift a likely true freshman quarterback or three new starters on both lines and in the secondary. Recall that each of Richt's East Division championship teams - he's had three in the last four years - were quarterbacked by either supernaturally steady David Greene and much-hyped senior D.J. Shockley; Joe Tereshinski III has waited, like Shockley, to step into the starter's role in his last season, but that's where the comparisons end - see Florida last year, a defeat the Bulldogs win by two touchdowns with Shockley in the lineup. Behind JTIII, the options' eyes have not yet opened. Tennessee was able to grind its way to Atlanta with a true freshman quarterback behind a strong running game and defense two years ago, but attrition has hit UGA too hard in too many places for any such forecasts in this league; Richt is coach of the year otherwise. A dangerous team...in 2007.
23. Boston College
SMQ has previously named BC his 'underrated' team of the preseason, and so far his is the only poll of which he is aware that includes the persistent Eagles. Still, they don't rank quite as high as he had expected, and are sitting third in the ACC Atlantic, where most other folks are sticking them, too. There are legit conference title hopes here because the rest of the league is poised for a Big 12 North-like run of "frontrunner hot potato" unless Florida State gets its mind right, but they're going to do it by the most innocuous possible combination of running back-by-committee, controlled passing, stopping the run and creating turnovers. BC has the misfortune of drawing both Miami and Virginia Tech from across the conference's divisional divide, and you won't hear much about the Eagles if they don't win one of those games, or upsets FSU. They probably also won't come out this high in anyone's poll if they don't.
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Nothing to see here, folks...keep it movin'...
24. Georgia Tech
Entering Year Five, Chan Gailey Equilibrium faces its toughest test yet at Georgia Tech: finding a way to stay at seven wins with a) an extra regular season game, b) a four-year starter at quarterback, c) the most unstoppable freak of a receiver in the nation, d) two veteran lines and e) a fast, aggressive defense that comes out of the gate screaming past confused blockers. If anyone can do it, it's Chan, but the prospects of a new, non-mathetmatically burdened playcaller - OC and former Auburn QB Patrick Nix - with Calvin Johnson and a certain-to-be adequate running game on hand will adding the extra touchdown every two-three games to break the elusive eight-win barrier is attractive. Like Michigan State, if this exact same team on paper, coming off a 7-5 season in which it beat both Miami and Auburn on the road and gave Georgia hell, was returning for any other school, it would be in everybody's top 15. Even a little departure from the rut - like 9-4, maybe - would be a welcome psychological boost.
Another "redemption" team, in good position to vault to the top of a weakened middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Had to be better at its core than 5-6, last year, right? Had to be. Somebody had to be the casualty of a conference that deep, and the Boilers were it. But Joe Tiller hasn't had consecutive losing seasons here, and has earned the benefit of the doubt pending further negative developments. Will beat Penn State.
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Georgia scares me. I don't know why, but I think this team is not being regarded highly enough by just about everyone.
The Vols might have another quarterback controversy brewing again if you believe all the local Tennessee newspapers. Ainge is inconsistent again. Maybe his mind is still blown from last year. UT is too high at #15
The biggest question marks are QB, where we've got Curtis Painter. He came in mid-season last year as a redshirt freshman for an underperforming Brandon Kirsch. He didn't wow anyone, but he managed games and made good decisions. He's upped his accuracy in the off-season practicing with the #1's, including his accuracy with the long ball. We're replacing most of our D-line, but with competent players, and we brought in a bunch of JuCo talent to shore up our secondary, which battled major injury and mediocre talent last year.
I think we go 10-3 this year, with potential losses to ND, Iowa, and MSU.
Although it isn't chalk, there might be something to your first run. Then again, the computers never seem to pick anyone 100%.
Yes, you're right, before I started I would have said, "I'm taking these results to the bank" and busted and been mocked for them. But I really, really don't think Florida State's going to be No. 1. I can't pick them there if it goes against my better mu judgment.
And although I eventually used my system as a guide (most of these slots are identical to the actual results, though the top 10 varies almost entirely), and although I wanted to come as close as possible, I don't think what I did rises anywhere near the level of 'experiment.' The results of experiments are objective and can be consistently replicated under the same conditions, neither of which is true in any sense for my system, where the numbers could sometimes depend as much on my momentary opinion, circuitous thinking and lack of sleep as much as any more tangible factor. Even its fundamental outline could be flawed in the way it attempted to account for schedule strength in a consistent fashion.
I like the idea of approaching predictions as an 'experiment,' though and hope to get an early enough start to generate a huge amount of 'data' - my own opinion, but spread across as many different areas as possible over a large amount of time - to input into an 'objective' system that produces an acceptable result. But the result has to be acceptable, and Florida State at No. 1 is kind of crazy. The ease at which they were removed should say something about the extremely arbitrary nature of this exercise.