Humans make mistakes. We like to think we’re smart, but the truth is that, save for a select few of us, we’re generally not. As George Carlin once said, think of how stupid the average person is and then remember half the world is dumber than that person.
For evidence of this, look at college football preseason top 25 polls. When we’re trying to judge how good a team will be before a season starts, we’re assuming a whole lot of things. We’re assuming that team will stay healthy. We’re assuming that team didn’t overperform last season. We’re assuming things go as planned. We’re assuming we’re not idiots. When assuming so much, you’re bound to get a lot wrong. That’s why at least one team that has started the season in the top 10 of the preseason AP Top 25 managed to finish unranked 26 times over the last 30 years.
Making matters worse, last year I Alabama and Clemson from consideration. I was down to eight candidates, three of them (37.5 percent!) finished unranked … yet I picked one that did not (Penn State, No. 17).and then proceeded to try and predict which team in the top 10 would finish unranked. The first thing I did was eliminate
And you want to know what’s worse? I wrote this: “After going through the list of the 10 teams, there are four who stand out to me, and three of them come from the Big Ten. I think our most likely suspects are No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 9 Auburn and No. 10 Penn State.” Half of my four finalists finished unranked, and I picked one of the other two. Why? Well, think of how dumb the average person is then remember half of the world is dumber than that person.
So let’s get stupid and try this again. Like last year, I’ll go through it team by team and then — and only then! — will I deliberate on each team and come to a conclusion.
|Yeah, that’s not happening. Not here. Not to this team. Sure, the Tigers have to replace a whole lot on defense, but they’re still the cream of the crop in the ACC, and there’s just no way they lose enough games to fall out of the top 25.|
|There’s a better chance Alabama falls out of the top 25 than Clemson but only because Alabama plays in a tougher conference. Still, the chances of it happening are nestled somewhere between LOL and Are You High?|
The Bulldogs do have to replace a lot, but when it comes to using returning starters as a method of finding a team’s level, there are two areas I like to look at more than others: Is the quarterback back, and how much of the offensive line is gone? Well, Jake Fromm is back, and while Georgia has a lot of skill-position talent to replace, the OL is mostly intact. According to Phil Steele, there are 83 career starts on that line, and that ranks 29th in the nation. As for the skill positions, there aren’t many programs who have recruited at Georgia’s level in recent years.
Now, when we look at the schedule, there are plenty of tough games (Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M), but only one of those games (Auburn) comes on the road. So while there might be a loss or two — or maybe even three in there — would three losses be enough to knock the Dawgs out of the top 25? Would four?
There is definitely some concern here, and it’s not because of the QB situation. Last year we were wondering how Oklahoma would replace Baker Mayfield, and then Kyler Murray showed up. Now Murray’s gone, and his replacement isn’t some unknown commodity. It’s Jalen freaking Hurts. The problem is that while Kyler & Co. garnered a ton of attention last season, the real strength of that Sooners offense was its offensive line.
Well, here’s the good news. Oklahoma had four members of its 2018 offensive line drafted last spring. The bad news is that because they were drafted, they are no longer eligible to play at the college level, and therefore must be replaced. Oklahoma’s OL depth chart has 24 career starts between it. That ranks 126th in the nation. So not only is Oklahoma losing a ton of production from skill players, but it has to replace its entire offensive line. Oh, and the defense wasn’t exactly reliable last season.
In 2010, Ohio State went 12-1, won the Big Ten, and won the Sugar Bowl. Then, a few months later, after initially accepting a five-game suspension due to NCAA violations within the program, coach Jim Tressel resigned because of his players trading memorabilia for tattoos (simpler times!). Luke Fickell, a Tressel assistant, then took over the program and had a new, exciting dual-threat QB leading the offense. Ohio State went 6-7, losing the Gator Bowl.
In 2018, Ohio State went 13-1, won the Big Ten, and won the Rose Bowl. This after its coach, Urban Meyer, was suspended for the first three games of the season and then resigned following the season. Ryan Day, a Meyer assistant, then took over the program and is prepared to enter the 2019 season with a new, exciting dual-threat QB leading the offense. What could go wrong? Well, possibly plenty. Ohio State has recruited well, but it still must replace a bunch of offensive production. It has a very talented but unproven QB and not a ton of returning experience on the OL. Oh, and it must go on the road for Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan this season, while it hosts Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State.
The biggest concern with LSU, at least in my mind, is its schedule. It has tough road games against Texas and Alabama, and it will have to play Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M as well. What alleviates those concerns is the fact that mostly everybody from last year’s team is back, and last year’s team went 10-3. None of this means they’ll improve upon that, but even if the Tigers slide, I’m not sure they slide back far enough to finish outside the top 25. The top 10? Yeah, that’s possible.
The Wolverines are in a similar spot as the Tigers. Most of the offense is back, including QB Shea Patterson and most of one of the best offensive lines in the country. Karan Higdon is gone, but running backs are a lot easier to replace, particularly when they’re running behind an OL like Michigan’s. The concern is that the defense has to replace a lot of key players like Devin Bush, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. I don’t think it should be a significant problem, as Michigan has recruited well, and Don Brown is an excellent defensive coordinator.
Still, we shouldn’t eliminate the possibility of this defense taking a step backward. The schedule isn’t all that friendly, either. Michigan gets Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan State at home, but it still has to play all three of them. It also has to play road games against Wisconsin and Penn State, and let’s throw home games against Iowa and Army in there for good measure.
The Gators exceeded expectations in Dan Mullen’s first season. Could they fail to meet them in his second? It’s certainly possible! Remember when I told you about how Oklahoma ranked 126th nationally in returning starts on its offensive line in 2019? Well, guess who they’re tied with at 126th. Yep, Florida.
So while the Gators may have Feleipe Franks back and eight starters on defense, it’d be foolish of us to assume an inexperienced offensive line will keep on keepin’ on against an SEC slate that will see the Gators going up against Auburn, LSU and Georgia. Plus, there are the two nonconference games against Miami and Florida State. Man, nothing seems more exciting than going against Miami’s defense with a brand new offensive line!
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that Notre Dame is fully capable of laying an egg a year after having a good season. In 2012, the Irish went 12-1, lost to Alabama in the title game and came back in 2013 to finish 9-4. Still, even then, they finished in the top 20. However, after going 10-3 in 2015, the Irish went 4-8 in 2016. Of course, they then followed that up by going 10-3 in 2017 and 12-1 last year, reaching the College Football Playoff. So how do things set up in 2019? Well, they do have to replace a lot of important pieces from last season. Ian Book is back at QB, and that’s good, but as far as career starts are concerned, ND’s OL ranks 78th nationally. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s a lot of production to replace as well.
The question is whether or not Notre Dame has recruited well enough that it can restock the shelves instead of rebuilding. Recent signs show that the program is heading that direction, but we can’t overlook a schedule that includes road games against Georgia, Michigan and Stanford. Those could be three losses right there. Not enough to finish unranked, but if those are losses, and the Irish slip up somewhere else, we’re in that territory.
I have to admit, when starting this post and looking at the teams in the top 10, Texas definitely screamed “It’s us! We’re going to be the ones!” at me. Then I looked deeper into all 10 teams, and you know what happened? I still felt the same way, mostly. Texas must play both LSU and Oklahoma, though the good news is it gets the former in Austin, and the latter in Dallas. Still, aside from those games, it also has to go on the road against TCU, Iowa State and Baylor, and I think those three games could be tricky. So could a home game against Oklahoma State.
And Texas will be doing all of this while replacing most of its 2018 team. Sam Ehlinger is back, as is a lot of the offensive line, and these are excellent things. It’s just, there are only eight returning starters on this team total. Only three of them are on defense, and that defense was a big reason why the Horns won 10 games last season.
So who is it going to be? Well, honestly, after going through all of these teams in search of the negatives, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see multiple teams fall out just like we did last season. Thankfully, I only have to pick one, and my final four candidates are Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida and Texas.
I didn’t think I’d have Oklahoma here, but as I went over the teams, there are a lot of red flags that could lead to big problems. Ohio State’s in a similar position. Still, I don’t see those two losing enough games to fall out of the rankings entirely.
So I’m down to Florida and Texas, and I’m going to go with the Longhorns. While the SEC is tougher overall than the Big 12, I believe that outside of Oklahoma at the top, and Kansas at the bottom, the other eight teams in the Big 12 are a lot closer to one another than they are to Oklahoma and Kansas. That kind of parity can wreak havoc.
Also, I don’t want to ignore reputations. If Texas goes 8-4, there will be plenty of people happy to say, “Look who they overrated again!” and knock the Horns down a peg. If Florida goes 8-4, those same people will say, “Well, yeah, but 8-4 in the SEC is different than 8-4 in the Big 12” and continue to put the Gators on their ballots.
So, of all the candidates, I think the top 10 team most likely to finish the season unranked is Texas.
Cue the “ok, cool. Hook em” responses!