Just as predicted by numbers guru Phil Steele back in February, Oklahoma will begin the 2011 season ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Sooners grabbed 42 of a possible 59 first-place votes in the coaches' preseason ballot, released Thursday morning, but still hold just a 40-point lead over second-place Alabama. The Tide took 13 first-place votes, with the remaining four split evenly between No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 LSU (who just so happen to be playing in Dallas on the season's opening Saturday). Florida State rounds out the top five, further cementing Jimbo Fisher's program as the new ACC favorites. (Virginia Tech is the next-highest ACC team at No. 13.)
Conference-by-conference, the poll features eight teams from the SEC, five from the Big Ten, five from the Big 12, two each from the Pac-12, ACC and Mountain West, and one independent in Notre Dame. The Big East went unrepresented in the top 25, with West Virginia finishing "No. 27" as part of the "Also Receiving Votes" category.
Some immediate reaction:
- When it comes to getting the benefit of the doubt, it still pays to be the biggest-name program possible. Georgia, Florida, Texas and Penn State combined for a whopping 25 losses last year, but all four still find their way into the preseason ballot as teams Nos. 21-25.
- Despite the SEC's lofty reputation, it's the Big 12 with the top billing in the top 10. In addition to Oklahoma edging the Tide for top spot, both Oklahoma State and Texas A&M squeeze into the top 10 while only LSU joins Alabama from the SEC. The Cowboys and Aggies will have a lot to prove, as recent Big 12 dark horses like Nebraska last season and the '09 Cowboys have failed to live up to their preseason ranking.
- Ohio State's off-season turmoil has left Wisconsin and those same Cornhuskers as the only Big Ten teams in the top 15 of the poll. Given the league's apparent parity -- the Huskers were recently named the league favorite despite coaching turnover and major losses on defense -- even that may be generous.
- The top two teams in the final poll of 2010 slid a combined 31 spots, with national champion Auburn coming in No. 19 and No. 2 TCU checking in at No. 15. Auburn may be ranked entirely too low if you subscribe to the "champions until they lose" doctrine, and entirely too high if you believe the combination of a brutal schedule and extremely young roster will result in a struggle to even make the top 25. Which means they're probably ranked about right for a poll like this.
- With USC ineligible and Arizona State and Utah each finishing in the "Also Receiving Votes" category, no team from the new Pac-12 South was included. Guess the "Sun Devils = divisional favorite" offseason chatter didn't mean a whole lot to the voters, just as West Virginia's status as the presumptive Big East favorite didn't. But should it really have meant less than Penn State's expected running-in-place season after a 7-6 season a year ago?
- For that reason, this blogger will go with the Nittany Lions as the poll's most overrated team, and a tie between Nos. 13 and 14 -- Virginia Tech and loaded Arkansas -- as the poll's most underrated.