Posted by Tom Fornelli
The preseason coaches poll was released on Thursday morning, and while I'm not a big fan of polls in the preseason, at the moment I'm thrilled to see them. It's just a reminder of how close we are to the beginning of the season and now fans across the country finally have a reason to put a chip on their shoulder -- "My school gets no respect!" -- or feel an unearned sense of entitlement.
After persusing the poll, it's obvious that the Big 12 should puff its chest out a little bit. The last year has been filled with news of the conference losing teams, and even the last few weeks have stoked the fires of schools feeling like they're getting the short end of the stick in the Big 12 when compared to Texas, but the Big 12 has something that no other conference in the land can claim right now.
Three teams ranked in the top ten.
Let's take a look at who is ranked, who isn't, and whether or not they're in the right place.
#1 Oklahoma - I don't think it's shocking at all to find Oklahoma opening the season on top of the poll, as many predicted this is what would happen, and there's a good reason for it. Oklahoma finished 2010 ranked sixth, and unlike the five teams that were ranked ahead of them at the time, all the major players are back in Norman. Landry Jones will be getting a lot of Heisman hype as the offense should continue to put up a lot of points, and the Sooners defense should be one of the best units in the land. The real question here is whether or not Oklahoma can stay atop the polls. The preseason #1 doesn't have the greatest track record, and the Sooners have a tough schedule that includes road games against #5 Florida State and #8 Oklahoma State. Home dates against #9 Texas A&M, #21 Missouri and the annual battle with #24 Texas won't be a cakewalk either.
#8 Oklahoma State - A top ten spot is well-deserved for the Cowboys based on what they did in 2010. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon lit the air on fire last season as Oklahoma State finished second in the nation in passing yards per game and third in points per game. Both of those gentlemen are back, so the offense will be fine. What will really determine whether or not the Cowboys are deserving of this ranking and will finish the year in the top 10 is the defense. Offense alone can get you into the top ten, but you need a strong defense to stay there. We'll find out soon enough when Oklahoma State plays an early game against Arizona, and considering that the Cowboys play #9 Texas A&M, #24 Texas and Missouri all on the road this season, holding on to this spot or moving up is not going to be easy.
#9 Texas A&M - Based on how things finished for the Aggies last season, I get the hype. I truly do. Still, that doesn't mean I'm fully convinced the Aggies are a top ten team in 2011. Ryan Tannehill was a revelation for the Aggies after taking over for Jerrod Johnson, but will he be able to match his performance again now that teams will be ready for him? Can the defense replace Von Miller without a drop off? Those are pretty big questions to answer, and when you throw in a game against #14 Arkansas to go with the conference slate, and it's not insane to think this is a team that finishes the year closer to the 15-20 range than the top ten.
#21 Missouri - Missouri loses a bit from its 2010 squad on both sides of the ball, but this placing feels right. It won't be easy to replace Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, but nobody thought it would be easy to replace Chase Daniel either, and Gary Pinkel has proven that he knows how to find quarterbacks. Can James Franklin be that guy? We'll find out early when he Tigers go on the road to face Arizona State on the second Saturday of the season, but if the defense that allowed only 16.1 points per game last season can put up an encore performance, that would be a big help. I would be worried about road games against #1 Oklahoma and #9 Texas A&M though.
#24 Texas - You're going to hear a lot of folks saying that this is a reputation spot for Texas and nothing else. Those saying it will be correct, too, because there's no way you can say that Texas earned this spot with its play last season. That being said, I think it's entirely possible that when the dust settles on 2011, Texas will be ranked higher than this. Hell, the Longhorns may be the second-highest ranked team in the conference. I'm of the opinion that 2010 was an aberration and I don't think the offense can be as detrimental in 2011 as it was in 2010. Plus this is still a fantastic defense, and one that will keep Texas in every game, so if the Longhorns can win 8 or 9 games that reputation that got them to #24 in the preseason poll will only help push them up further as the year goes on.