The preseason Coaches' Poll dropped last week, and with it came another preseason top 10.
In the past eight seasons, the coaches only produced a turkey-free preaseason top ten (none failing to make the final poll) twice. Once was 2004 when a pity vote for poor, fired Ron Zook got preseason No. 10 Florida in the bottom of the poll at 25. The other season, which with an average final rank of 9.6 for the preseason top 10 was the coaches' best prognosticating job in the span, was chaos-filled 2007.
Overall, 13 of the eighty preseason top ten teams since 2002 have failed to make the final poll. As best as I can tell, the most common cause was the crumbling of a coaching regime. That scenario bit '02 Nebraska, '05 Tennessee, '06 Florida State, and '08 Clemson. The rest were a combination of things like injury plagues, brutal schedules, and superstars that didn't quite turn out to be superstars.
Anyway, I don't know if any of the top ten teams will fall out of the polls, but here's the order I'd put everyone in from most to least likely to fall out of the polls.
The Hawkeyes had a great record last year, but they weren't dominant. They beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined four points. They nearly lost to Michigan and Michigan State. In 2010, they get every tough team in the Big Ten while missing Illinois and Purdue. Iowa State usually plays them tough regardless, and they go to Arizona. It's not going to be an explosive team, and the schedule is tough.
2. Virginia Tech
The ACC will probably be as good as it has been in the last 10 years, and VT is in the tougher of the two divisions. There are questions with the defense, which is fast but undersized. The offensive line also doesn't have that many starts returning. If Tyrod Taylor has some breakdowns and other teams manhandle the D, then the Hokies could be in for disappointment.
Of the Huskers' four losses last year, only one was by more than two points. That generally would point to better things this year, but they had some close wins too. The team was inconsistent in large part thanks to an offense that could be brutal (which largely returns too). The dominant defense loses Ndamukong Suh, which is a blow no matter who else is there. They play at Washington and get Texas, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M (i.e. no Baylor) from the South. If the offense doesn't improve and the defense can't bail it out as much, the season could go downhill.
The Sooners, like the Huskers, had a lot of close losses. The defense loses a good bit, most notably Gerald McCoy. The offense needs better line play to improve, and it does need to improve as it struggled against any good defense it faced last year. The non-conference includes FSU, Cincinnati, and a decent Air Force squad, and the Big 12 South is still the tougher division. They just went from top 10 to unranked last year, so it's not an outlandish thought.
The Longhorns have a great deal of roster turnover, and teams almost always slide a bit after reaching a pinnacle like they did last year. They are helped by a SEC/Big Ten-style non-conference schedule, which features Rice, Wyoming, FAU, and the perpetually rebuilding UCLA. They do draw Nebraska from the North along with Kansas State, who has a winning record over Texas since the Big 12 started (even Ron Prince was 2-1).
The Frogs are returning almost everyone from last year's banner year, so that helps a lot. Gary Patterson is a great coach too, and the school has won 10 games six times in the last eight seasons. Only Oregon State poses a threat in the non-conference, and that game's in Dallas. The MWC is the toughest of the non-AQ leagues, but of the top teams in the league, only Utah is a road contest. If they drop three of their four big games (Oregon State, BYU, Utah, Air Force) plus the bowl, that'd be enough to keep them out of the final poll. It's not going to happen, but it is more plausible than the scenarios for the following teams.
The Gators have too much talent to lose the five games that they'd need to be out of the final poll, but I guess stranger things have happened. Charlie Strong is gone, they lost tons of talent to the NFL draft, and if none of the receivers step up, it will be a long season on offense. Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, FSU, and the bowl are all losable games in theory, and hey, USF will be really motivated. It's highly unlikely, but it could happen.
8. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are loaded, and even if Terrelle Pryor doesn't improve, he still lead the team to a Rose Bowl win last year. The Buckeyes only play one tough non-conference game (Miami), and they don't miss any of the dregs of the Big Ten. In order to finish outside the polls, OSU would have to lose every big game. I know Jim Tressel's reputation in big games has dropped in recent years, but he's generally money within the conference. I guess it could happen, but it's very, very unlikely.
Nick Saban is at the top of his game, the coordinators didn't turn over, and a wealth of talent is back on offense. I know this team is not going 14-0 again, but I can't see it falling to 8-5 (a 9-4 mark would get them in the final poll). Still, the schedule is pretty tough all things considered. The SEC West is as deep as it's ever been, and they get Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee from the East. There's also the matter of six teams coming off a bye before playing the Tide, for whatever that's worth. The one tough non-conference game (Penn State) is at home, so that helps. It's highly, highly unlikely to happen, but there are enough tough teams there that if they get bit by the injury bug a few losses could come their way.
10. Boise State
The Broncos are being pushed as a national title contender, and why not while returning everyone from last year's 14-0 team? The thing, though, is that they still are in the WAC and only have two tough non-conference games. I think it's entirely possible that if they lose both to Virginia Tech and Oregon State, they could still be ranked after sweeping the conference again. Their brand is strong enough that a 10-3 season (with a bowl loss) probably still gets them in the bottom of the polls.
Which top ten team in the Coaches' Poll is most likely to finish unranked?
Alabama (19 votes)
Ohio State (13 votes)
Florida (42 votes)
Texas (17 votes)
Boise State (47 votes)
Virginia Tech (97 votes)
TCU (72 votes)
Oklahoma (45 votes)
Nebraska (86 votes)
Iowa (183 votes)
621 total votes