Every year as I sit down to start thinking about the preseason BlogPoll ballot, there are a few teams that I can't figure out what to do with. Well, actually, there's the entire ACC and then a few other teams that I can't figure out what to do with. A few examples for 2010, with your input more than welcome:
BOISE STATE (14-0, 8-0 WAC)
The Broncos will fall in a very narrow window, but it's still a significant difference: Are they a Top 2 team or a Top 5 team? To me, this is a big deal. As a general rule, I spend more time on my Top 2 spots in the preseason ballot than on any other decision. It is as much an "honor," if you want to call it that, as I can bestow. (How much of an honor any team gets from one blogger's opinion is an open question. Or really not; it's probably not much.) By now you know all the reasons to have Boise State ranked high: 20 returning starters from a team that went undefeated and surprised your humble correspondent by defeating TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. But are they good enough to be ranked No. 2 ahead of 118 other teams? Or No. 1 ahead of 119 others? To an extent, it comes down to Alabama, Boise, Ohio State and several wild cards.
CONNECTICUT (8-5, 3-4 Big East)
I don't do a straight power poll or a straight projection poll for the preseason ballot. It's a bit of each. On the power poll side, UConn lost its five games last year by a combined 15 points (something South Carolina players appeared to be unaware of as they played the Huskies in the Papajohns.com Bowl) and has 16 starters returning. Of course, they won four games (Ohio, Baylor, Notre Dame and South Florida) by a combined 20 points. On the projection side of things, the Huskies play in the Big East, and the most notable nonconference games are at Michigan, at Temple and Vanderbilt. Michigan has been -- um, slightly off -- in the Rich Rodriguez Era (as I'm sure you've heard); Temple has turned into a good mid-major, but it's still a mid-major; and everyone reading this blog probably knows the country music song that is Vanderbilt. Weak schedule, but a chance to go undefeated if they win the major Big East games. So my instinct is to put them maybe near the end of the Top 20 or in the 20s; but I can't help thinking that might even be a bit high. Or that if I'm going to take a flyer on a team like UConn, I ought to go all in and put them in the Top 10 or Top 15.
FLORIDA STATE (7-6, 4-4 ACC)
Oh, I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. It has ended in death and destruction for so many preseason prognosticators. But -- POINTS!!! They scored a lot of points last year: 34 against Miami, 54 against BYU, 44 against Georgia Tech, 30 against UNC, 33 against West Virginia. There was inconsistency there, though; they scored just 19 against Jacksonville State(!), lost to USF after putting a single touchdown on the board and were shut down by Florida. (A lot of teams were, but I'm saying.) They return nine starters from that offense. Bonus: The coaching changes. From a projection perspective, they have plenty of opportunities to impress; the Seminoles go to Norman and play BYU and Florida in Tallahassee. But they're in the erratic ACC and they're still Florida State. So the first question is where I should rank them, and I'm not sure where to put them if I do.
OKLAHOMA (8-5, 5-3 Big XII)
There's no Sam Bradford this year -- although that's not really all that different than last year -- and that's five losses in the loss column there, including a Texas Tech shellacking. And don't forget that Dr. Saturday has issued a moderate warning about overranking the Sooners this year. Then again, preseason guru Phil Steele has Oklahoma at No. 1 -- No. 1! They're not going to get the top ranking in my ballot, but it's hard to see leaving the Sooners off entirely. And they have a schedule just strong enough to get them points without being strong enough to be a murderer's row: Florida State and at Cincinnati make the nonconference slate respectable, while the Big XII South is always strong. If they get some of the breaks that they missed last year, the Sooners could be Top 10 material. If they don't, the might not be able to make the ballot, much less a good spot on it. Top 15?
OREGON (10-3, 8-1 Pac-10)
Pac-10 Champions, plenty of starters returning, a relatively easy nonconference schedule that still contains a brand name (Tennessee) -- what's not to like? An offseason of total chaos, for one, including the dismissal of the starting quarterback legal trouble for the starting running back. Of course, this is a team that rebounded from LeGarrette Blount's early start to his boxing career to win a conference title, so maybe that's nothing. In other words, there would be an argument for putting them in the Top 10 or even Top 5 -- if it weren't for the bizarre offseason. There would be an argument for not ranking them at all -- if they hadn't been so good last year. Do you split the difference and call them a Top 15 team? Or go with one or the other and hope you're right? (Weird but true: The Ducks lost all three games in 2009 by nine points.)
So ... any thoughts?