It's getting close. And as part of the season getting closer and closer, it's time to actually get serious about the BlogPoll. So this post has two purposes: First, to lay out my thinking about which SEC teams could or couldn't be ranked this year, and why. Second, to give you my preliminary first ballot and get your feedback. We begin with the SEC teams.
THE ELITE OF THE CONFERENCE
ALABAMA (No. 1 to No. 3)
Why they could be No. 1: Because they're the
defending BCS Champions. Because they have the Heisman Trophy winner and maybe the most accomplished quarterback in the SEC.
Why they could be No. 3 (or lower): Because they have two returning defensive starters. Because they will probably have to play Florida twice. Because they face 17 teams coming off of bye weeks.
FLORIDA (No. 5 to No. 10)
Why they could be No. 5 (or higher): Because Urban Meyer didn't retire. Because John Brantley has plenty of targets to work with and an SEC-caliber line to work behind.
Why they could be No. 10 (or lower): Because Tim Tebow is gone. Because last year's defense is now called "the New England Patriots." Because they will probably have to play Alabama twice.
SHOULD BE RANKED
ARKANSAS (No. 10 to No. 20)
Why they could be No. 10 (or higher): Because Ryan Mallett will at some point be part of the Heisman conversation. Because a modest improvement in the defense could make them the biggest challenger to Alabama in the entire league.
Why they could be No. 20 (or lower): Because no improvement in the defense could mean another bowl game named after an American constitutional value. Because Bobby Petrino will leave in Week 9 to coach Michigan. Because it wasn't Houston Nutt -- it's Arkansas.
AUBURN (No. 15 to No. 25)
Why they could be No. 15 (or higher): Because Gene Chizik is no longer Mr. 5-19. Because Cam Newton might just be that good. Because after the team's other offense gains so many yards, players start falling over from exhaustion.
Why they could be No. 25 (or unranked): Because Gene Chizik is still Mr. 13-24. Because those exhausted players will have already scored 70 points.
ON THE BUBBLE
GEORGIA (No. 15 to No. 25)
Why they could be No. 15 (or higher): Because the defensive coordinator is not named Willie Martinez. Because there's a lot of talent in Athens. Because Mark Richt wasn't caught with a DUI in Atlanta.
Why they could be No. 25 (or unranked): Because the temperature of his seat could cause Mark Richt to spontaneously combust. Because the defensive players are still the same, and it's not that easy to change schemes.
LSU (No. 15 to No. 25)
Why they could be No. 15 (or higher): Because Jordan Jefferson might be better than you think he is. Because even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Why they could be No. 25 (or unranked): Because Les Miles is still the head coach. Because Gary Crowton is still the offensive coordinator. Because Jordan Jefferson might not be better than you think he is.
Why they could be ranked: Because Ellis Johnson is still running the defense. Because Stephen Garcia has been motivated by Steve Spurrier's criticism. Because the rest of the East is almost as big a question mark this year as the Gamecocks.
Why they could be unranked: Because Eric Norwood is gone. Because Stephen Garcia is still Stephen Garcia until further notice.
Ole Miss: Too many questions about the offense, even with Jeremiah Masoli joining the team, to rank them.
Tennessee: Sure, it could happen. All the Vols need is, say, 10 or 15 four-star walk-ons.
NOT GOING TO HAPPEN
Kentucky: There's a reason they load up on the cupcakes to become bowl-eligible every year.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen will have this team ranked -- some other year.
Vanderbilt: They will lead the league in turkey insemination references, but nothing else.
THE DRAFT HALF-BALLOT
Now, for the draft ballot. This is my attempt to resolve the controversies above, the controversies in this post and come up with a very very preliminary stab at things. I'm going to spend quite a bit of time reading over a few more team profiles in Phil Steele and doing a bit more research this weekend.
I will emphasize: This is an entirely out-of-left-field ballot aimed at much as getting feedback as actually reflecting what my vote will look like on Monday.
2 Boise State
3 Ohio State
4 Virginia Tech
Yeah, I know, kind of boring. Alabama-Boise State-Ohio State in some arrangement for the Top 3, followed by -- Virginia Tech? Arizona?!? I will admit upfront that Arizona is a lark. I think the Pac-10 is a pick 'em this year, and you might as well go bold since this ballot doesn't actually "count" or anything. The Wildcats have been building toward a big season, and with the up-and-down swings of Oregon in the offseason, I think the window is open for Arizona. As for Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer and the possibility of a breakout year for the quarterback is enough. If I'm ranking Ohio State as a Top 5 team, there's really no reason not to rank Virginia Tech as a Top 5 team. I think they lose narrowly to Boise State in DC and then win 13 straight to close out the season with a BCS bowl ring.
I don't know about TCU. Part of me agrees with Year2 that they ought to be higher than Boise State -- except that they lost to Boise State head to head to end the year last year and lose a couple more starters than do the Broncos. I'm definitely open to placing them in the Top 5, if not in the final preseason ballot than early in the season. I do think this is the year for the Huskers, in part because no team in the Big XII South really impresses me that much right now. If Florida had fewer questions, they might be a Top 5 team. As long as I'm going to bet on UConn, I'm going all in. Wisconsin -- because somebody in the Big Ten has to come in second, and the Badgers are going to be the Badgers again now that they've found a 900-pound running back.
13 Georgia Tech
I've said Arkansas will have 10 wins this year, and I'm a heck of a lot more confident in them to have 10 wins than Georgia, so they're in the Top 15. I want to see Oklahoma play well first; if they do, they'll quickly be in the Top 10 at least. Georgia Tech's offense is going to make them the only real challenger to Virginia Tech in the ACC. Oregon could still win the Pac-10, but I have my doubts after everything that happened there over the spring and summer. I'm still not sure I haven't overranked Texas -- you don't lose a quarterback like Colt McCoy and then have a season indicating nothing happened.
18 Florida State
And this is the "a lot of teams I didn't know what to do with" category. Pac-10 chaos is why there are four teams (keep reading) on the ballot -- I just don't know who's going to win. Utah, just because. Florida State, because I think they could be a Top 10 team but they also could end up at Seminole Equilibrium, which means they'll be lucky to be in the Top 25. Auburn, because they have to stop allowing 750 yards a game before they go any higher. I don't think Iowa will fall off the map, but I also think the Hawkeyes are running out of rabbits' feet.
Again, the only Pac-10 winner that would surprise this year is Texas Tech. And, yes, I didn't rank Southern Cal. No, that has nothing to do with the bowl ban. Georgia and LSU are kind of "split the difference" teams -- my confidence in either is very low, but I think they both have high ceilings if they fix the problems they had last year. Nevada, because the Angry Ostrich is still their quarterback, and I don't want him to attack me. I almost had BYU at No. 25, but I think it's distracting to not know what league you're going to be a part of until a few days before the season. So Pittsburgh because -- why not?
If you're wondering what the combined ballot would look like at this moment:
1 Ohio State
4 Virginia Tech
5 Boise State
12 Georgia Tech
24 Florida State
25 Miami (FL)