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BlogPoll Ballot: What about ... ?

It's inevitable that, when you try to compile a preseason list of the Top 25 (or any list of the Top 25, really), some people will complain that you left off team x. C&F's five-installment BlogPoll ballot is no exception. So a look at the inevitable questions, when someone looks at my ballot and says "What about...?"

TENNESSEE (or, alternatively, SOUTH CAROLINA)
This was one of the ones I anticipated since beginning to put my BlogPoll together. I knew from the start I wouldn't rank South Carolina, and decided after a couple of drafts to drop Tennessee. That brought this well-reasoned comment from USCKB:

If you believe the Gamecocks will beat UK / VU / ARK / NCSU / WOFF / UAB, and you have to figure UT will get 6-7 wins in the same fashion, and one will win the game at W-B, why is an 8 win SEC East team not in your Top 25?

Fair enough. The first short answer is "not every eight-win team gets into the poll." The other short answer is "the winner of South Carolina-Tennessee might not have eight wins.

Assume Tennessee beats UAB, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and loses to UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama. Even if Tennessee wins against South Carolina, they'll have seven. If they drop an upset somewhere, their ceiling is six; if they swap UCLA and an upset, it's still a cap of seven. This is not to say that Tennessee can't win eight games if the Vols beat the Gamecocks; they can. But there's little margin for error, and it's entirely plausible that Tennessee will lose five other games.

I think they are at best a push against South Carolina. But imagine a scenario in which the Gamecocks come into that game with wins against N.C. State, Vanderbilt, Wofford, UAB, Kentucky and Arkansas but drop a game to Ole Miss. Or get upset in one of the other games. (I've got some Kentucky fans saying they will.) They could also have a ceiling of six or seven wins.

Both these teams are enigmas to me. I suspect that Tennessee was almost as big a house of cards last year as Mississippi State, just in less noticeable ways. They got waxed by Florida (59-20), squeaked by South Carolina by a field goal and had smaller margins of victory than that against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. This was with David Cutcliffe and Erik Ainge. If it was just the narrow wins, I'd say okay. If it was jus the loss of Cutcliffe, I'd say okay. If it was just the loss of Ainge, I'd say okay. But all three are, in my opinion, too much to overcome.

Meanwhile, the optimist in my says South Carolina could win nine or, if you really stretch it, 10 wins. The pessimist says they'll win six or seven. The realist says it's probably eight. But I'm not sure enough of that to rank the Gamecocks either. So I left them both off.

I was a big booster of the West Coast conference last year, but this year I'm not sure. I've got Southern Cal and Arizona State on the ballot; beyond that, who would you put on there? Cal has a great offensive line, but who exactly are they protecting? And even if the QB situation is sorted out, there's no other returning starter at any skill position (again: Steele). Repeat: No other returning starter at any skill position. Yes, Oregon rebounded from a disappointing denouement to thrash South Florida in the Sun Bowl, but quarterback and running backs.

I've heard no complaints about this, and if there are complaints, I refer you to the last two years of ACC football. (And, sorry, I think Florida State will suck yet again next year.) As for Virginia Tech, I just don't see enough there to think they'll be good enough to land on the ballot.

These are probably the three trendiest picks for "surprise" teams this year, so let me run through them quickly.

I just think Bo Pelini needs more time at Nebraska. The defense was so very very dreadful last year. They allowed 422 passing yards -- to Ball State. They allowed more than 300 ypg to three straight opponents: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas. So the defense could be greatly improved and still get this team only to respectability.

As for Pitt, I defer to the Mayor:

Wanny may be able to get ‘em to Pitt, but there is absolutely no evidence that he knows what to do with ‘em when he gets ‘em there. Somebody is going to win with Dave Wannstedt’s recruits; I just don’t think that somebody is going to be Dave Wannstedt.

As always, sir, well said.

And I came this close to ranking Notre Dame. I would put them in the "others receiving consideration" category. But Notre Dame is one of those teams I'm going to have to see to believe. Play well to open the season, and they could get on the ballot fairly quickly. But first things first.

- - -

I made some references to schedules in my rollout, and two people have since questioned this practice -- generally, not specifically because of my ballot.

Horn Brain put it this way:

The question is:  Is this a power poll or a prediction?  Now, most magazines will tout their accuracy over the past convenient time period, which, if they're comparing to the final AP Poll, means they're calling themselves a predictor.  My complaint is that the same magazines will then talk about their rankings as if they're a power poll, then switch back to talking about how tough someone's schedule is and that's why they're not ranked higher.

And Brian, who after all runs the BlogPoll, said this:

When you don't have enough information, vote by your guess at team strength, not schedule. In an ideal world everyone would play an identically difficult schedule and this wouldn't be an issue. This is far from an ideal world, and some team just have nummy soft schedules. This is often cited as a reason to rank them high -- SMQ explicitly calls it out as a factor in his preseason ballot -- and drives me crazy.

First off, insome cases, I gave a team more (or less) credit for a stronger (or weaker) schedule -- in keeping with one of Brian's other suggested standards. One of the reasons I dropped Ohio State out of the Top 5 entirely was my belief that they will lose to Southern Cal and not have another win good enough to offset that and put them above any of my top five teams.

The schedule is just generally useful information to have about a team. I tried not to take it into account too much -- see: Georgia at No. 1 -- but I don't think you can completely ignore it, either. If a team has a relatively easy path to its conference championship game (coughcoughClemsoncoughcough) and is likely to face and beat another quality team in that conference championship game, that has to be weighed if you're then going to count that conference championship game as part of the team's resume at the end of the season. The cases when that's important, though, are few and far between.

All things being equal, though, the complainers are right: Don't rank based on schedule. If I have erred in this regard, it will be straightened out quickly.