Thursday, July 26, 2007

NCAA Football and the Year of the No Clear Front Runner

Welcome to the 2008 NCAA Football Season. I got giddy typing that sentence.

This year it's almost like we are starting at the beginning, and yes, that sentence is intentionally ironic. For the past few years, many believe that the preseason polls have established an unfair, early agenda that determines who will ultimately play in the Championship Game. I think if you take one look around to the various poll-makers you will notice that a trend this year is hard to spot.

Last year, Ohio State was the consensus number one after they stomped Notre Dame in the previous year’s Fiesta Bowl. From the beginning of the year, they were as close as you can get to being a unanimous choice to return to the Glendale desert for the inaugural BCS Championship Game. They had two things in their favor (in order of importance): 1) A relatively easy schedule (outside of Texas and Michigan, who bolster the Buckeyes strength of schedule) guaranteed a good record. 2) They had a talented corps of players, including the eventual Heisman winner. In other words, the preseason polls were looking to guess how teams will finish rather than how they will start, and it is difficult to get off that logic.

For the first time in a long time there has been a lot of transition among last season’s top teams. It is not easy to predict how the young role players stepping in will perform. How exactly will Tim Tebow do as the main signal caller for the Gators? Who will fill in for Ohio State? Will the Michigan senior class jump the hurdle and be a contender this year? How quickly will Wake Forest fade away…or is writing off Riley Skinner and that innovative system a dangerous thing? LSU without Russell? USC with Booty? Which one is the favorite?

Clearly, making lists of teams just skirts the problem of the rhetorical angle of the last paragraph. There is so much turnover that we actually have to take these teams at zero, forget about previous years, and try our best to put it all together. So, we start at the beginning and that is a very good place to start.

One thing important to mention is the amazing amount of new head coaches. Some are returning to old conferences with championship rings (Saban) and some have never even tasted the reins of having their own team. There are 23 schools with a change at the HC position and 11 of those men are in their first post at the head of a ship (thanks to for the stats).

In terms of the preseason rankings, the one thing I can say is that no team, no matter how they were ranked, how talented they are, how deep the chart is or how creative and exciting the new coach may be, should be in the top ten after such a drastic change. To me, the three schools who are most affected by my ironclad rule include my Alma Mater, the defending Big East champion and the former king of the SEC (Nick Saban). Of those three though, the most likely to really make me eat my preseason prognostication is Louisville.

Steve Kragthorpe's name was thrown around when Boston College was looking to hire a new head coach. He is innovative and will be able to use the offensive weapons he has inherited. Louisville has a great shot to return to the Orange Bowl this year as Big East champion, especially with Heisman hopeful Brohm as its signal caller. Louisville benefits from the bottleneck factor of the Big East, so it still may be an unfair fair assessment to say that they should have been a top ten team. The bottom end of the conference is terrible, between UConn, Syracuse, Cincinnati and USF. Rutgers has greatly improved in the past few seasons but won't be sneaking up on anyone this year, and the de facto championship will be the Louisville-West Virginia game in Morgantown on November 8th. Kragthorpe benefits from walking into the best situation in the country.

Something similar could be said for Jags at BC, with 16 of 22 starters returning. The conference is tougher, the out of conference schedule includes a trip to South Bend, and BC does not play the three weakest teams in the ACC (UNC, Duke and Virginia). Optimistically, and as a homer, I'd love to award Jags and the Eagles the Atlantic Division. But, how will my boy Matt Ryan adjust to a playbook that has more than one page? As exciting as it is to have Jags around, he has yet to coach a game. Not a single one. With this schedule, it is going to be even more of an uphill battle.

More than anything else I'm writing this year, I will gladly eat my words on this last paragraph. With a nice salad, some farva beans and a glass of Chianti. I’m trying to be marginally rational right now though, and the limitations at Chestnut Hill need to be mentioned.

With many of the other coaches, it is about rebuilding. One or two of them may surprise, but for now, they will be going up against some of the big guns.

The two schools, and head coaches, to watch the most this year will start their road from two different sides of the country. Pete Carroll and the Trojans may run into Les Miles and the Tigers in New Orleans next January. Carroll has a great Pac-10 style and phenomenal prospect in John David Booty. Down in the Bayou, Miles can demonstrate that LSU is a force in the best conference in football even without JaMarcus Russell.

This year’s spoiler could be last year's Big Ten runner-up, Michigan, especially if Henne plays at the level many believe he should. Beyond Michigan, there are many candidates that could fill in that esteemed spot. I could rattle off stats about Wisconsin getting screwed for a big bowl last year or the power of the SEC and not writing off Florida just yet; West Virginia's ridiculously easy schedule. Rather than keeping on this trend, I am bringing back an old gimmick.

20 or so self-proclaimed experts (which is pretty much the Harris Poll anyway) that I know have volunteered to help me construct a poll which is built with a very simple metric. When each of the pollers ranks the teams, they are asked to take into account whether they think the team ranked higher will be the better team the vast majority of the time when playing opponents below them. It's so simple, you'd think this is how everyone does it. Alas. Finally, since this is a BC blog, each poller gives an estimate of where they think the Eagles should be. Here’s the official preseason poll:

1 USC (11) 0.974
2 LSU (5) 0.842
3 Texas 0.835
4 West Virginia 0.828
5 Florida 0.819
6 Michigan 0.762
7 Wisconsin 0.647
8 Oklahoma 0.452
9 Louisville 0.442
10 Ohio State 0.365

16 Boston College

Part two of this three part preview will give you a conference-by-conference look at the six BCS conferences as well as quick predictions for the mid and low majors. And in two weeks, we will be unveiling the Heisman Rubric that will make an appearance all year long. I'm really excited about this addition because it is just a great way to talk about what it means to be a Heisman and who really deserves it if that is what the award is about.


  1. nice writeup... I look forward to the tracking of the heisman, and i hope it isnt as biased as most are

  2. Thanks for the feedback.

    I don't want to give it all away, but the thing is that the Heisman Tracker will be completely statistically based. The only bias is the one that all the voters have already (and my apologies to Colt Brennan on this): If you aren't playing in a BCS conference, you better have one hell of a year if you want to win the Heisman.