2012 Preseason Coaches Poll - Analysis

Posted Aug 2, 2012

Breaking down and analyzing the 2012 preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll.

2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll

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By Pete Fiutak 

Preseason Coaches' Top 25
1. LSU (18)
2. Alabama (20)
3. USC (19)
4. Oklahoma
5. Oregon
6. Georgia
7. Florida State
8. Michigan
9. South Carolina
10. Arkansas
11. West Virginia
12. Wisconsin
13. Michigan State
14. Clemson
15. Texas
16. Nebraska
17. TCU
18. Stanford
19. Oklahoma State
20. Virginia Tech
21. Kansas State
22. Boise State
23. Florida
24. Notre Dame
25. Auburn
Remember, 1) the people voting in USA Today Coaches' Poll don't really know any of the teams or any of the players (do you think any coach outside of the Mountain West can name the Boise State starting quarterback?), 2) the voters aren't always the coaches, and 3) it's the poll that actually matters. However, these rankings won't matter two years from now when the new playoff format kicks in.

The AP poll is irrelevant and the Harris Poll doesn't come out until October, when the first BCS rankings are released. The USA Today Coaches' Poll means almost everything to the national title chase, but unlike past seasons it's not going to be so cut-and-dry up top.

If Alabama lost to LSU at home last year and still ended up playing in the BCS championship, at No. 2 to start the season, why would things be any different if history repeats itself?

In theory, college football rankings are supposed to be based on how good the teams are right now. Of course, that's not necessarily the way things work with some voters wittingly or not rank teams based partially on where they might finish. The problem, though, comes when voters don't adapt and change their rankings and views as the season goes on.

If LSU is ranked No. 1 to start the season, it's going to play in the BCS championship no matter what if it goes 12-0 and then wins the SEC title game. It won't matter if USC wins every game by four touchdowns and Oklahoma throttles all of its opponents by three scores. The coaches will never, ever, ever drop LSU out of the No. 1 spot – especially because it plays in the SEC – if the wins keep coming.

The same goes for Alabama, who joins LSU as one of two teams that completely and totally controls its own national title destiny. If Alabama starts the season at No. 2, rolls through the first eight games including wins over Michigan, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee all away from home, and then loses a close game to the No. 1 team in America on the road, then why should it fall further than second in the polls? Technically, it shouldn't, but that might be the fight that college football fans have throughout the 2012 season.

In the same scenario that played out last season happens again – only with Alabama losing at LSU this season instead of at home – the precedent has already been set. Does that mean that if preseason No. 3 USC is unbeaten on November 10th it should move into the top two ahead of the loser of the LSU-Alabama game? If LSU loses at home to the Tide, maybe but when it came down to a debate of one-loss teams last season Alabama got the benefit of the doubt over Oklahoma State. Why wouldn't the Tigers get the same ruling by the voters if it's a debate between one-loss teams? Again, the precedent has been set.

But that's getting ten steps ahead of the game. Alabama could certainly lose any of the road games against Missouri, Tennessee or Arkansas depending on the right day, and it could be upset by Michigan to start the season. LSU could certainly be shocked on the road at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M or Arkansas, and hosting preseason No. 9 South Carolina isn't going to be a layup.

The other big storyline is USC, who quickly rose from the NCAA sanctions that kept the program in a holding pattern for the last few seasons. For some, USC has become the model for how a naughty football program should handle getting in trouble – take notes, Penn State – but for others, the preseason No. 3 ranking goes to prove that getting hammered by the NCAA doesn't really have that much of a crippling effect. Either way, getting 19 first place votes – one more than LSU – showed what a masterful job Lane Kiffin did of rebuilding and restarting the program. But now the pressure is on to start winning again.

USC's No. 3 ranking puts Oregon in a great spot at No. 5. The Ducks have to go to USC on November 3rd and could end up playing a rematch in the Pac-12 championship. The Ducks don't necessarily control their own destiny, but they're ranked high enough to start the season to be a in a national title position as long as they keep winning.

Oklahoma was last year's preseason No. 1 and is just outside of the mix at No. 4. If the LSU-Alabama winner and USC both finish unbeaten, the Sooners will be on the outside of the BCS championship debate no matter what they do. However, No. 6 Georgia controls its own fate. There's no way, no how the SEC champion doesn't get into the BCS championship if it's 13-0, especially if the Dawgs end up beating LSU or Alabama to finish perfect. They would leapfrog an unbeaten OU in the final polls, but it probably wouldn't happen until the end of the regular season.

The preseason ranking like the Big 12's new guys with West Virginia ranked 11th and TCU 17th, but gave no love whatsoever to the SEC's additions putting Texas A&M in the Others Receiving Votes category ranking 30th overall, while Missouri is completely and totally disrespected getting fewer votes than Houston, an ineligible UCF and Virginia and getting as many votes as Florida International.

Overall, the ACC is the biggest loser with Florida State getting a solid No. 7 spot and Clemson put at 14th and Virginia Tech 20th, but that's it for the top 25.

The Big Ten also didn't get much of a break with Michigan ranked No. 8, but that will change in a heartbeat with a win over Alabama to kick off the season. Wisconsin is ranked 12th, Michigan State 13th and Nebraska 16th, but no other team received a vote with Ohio State and Penn State out of the equation.

But it's all about the SEC, by far the biggest winner with the top two teams in the poll, with five teams ranked in the top ten with Georgia sixth and South Carolina ninth and Arkansas tenth. Also helping the cause is getting Florida in at 23 and Auburn at 25. In all, 11 of the league's 14 teams got votes with Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss the only ones not getting any respect.

Five Key Overranked Teams
- No. 11 West Virginia (Based on how good the team is going into the season and not where it'll likely end up.)  
- No. 14 Clemson
- No. 16 Nebraska
- No. 21 Kansas State
- No. 22 Boise State

Five Key Underranked Teams
- Unranked Missouri  ... (Based on how good the team is going into the season and not where it'll likely end up.) 
- Unranked Texas A&M
- No. 19 Oklahoma State
- No. 15 Texas

- No. 12 Wisconsin

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Teams that didn't get much respect for a strong 2011
- No. 19 Oklahoma State 
- No. 18 Stanford 
- No. 20 Virginia Tech
- No. 21 Kansas State
- Unranked Houston

No, Really, What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Name programs that got no love whatsoever.
- Iowa ... no votes
- Iowa State ... no votes
- Arizona State ... no votes

- UCLA ... no votes
- California ... no votes
- Colorado ... no votes

No, REALLY, What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Some top bowl teams from last year that didn't get a sniff:  No votes for Louisiana-Lafayette, Temple, Purdue, Air Force

Five Teams Outside of the Top 25 That'll Finish In
- No. 27 Louisville
- No. 28 Georgia Tech
- No. 32 Utah
- No. 36 Louisiana Tech
- Unranked Iowa