This year, preseason college polls might have it correct

storapse@aol.comAugust 23, 2012 

Alabama, Louisiana State, Southern Cal. Take your pick.

Those are the three teams the experts favor as the college football season kicks off next week.

The Associated Press (writers) like Southern Cal. USA Today (coaches) voted LSU No. 1. Sports Illustrated says Alabama will win its second straight (third in four years) national title.

More significantly, all of the above colleges are in the top three of all three ratings. And in another mark of poll consistency, Oregon and Oklahoma are either No. 4 or No. 5.

I'm not a fan of preseason polls because I think they skew the voters' thinking and make if difficult for lower-rated teams to gain traction in season-long polling.

But this time, I have to admit that there is a very good chance that two of the top five teams will be meeting in Miami for the BCS national championship in January.

This is not to say that two teams dear to the heart of Hilton Head fans -- South Carolina and Georgia -- aren't in the running. Both are in the top 10 and help give the Southeastern Conference a unique opportunity to claim its seventh straight national title.

I understand that Las Vegas is offering a betting wager that offers a chance to pick the SEC against the rest of the college football world. Throw in Arkansas and Auburn, and the SEC has six teams rated in the top 25.

But Southern Cal is the most intriguing team as we head into the season.

The Trojans' return to national title contention comes just two years after the program was hit by NCAA sanctions, including a two-year bowl ban and scholarship limitations.

USC coach Lane Kiffin, no stranger to controversy, told reporters he wouldn't select his team No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll when, in fact, he had already done just that. Thus, Kiffin gets an early lead for the annual Lou Holtz Coaches Liars Award, which has Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Bobby Petrino among its recent recipients.

Shortly after Kiffin's fib became public, he announced that he had pulled out of the USA Today coaches voting panel. I suspect the newspaper and the American Football Coaches Association had a role in that decision.

There was another quirky preseason poll happening, this time in the AP voting.

LSU was poised to start the season as No. 1 before Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu -- better known as "Honey Badger" -- was kicked off the team just before the AP poll was released.

In light of that development, the AP extended the voting deadline. Before Mathieu was dismissed (for failing a drug test) LSU had received 28 of a possible 60 first-place votes. On the second vote, the Tigers ended up with 16 first-place votes and Southern Cal and Alabama leaped over them in the poll.

This kind of swing points to the delicate balance of preseason ratings and is a prime reason not to place too much stock in them.

Will preseason polls and ratings disappear along with the BCS in 2014? Probably not, but perhaps the strength-of-schedule factor that the new playoff system promises to feature will have a favorable impact.

Take the case of Notre Dame this year. The Irish cracked the top 25 in only one rating -- USA Today has them at No. 24.

Yet no one comes close to ND when it comes to playing highly ranked teams -- Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford.

With those opponents, even Dr. Lou (Holtz) will have a hard time sticking with his annual prediction of a national title for the Irish.

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