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September 5, 2012

The VandySports Poll: Week 1

This year we will attempt to do our own poll of the top 16 college football teams in the country. Each of our pollsters looks over a particular region of the country, as well as all teams so that there is a representative from each area available for debate and critique within the poll.

Following every week of action, the pollsters will vote and we'll release a updated ranking of the nation's very best.

Reminder, this is just for fun, and these individuals do put in a fair amount of their free time doing research and thinking about/compiling their polls. Also we asked each person to include a blurb about each of their top four teams since in a few years we will have a 4-team playoff. We hope you all enjoy.

VANDYSPORTS.COM COLLEGE FOOTBALL POLL: WEEK 1

(..) indicates number of first place votes.

1. Alabama (6)
2. Southern Cal (1)
3. LSU
4. Oregon
5. Oklahoma
6. Florida State
7. Georgia
8. Clemson
9. Arkansas
10. Wisconsin
11. West Virginia
12. South Carolina
13. Michigan State
14. Nebraska
15 Michigan
(tie) Ohio State

Breakdown by Conference: SEC - 5 teams; Big Ten - 5 teams; Pac-12 - 2 teams; ACC - 2 teams; Big 12 - 2 teams

POLLSTERS' TAKES:

McGillite:

Top 4: Not much movement at all. Pretty sure I was the only person to vote Bama No. 1 last week, and boy do I feel vindicated.

Say what you will about Michigan being overrated--I had them slide 9 spots from
their previous rating-- but that Bama team looks like an AFC North team. TJ Yeldon looks like the kind of player that makes me want to re-evaluate my stance on kids leaving after their freshman year
(otherwise, we'd have to play him). The defense contained Robinson, and erased UM's big play receivers.

Oregon's Mariota looked very in-control of the Duck offense, though I dropped them a spot for giving up a touch too much on defense against an over-matched Arkansas State team.

Team I had way too high: The easy answer is Michigan. They did get embarrassed and beat up in the national spotlight, but that was more a demonstration on how good Bama is than how bad Michigan is.

The better answer is Wisconsin. I watched most of this game from start to finish, and was really left wondering if this is going to be the standard Wisconsin team with its gritty run game and solid defense. Admittedly, I know nothing about Northern Iowa other than it being the alma mater of Kurt Warner. Still, the defense looked slow, confused and porous. The offense looked good, but whether or not the defense will allow the offense to play the Wisconsin game is up in the air. Danny O'Brien is no Russell Wilson, but did look competent. This is a team to watch, either up or down.

Team I had way too low: West Virginia. I know the quality of opponent was low, but I really had no idea Geno Smith was so poised and accurate in the pocket. 34 completions for 324 yards and 35 rushes for 331 yards. You don't get much more balanced than that.

Game I'm watching next week: UGA/Mizzou. UGA looked pretty shaky for a while against Buffalo. Mizzou has the second greatest James Franklin in the SEC and the sort of offense we don't see as much here in SEC country. This is as much a test for UGA to show it can handle elite players as it is for Mizzou to show that they belong.

JT Beaver:

1. USC: Everyone keeps talking about how USC only has 65 scholarship athletes and no depth, but their 65 are better than anyone else's in the nation. Last time I checked only about 70 players traveled anyway and less than 50 actually see any significant playing time in game. I don't like the guy and think he's a snake in the grass, but there is no doubt Lane Kiffin has manipulated the reduced scholarship punishment with extreme expertise and basically made a mockery of it. USC has always had its pick of litter for players out west; all the reduced scholarships did was allow them to be even more selective in who they take, as evidenced by this year's #1 rated recruiting class. If nothing else, this may finally prove to the NCAA that when a school egregiously thumbs its nose at the NCAA and their rules, the only thing that really hurts top tier programs is the death penalty. The USC sanctions may have actually HELPED them improve their roster!

2. LSU: It's always hard for me to rank Les Miles at the top of anything. I just don't think he's that good of a coach and we all know he can single-handedly blow a close game with utterly stupendous decisions. But, when you have such top end talent on your roster every year, plus you have a knack for getting them to play their hearts out for you, that can and does make up for most if not all the coaching shortfalls Miles may have. It's going to be close again between Alabama and LSU, but LSU just has too much coming back along with too much young firepower on offense this year for Alabama to contend with. Plus, the conference game is in Baton Rouge this year.

3. Alabama: I personally think Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. I didn't say I liked the guy, but I do respect his abilities. The Tide also have a lot of talent coming back, but they just lost too much from last year for me to rank them in the top two. Five of the first 35 players drafted into the NFL this past year were from Alabama (Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Donta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw) with four of them coming from the defense. They also lost three more players to the draft in the top five rounds (defensive tackle Josh Chapman, corner DeQuan Menzie, and tight end Brad Smelley). That's a lot of HIGH END talent AND experience to lose on defense in one year. Yes, they have great talent to replace them with, but it still takes some time to develop that experience and confidence needed to be one of the top two teams in the nation. I think that's what separates LSU and Alabama this year.

4. Oregon: Many people are picking Oklahoma as the No. 4 team, or even Florida State. Personally, I think Oklahoma will be one of the biggest disappointments in college football this year. Their offensive is going to be a complete crap shoot. They had very little depth and experience to begin with, and have already lost a couple of the most talented and experienced OL for the year. FSU has continually underachieved for going on 10 years now. I must have some Missourian in me because once a trend like that starts, you have to "show me" you've learned how not to choke before I give you the benefit of the doubt. That brings us to Oregon. Yes, I'm the designated West Coast homer, but believe me, there is no team in America I DESPISE more than the ducks, but being completely objective and removing all personal bias, Chip Kelly has not only assembled a full stable of mercurial athletes in Eugene, his offense is one where you don't need experience in it to succeed; you simply plug and play, even at QB. Something else lost on most pundits who are concentrating on the fact they lost their QB in Darren Thomas, and top back in LeMichael James, this will most likely be Oregon's best defense they've had in Mike Belotti/Chip Kelly era; and trust me, their offense will be just as explosive as it always is. Add in the fact the ducks have assembled the easiest non-conference schedule in the BCS and their only challenge of the regular season is a Nov 3 game at USC, and I see them easily winning the Pac 12 North with either a 12-0 record or at worst 11-1 with another shot at USC in the conference championship game. Either way, they should go into the November 3rd game undefeated and ranked in the top 3, and even with a loss to the probable #1 team at the time, USC, they shouldn't drop too far as long as it isn't an embarrassing blowout.

Team to watch: Utah. People routinely overlook Utah year after year, both during the Urban Meyer years and now during the Kyle Whittingham years. If fact, I think Whittingham is the most under rated coach in college football. All he's done during his tenure as HC in Salt Lake City is go 11-3 against BCS teams (not including their Pac 12 conference games last year as a first year member, but it does include their non-conference games). Among their wins were victories against the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Oregon State (they finished second in the Pac 10 that year), California, Pittsburgh (three times), Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and North Carolina. They finished 8-5 last year (4-5 in the Pac 12), and did so even after losing their very talented QB, Jordan Wynn, for the season after the 4th game. With Wynn at the helm, they took USC down to the wire in week 3 in Los Angeles.

This year, Utah has a HUGE and experienced line returning on both sides of the ball. Their d-line goes 6'4" 325 and 6'5" 295 at defensive tackle, and 6'7" 275 and 6'4" 255 at defensive end. Their entire offensive line returns with experienced juniors and seniors at every spot and averages 6'5" 305lbs across the line. They will block for a now healthy Jordan Wynn and 2011 breakout junior college running back John White, who rushed for over 1,500 yards last year for a 4.8 YPC average and scored 15 touchdowns. They have some top NFL talent on their lines, especially defensive Star Lotulelei. Watch out for their October 4th game against USC in Salt Lake City. That may be USC's toughest game of the regular season and the greatest chance for a Pac 12 team to upset them. Don't be surprised if you see Utah end up a top 10 team by the end of the year, or close to it. After USC and Oregon, I think you'll see Utah end up as the clear No. 3 team in the Pac 12. That is, unless they upset USC and end up No.1 as they don't play Oregon in the regular season.

Force10 (guest pollster):

Force10 (guest Pollster)

1. Alabama: After watching them dismantle No. 8 Michigan at a neutral site, I don't understand how anyone can dispute this team is the best in the country. Their offensive line may be the best in the country then you add a seasoned guy like McCarron and a stable of able running backs that would all be someone else's #1 and you have a headache as a defensive coordinator. Bama's defense is dominant all the way around as well. There's just really no holes to be found in this team.

2. USC: This team is as good as any USC team has ever been. The offense has always been there but now they just might have the defense to go with it. Kiffin comes across as a clown at times but I do believe there is method to some of his madness. There may only be an equally talented Oregon team standing between them and a trip to the BCS National Championship game.

3. LSU: My only question mark on LSU this season has been whether or not Zach Mettenberger would be as good as advertised. They have all of the other components to again be a National Championship contender. Mettenberger looked sharp against North Texas and if he can find consistency throughout the season, LSU can get there. The question will again be can they get by Alabama.

4. Oregon: Oregon's first team absolutely obliterated Arkansas State in one half of football putting up a 50-spot on new head coach Gus Malzahn's Indians. Oregon's offense looks as high powered as ever and may be the most potent in the country. The question will be has the defense improved enough to go beyond a 4th.

WKUDore:

I see no way any other team can be No. 1 after seeing Alabama dismantle a potential top 10 team in Michigan like that. Their defense just reloads.

LSU didn't do anything in my mind to lose the top spot, they just had to watch as Alabama cruise by them with the big win. I still think LSU may be the team to beat as Mettenberger gives them an extra dimension they haven't had for a few years.

USC also could be No. 1, but again, didn't get the opportunity to dismantle a top team. They can play with anyone.

I'm keeping Oklahoma at No. 4 on the thought that only a few teams really had a chance to prove themselves as top contenders during week one. It's that they decided to not open up their playbook against a helpless UTEP team. The Oklahoma defense sea to be back as UTEP is a strong mid-major conference offense.

The team to watch for me over the next few weeks is Nebraska. The Cornhuskers' dominant performance against an underrated team in Southern Miss really stood out in contrast to ranked teams like Wisconsin and Florida who came out flat. Third year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez had the Huskers' passing game well tuned, throwing for five TDs, and Nebraska's play in the trenches was every bit as dominant as one would expect.

However, they suffered three injuries on offense during the game, including senior running back Rex Burkhead's MCL sprain in the first quarter. If Nebraska comes out strong at UCLA next week, they will have two weak out-of-conference opponents before a home game against Wisconsin on September 29th, where they will hope to avenge last year's 48-17 beatdown in Camp Randall.

The winner of that showdown will contend for a top-five ranking. Nebraska fell in the "others receiving votes" category in this poll's preseason edition, but may earn a ranking this week or soon after.

The team on the move up is BYU.

Jake Lowery:

Only a few teams really had a chance to prove themselves as top contenders during week one. The biggest opportunity was for Alabama and Michigan, in Saturday's prime time contest, and Alabama once again proved themselves to be a dominant force in college football.

While the Tide dismantled a then top ten opponent, fellow contenders like LSU, USC, Oklahoma, and Oregon had match-ups against teams like North Texas, Hawaii, and UTEP, so fans must be patient to evaluate their abilities against more talented opponents. Having proven themselves despite the heavy loss of talent to the NFL draft, Alabama rises to the top of the pile.

David Vorhaus:

These guys have said it all pretty much.

1. Alabama: just impressed me too much not to push them to No. 1

2. USC: a very good showing, but their real teat looks like the battle with Oregon. They still have a great offense, but I have to see more.

3. LSU: This week they face Washington.It should be a good game, but LSU should prove dominant.

4. OKlahoma: This team could be great or could falter, I am unsure yet and in my mind Oregon is right there.

I think Florida might be a team to watch as the best (worst) team in the top 10. Look at their schedule in the ACC, and it already looks like they can go undefeated. I believe they might be overrated and could fall badly. I also think Clemson might be overrated too.

Jesse Johnson:

The only thing I'll add to this discussion is that my top four of Alabama, USC, LSU and Oregon are leaps and bounds ahead of my No. 5-16 teams.

I feel like there are very few legitimate Top 10 teams right now, as so many appear to have glaring weaknesses that can be exploited by many conference foes. My top four however, could likely beat any of the other 12 teams by at least a touchdown, regardless of venue.

Upcoming Schedule for the Top 16:

Saturday, September 8th:

Western Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama
No. 2 USC vs. Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium, New Jersey)
Washington at No. 3 LSU
Fresno State at No. 4 Oregon
Florida A&M at No. 5 Oklahoma
Savannah State at No. 6 Florida State
No. 7 Georgia at Missouri
Ball State at No. 8 Clemson
No. 9 Arkansas vs. Louisiana Monroe (in Little Rock)
No. 10 Wisconsin at Oregon State
East Carolina at No. 12 South Carolina
No. 13 Michigan State at Central Michigan
No. 14 Nebraska at UCLA
Air Force at No. 15 Michigan
Central Florida at No. 15 Ohio State

Bye: No. 11 West Virginia





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