The 2008 college-football-preview publications have started hitting the streets, and pundits around the country have started putting together serious top-25 lists as spring practice recedes in the rearview mirror and the season gets closer, so it's about time for another top-25 matrix like the one I did last year.
Before we get too deeply into the 2008 numbers, though, it's worth looking at the 2007 version to see how accurately it predicted the actual preseason rankings that would come out a couple months later. Looking at the preseason sportswriters' and coaches' polls, it appears that the composite was pretty accurate; other than some minor disagreement over West Virginia and Auburn, there are hardly any major differences amongst the three until you get down into the high teens, with very few teams having a discrepancy of more than one ranking slot or so.
So if last year is any indication, this year's matrix should be a fairly accurate preview of what we'll see from the AP and USA Today come this time in August. You can view the full, detailed rankings in a Google spreadsheet located here, but the composite top 25 goes-a like this:
1. Ohio State (3 first-place votes)
2. Georgia (4)
3. Southern California (1)
5. Florida (2)
7. West Virginia
12. Texas Tech
15. Brigham Young
16. Arizona State
19. Virginia Tech
20. South Florida
22. Penn State
24. Wake Forest
25. Fresno State
Others receiving votes: Michigan State, Oregon State, Utah, Florida State, Alabama, South Carolina, Notre Dame, California, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, Boise State.
Here's the rundown of the rankings that I used -- again, listed in chronological order of when they were released, since obviously the more recent ones are likely to be a little more accurate.
CSTV -- College Sports Television (Adam Caparelli), April 4
NC -- nationalchamps.net (April 21)
TSN -- The Sporting News (Matt Hayes), April 23
ATH -- Athlon Sports, started May 1
SI -- Sports Illustrated (Stewart Mandel), May 1
CBS -- CBS Sportsline (Dennis Dodd), May 5
AJC -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Tony Barnhart), May 5-7 (Part I, Part II, Part III)
ESPN -- ESPN.com (Mark Schlabach), May 9
LIND -- Lindy's, May 30
PS -- Phil Steele, June 2
You'll note that this year, in contrast to last year, I only included predictions that came out after most schools had completed their spring practice -- no knee-jerk super-early rankings that came out the day after the 2007 national-title game. I'll add more rankings into the mix as they come available, but in the meantime, here's what jumps out at me about this first set:
• It really is crazy to go back and look at the 2007 composite, in which literally every single ranking had Southern Cal at #1, when you see how divided folks are over #1 this year. Four teams have at least one number-one nod for 2008, yet the team that has the most -- Georgia -- is in second place overall (primarily because of a ninth-place ranking from Phil Steele). Florida gets Steele's first-place vote but only a #10 from The Sporting News. And yet out of ten sets of rankings, only 15 different teams have at least one top-10 vote. What that tells me is that people are basically in agreement over who's top-ten caliber -- there just isn't much consensus about how to sort that top ten out.
• Honestly, even as an SEC homer who could only giggle as Ohio State went down in flames to SEC teams in two straight title games, I have no problem with the Buckeyes being the overall #1 here. They have as many, or more, returning starters as anyone else in the top 25, and they should easily dispense with the rest of the Big Ten this year; really, the only reason to put them lower than #2 at this point is because you're docking them style points for shitting the bed against LSU in the Superdome. The only people who left the Buckeyes outside the top two were Lindy's (#3) and Tony Barnhart, and I suspect Tony's fifth-place ranking was more red meat for his SEC-oriented AJC readership than anything else.
• Teams that are inspiring some debate: Texas Tech, a top-10 team according to Stewart Mandel and just outside the top 10 according to Schlabach and Steele (which, coincidentally, is also the name of my accounting firm), but down in the 20s according to Matt Hayes; and South Florida, Phil Steele's head-scratcher of a top-10 pick but only a high-teens team in the view of CSTV, CBS, and Lindy's, and a team that four people saw no reason to rank at all. Illinois, too, ranges from a top-10 spot (so sayeth Tony Barnhart) to a no-show (on Steele's list).
• Conspicuous by their absence: Boston College, last year's ACC Atlantic Division champion and a #10/#11 finisher in the polls but unable to get a single vote this preseason; Hawaii, whose crown as the king of the mid-majors has evidently passed to BYU, a consensus pick in the mid-to-high teens; and fricking Michigan, whose complete and total absence from any of these rankings leads one to believe that the Wolverines' transition to a Rich Rodriguez spread offense is going to be a difficult one. Also, once-trendy California appears to have crashed right out of most people's lists after a late-season collapse in '07 (their only ranking so far this year comes from Steele); and Alabama, whose snub by everyone except Mandel and Lindy's looks like a sign that neither Nick Saban's celebrity status nor his ZOMG AWESOME recr00ting sk1llz! have yet made much of an impact outside of Tuscaloosa County.
• Conspicuous by their presence: the Pittsburgh Panthers, who get a ranking from everyone except nationalchamps.net and Athlon; apparently the return of LeSean McCoy and a quarterback who played in one whole game last year are enough to make folks forget that the team is, you know, coached by Dave Wannstedt. Just outside the top 25, Michigan State got nods from four different pundits (exactly four more than Michigan did, so if you're a kitten, you'd do well to steer clear of Brian Cook for the next few months). And Phil Steele, God bless him, continues to confound with his assertion that South Carolina and Notre Dame are top-25-worthy.
• Conference-wise, the big winners are the Big 12, with five teams in the top 25, and the SEC, also with five teams and another two lurking just outside. Of course, last year the SEC had seven teams in the top 25 plus two in the "others receiving votes" category. Still, both conferences should be fairly juggernaut-esque this year.
• By contrast, the ACC -- with three teams in the top 25 and one more receiving votes -- looks like it's still going to struggle in its attempts to be taken seriously as a football superconference. Let's put it this way -- when your standard-bearer is a Tommy-Bowden-coached Clemson team, you're probably not ready for The Show just yet. The Tigers, incidentally, are pretty consistently pegged in the high single digits to low teens across the board, but let's be honest, most of us have heard this song before.
Your thoughts? Again, the composite will be updated if/when further top 25s are put out.