By Eye on College Football Bloggers
Each week, the Eye on CFB team convenes Voltron-style to answer a pressing question regarding the wild, wide world of college football. This week's topic:
With a few scattered exceptions, spring practice is in the books. As we enter summer and start looking at the 2011 season in earnest, let's start that looking at the top: who deserves to be the preseason No. 1?
Tom Fornelli: If I were forced to choose a number one team at gunpoint like I am now, I would have to agree with most people and go with Oklahoma.
The Big 12 just got a little easier to navigate now that Nebraska is gone and there's no longer a conference championship game to get through. Texas is coming off of a down year, and while I think they'll be improved in 2011, I think last year showed that the Longhorns aren't ready to compete for a national title again right away.
Which leaves Oklahoma, returning both Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles on offense, without much resistance in the Big 12. Yes, there's Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, but I don't see Oklahoma State making a key defensive stop when it needs one against the Sooners. As for the Aggies, I just don't trust Mike Sherman yet. So I don't think it's insane to believe that the Sooners are going to get through the season without a loss in 2011. That's enough to make them my extremely premature preseason No. 1.
Adam Jacobi: I agree with Tom. OU doesn't have everybody back, but they have enough to navigate a pretty lackluster Big 12 Which Is Now Actually 10. Look out for Alabama too, because Trent Richardson is going to have an absolutely monster year. But we'll need to see how the quarterback situation shakes out before tossing out terms like "top-ranked" to describe that team.Bryan Fischer: I think it's easy to peg Oklahoma as the pre-season No. 1, but that doesn't mean I'd pencil - and I do mean pencil - them in at the top. The Sooners do return their quarterback in Jones, a dynamic threat at receiver in Broyles and a great defensive leader in linebacker Travis Lewis. Their schedule does set up well for them, outside of a dangerous trip to Tallahassee to take on a Florida State team they beat 47-17 last year.
That said, I have to go with Alabama. Let's face it: the champion at the end of the year usually comes from the SEC, so that's a good place to start. The Crimson Tide have to break in a new quarterback but I think the schedule will allow them to ease into things, with the big road game at Penn State teaching them to handle a hostile crowd. Plus, either guy gets to hand off to the best running back in the country in Richardson. The defense should be great again and they get both LSU and Arkansas at home.
AJ: I suppose this necessitates the question of by "No. 1," whether we're choosing the best team in Week 1 or the most likely team to run the table. Because I'm feeling OU more for the former and UA for the latter. But it's a good philosophical question regardless. Thoughts?
Chip Patterson: I think that this far out from the regular season, you have to define "No. 1" as the team most prepared to win the title right now. In my eyes, that is Oklahoma.
However, I would agree that Alabama - and also LSU - could find themselves in another SEC West dogfight should Florida State knock off Oklahoma in Tallahassee. Florida State is far from the team that got worked in Norman a year ago, returning 18 starters from a team that beat SEC East champion South Carolina in the Chick Fil-A Bowl. If Oklahoma slips to the Seminoles early in the season, then the Bayou Bengals' trip to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5 becomes another one of those marquee SEC regular season bloodbaths which have become an annual event the last couple seasons.
But until they slip and fall, the Sooners look most prepared to run the table right now - and they are my No. 1.
Jerry Hinnen: Adam's question is one that it would be nice for the mainstream polls to answer for us with some kind of stated policy, as opposed to their current "Do What You Feel" preseason approach. My take is that it's more fair to start the season with (as Chip says) the best team at the top regardless of schedule, then adjust as the season results pour in. But it's much more fun to try and predict who'll wind up standing atop the mountain when all is said and done.
So that's what I'll do, and I'll also predict "Alabama." I don't expect the Tide to run the table against the strongest single division in college football (even with Auburn taking a step back, there's still LSU, underrated Arkansas and ever-improving Mississippi State plus an Iron Bowl on the road), but after two years with a BCS national title game matching up undefeated opponents, we're overdue for at least one one-loss team to make the championship tilt. And once an SEC team gets that far, it's been the safest of bets -- to-date -- to take that final step to the crystal football.
Two final points to wrap things up:
1. At the very least, we've got a consensus on who the top two teams are. Our colleague Dennis Dodd named LSU his early-early No. 1, but after seeing Jordan Jefferson continue to flail in the Tigers' spring game, it's hard to see them coming out of Tuscaloosa with a win. And behind those three, is there anyone else we'd feel comfortable naming as a contender? Oregon has suffered major defensive losses; Ohio State could face the entire season without Jim Tressel; Stanford and Oklahoma State and Nebraska have all undergone substantial offensive coaching overhauls; and at the mid-major level, TCU and Boise State were (probably) both better a year ago.
In fact, it might be Florida State that's better positioned to make a run than any of those teams. Which brings me to my next point:
2. Even if the overall nonconference slate is more cupcake-laden than ever, we have not one but two games in September -- LSU hosting Oregon and the aforementioned Sooners-Seminoles clash -- matching up legitimate top-10 teams with national title aspirations. That's two more than most years, so you won't hear any complaints about 2011's non-league scheduling from me.