TUPELO – As the police were instructed to do at the end of “Casablanca,” the college football pollsters have rounded up the usual suspects.
There aren’t many surprises to be found in either the AP media poll or the USA Today coaches poll, when you look at them side-by-side.
Florida No. 1, Texas No. 2, Oklahoma No. 3, Southern Cal No. 4, Alabama No. 5, Ohio State No. 6 … rinse and repeat. Those six teams have won a combined 30 national championships as awarded by The Associated Press and represent 60 percent of the 10 teams that have ever won more than two AP national titles.
Like handicappers at the horse track, the average poll voter in the preseason is putting his money on bloodlines. I did the same thing last year, voting in the AP’s preseason poll for men’s basketball and taking North Carolina. Of course, so did the other 71 voters.
I talked to some football poll voters at the end of last season, when Ole Miss wound up behind Texas Tech in both major polls after slapping the Red Raiders at the Cotton Bowl. A couple of voters expressed regret at the way that turned out – something about poll momentum, maybe, and I think one mentioned sunspots
This time around, the Rebels (No. 8 AP, No. 10 coaches poll) are a newcomer at the top 10 party, but they have had their tuxedos hanging in the closet for a while, waiting for another invitation to a party where once, when almost all TVs were still back-and-white, they were a frequent guest.
Teams good enough to be ranked No. 8 in the preseason might not always be in the mix for the national championship at the end of the season, but they rarely crash and burn.
Remember which team was No. 8 in the AP preseason poll in 2008? West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 9-4 and finished No. 23. How about 2007? No. 8 that year was Oklahoma. The Sooners went 11-3 and finished right where they started.
In 2006, LSU was No. 8 in the preseason, went 11-2 and finished No. 3.
It is possible to get to the BCS championship game from the No. 8 slot. Florida did it in 2006 after starting No. 8 in the coaches’ poll, losing only to Auburn on the way to a national title. And Southern Cal won the AP’s version of the national title – in a split decision with LSU – after starting No. 8 in both major polls.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for, say, No. 23 Notre Dame to jump into the national picture.
But it’s much easier for a team ranked down the line to implode: Tennessee, No. 18 in the preseason and 5-7 and coach-hunting once it was over and Michigan, No. 24 in the 2008 coaches’ poll and a 3-9 bug-splatter on the windshield of college football when it was over.
The polls help get the talk started. The action begins in two weeks.
John L. Pitts (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.
John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal