5 Teams That College Football Analysts Can't Agree on Heading into 2014 Season
The college football media-at-large agrees on many things this preseason: Florida State is the consensus best team, for example, and Todd Gurley is the consensus best running back. Will Muschamp needs eight or nine wins to save his job.
But not every issue breeds such crisp, clean consensus—especially on the subject of individual teams.
Which got us thinking: Whom do we disagree on most?
Of course, 60 voters is not representative of the entire college football media, but it's a big enough sample to work with. The results are, at the very least, strongly correlated with how the larger group of college football analysts think.
For the five teams listed, though, that thinking is basically a big ol' shrug of the shoulders.
AP Rank: 26 Highest: 10 Unranked: 43/60
Central Florida finished right outside the AP Top 25, checking in first on the "others receiving votes section" at No. 26.
It did this, though, despite appearing on just 17 ballots. By contrast, the three teams that finished directly behind it—Florida, Texas and Duke—appeared on 21, 23 and 22 ballots, respectively.
Unlike those teams, the Golden Knights evoked strong reactions from the 17 voters who did include them, which explains how they ranked higher. There was hardly any middle ground on their opinions.
Logan Lowery of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, for example, had the Knights all the way up at No. 10, and six other ballots (seven total) had them in the top 20. Florida peaked at No. 15 and had five top-20 votes, Texas peaked at No. 20 and had two top-20 votes and Duke peaked at No. 18 and had six top-20 votes.
So—why the split opinions on UCF?
A lot of it probably has to do with head coach George O'Leary, who reportedly considered retiring after the Penn State game in Week 1. He refuted those rumors earlier this month, per Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, saying: "I'm not going to start a season and not finish what I do…I preach to the kids I don't quit," but it's difficult to ignore those rumblings entirely when assessing UCF's season.
If O'Leary's heart is in it, though, there's a lot to like about a team that won the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and returns a ton of pieces despite losing quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson.
That season opener against PSU should be a good one.
AP Rank: 16 Highest: 8 Unranked: 1/60
There was a wide range of views on Clemson, which finished No. 16 in the overall poll but ranked in the top 10 of four ballots.
It did find a home in the middle part of the poll, placing between No. 11 and No. 20 on three of every four ballots cast, but it also ranked between No. 21 and No. 24 on 10 ballots and was left off the ranking entirely by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News*.
Ostensibly, this has much to do with Clemson's retooled offense, which must replace quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Roderick McDowell and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. The defense is commonly agreed upon as one of the best in college football, but there's dissent over whether Chad Morris—despite being the highest-paid coordinator in college football—can rebuild the offense so soon with so many new skill-position players.
Still, because Morris is there, and because that aforementioned defense is so good, others remain bullish on the Tigers. Dave Miller of National Football Post doesn't vote in the AP poll, but he ranked them one of the five biggest sleepers to make the College Football Playoff, countering worries about the skill positions because, well, "this is still a Chad Morris offense."
With road games at Georgia and Florida State and a home date with North Carolina all on the schedule before October, we won't have to wait long to find out where this Clemson team registers.
*Wilner, it should be mentioned, is no stranger to AP ballot-related criticism, and—spoiler alert—this is not the last time he'll be mentioned in this piece. Clemson was not his only almost-outlier.
AP Rank: 22 Highest: 14 Unranked: 24/60
Nebraska finished No. 22 in the poll despite ranking No. 16 or better on nine ballots. No other team ranked No. 20 or lower finished in the top 16 of even seven ballots—the closest being Kansas State with six.
The reason for that that? Simple. Two of every five ballots omitted the Huskers entirely. More than half of voters had Nebraska either inside the national top 16 or outside the national top 25. In other words: A voter was more likely to have Nebraska on one pole or the other than anywhere in between.
It's not hard to see where the disconnect comes from, either.
On one hand, Nebraska's last game was a bowl win over Georgia. Its two best players from that team (running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory) both return in 2014, and both were named preseason First-Team All-Americans by USA Today.
On the other hand, quarterback Tommy Armstrong was up and down in relief of Taylor Martinez last season, almost everyone is gone from the offensive line and the secondary and this team has still lost exactly four games every year since Bo Pelini arrived in 2008.
How could 60 people be expected to agree on what to do with Nebraska? Heck, even two would have a hard time getting on.
AP Rank: 21 Highest: 14 Unranked: 20/60
Opinions about Texas A&M were consistently inconsistent. No disagreement on this list was as balanced or symmetrical.
The Aggies didn't place No. 13 or higher on any ballot, but beyond that, their placement was evenly uneven:
|Nos. 14-19||Nos. 20-25||Unranked|
|Texas A&M Rankings||21||19||20|
It makes sense that no one knows what to do with A&M in its first year post-Johnny Manziel. There's no safe way to predict how quarterback Kenny Hill, a young group of receivers and a depleted defensive depth chart will perform against the SEC West.
Who wants to be the idiot who bets against Kevin Sumlin after his last go-round with an athletic second-year quarterback? Then again, who wants to be the idiot who ranks potentially the worst defense in the SEC as one of the 20 best teams in America?
You can either (a) run the risk of looking really stupid in three months or (b) run the risk of looking really stupid in three months.
Pick your poison.
AP Rank: 14 Highest: 5 Unranked: 3/60
No team provoked as much variance as Wisconsin, which finished No. 14 in the poll but landed all over the map (or didn't land at all).
Four voters ranked the Badgers in the top 10, including two—Wilner and Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News—who ranked them at No. 5. But three other voters—Chadd Crippe of the Idaho Statesman, Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily and Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press—left the Badgers off their ballots altogether.
Compare this against every other team that received multiple top-five votes:
|Overall Rank||Lowest Rank||Ballots Outside Top 18|
Like Clemson, Wisconsin should let us know early which side of this debate was correct. The Tanner McEvoy-at-quarterback era starts in Week 1 against LSU on a neutral field.
We'll see if the Badgers can field a passing game and defense worthy of supporting Melvin Gordon on the ground. After losing wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and seemingly everyone from the defensive front seven (most notably linebacker Chris Borland), it's fair to question whether those units will bounce back.
But after going 0-3 in games decided by one touchdown or less last season, Wisconsin should also be due for improved luck—something Ed Feng of Grantland expounds upon in calling the Badgers his sleeper to make the CFP. This team was even better than its record last season, and the record (10-3) wasn't half bad to begin with.
My head hurts just thinking about figuring this team out.
*For those who enjoy getting angry…yes, once again, that was Wilner giving Auburn and South Carolina their lowest rankings.