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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Hi! This is my proposed preseason ballot. If the description of some teams seems excessively negative (I have OSU and ND in the top ten and spend every sentence ripping on both teams) or positive (see: M @ 10), it's because I'm arguing against whatever the conventional wisdom is. Obviously teams like OSU and ND have much to recommend them, but since I think putting either in the top five is less a stretch and more a crime against reason I must break out the negativity.

Please take any and all opportunities to call me a huge idiot. You're not likely to make a lot of headway on Big Ten teams since I have fully formed opinions on them, but there could be quite a bit of give in my opinion of teams not located in my geographical area.

1. Auburn

I had a discussion with Orson about the various SEC teams and he convinced me that Brandon Cox was better than meh, Kenny Irons was going to plow a furrow through the SEC, and new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp -- the guy who led LSU's defense during its national championship run -- was enough of an upgrade over the one-year stand-in they had in '05 that the defense should take a step forward despite some distressing holes at DT and safety.

Really, you could put teams 1-10 in a bag, shake them up, and put any one at the top and A) have ammunition to justify it and B) wince at the major flaws the team has.

2. Iowa

Might seem stupid at the end of the year, but I think the one error in my Iowa preview was underrating the Hawkeye safeties. Compare them to OSU:

  • Advantage Iowa: QB, RB, TE, DL, K.
  • Advantage OSU: WR, Return Game
  • Push: OL, LB, DB, and that's assuming Iowa's corners are bad.
(You might move QB to push if you're a huge Troy Smith fan but I think Tate's the better player.) Even the most ardent Buckeye can't seriously claim a significant coaching advantage over Kirk Ferentz. Iowa returns seven starters on D, seven on O, and a guaranteed Groza finalist at K. Their record last year was depressed by a freak series of events that lost them a lot of games late. In a year of total chaos, Iowa's as good a choice as any.

3. Texas

Always loaded due to Mack having, like, hypnosis eyes or something, but the choices at quarterback are a freshman or a freshman.

4. LSU

"Great except they can't defend the pass," according to Orson. Seeing no one intending to pass in the SEC and considering that a major flaw but no less major than most of the teams in close proximity to them, here they go.

5. Nebraska

Okay. Am I on crack? Perhaps. But Zac Taylor was pretty good as the year progressed and they have a couple of capable backs. Teams usually struggle their first couple years learning a new offense; this is Nebraska's third year running the WCO. Callahan's bountiful first class will start seeing time this year. The defense returns largely intact and has two vicious defensive ends. The catch: the running game was school-record awful last year and the blame falls largely on the offensive line.

6. USC

Well, it's USC. Without two Heisman winners they'll drop one or two of those crazy Pac-10 shootouts against ASU or Oregon or something, especially sans that whatshisface... Gore guy. Please, Pac-10. The nation needs you.

7. Louisville

This is your All-O, No-D Heismanpundit OMG Team Of The Year. Brian Brohm and Michael Bush are the top backfield tandem in the country; both are healthy and seriously pissed off you guys about the WVU game a year ago. Elvis Dumerville and his billion sacks do depart but the entire secondary returns along with two linebackers and some experience on the DL.

8. Ohio State

I realize that there's not a whole lot to choose from at the top of the polls but it appears that the blogpoll is heading for a 1-2 Ohio State-Notre Dame double punch of Conventional Wisdom, and that makes Bear very sad. Ohio State's defense is going to drop off a cliff even if it remains pretty good and their offense is probably immensely overrated.

That's right: immensely overrated. Michigan's crappy, no good, Herrmann-led defense was the third best unit Ohio State faced last year -- by a huge margin -- and I watched them scrape by on screens and the MasseyGap for the better part of four quarters until Michigan's terminal EOG stupidity kicked in and zoned Michigan to a painful death. In games against Texas and Penn State, OSU's offense got its ass kicked. The rest of the schedule looked like this: Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, etc, etc, etc, etc. OSU racked up a lot of yards and points because they had a huge number of short fields against Sun Belt defenses. That's certainly better than struggling against those opponents but the overall weakness of said opponents should be taken into account, especially when the other side of the ball is totally new.

9. Notre Dame

A second team whose preseason rankings are wildly overrated because of an offense that racked up tons of points and yards versus Sun Belt D. I've said it before, you've heard it before. It's a good offense but not good enough to justify the hype. They still don't have a single cornerback; they moved their second string running back to linebacker last week in the expectation he might start.

A good team with a good coach, yes. Ginn or no Ginn, Smarjajdjadaizaia is the most frightening player Michigan must face this year, Zbikowski's so fast Fisher DeBerry thinks he's an albino, and apparently Quinn managed to figure out how to throw downfield to wide open guys sometime after the Michigan game. #1? #2? Bleah.

10. Michigan

I'd like to think my offbeat Michigan ranking is more due to the vast array of information I have on them and not pure fanboy bias. If I was an SEC blogger I'd be tempted to put them as my wack #1 pick in a year with no favorites.

Why? A total of seven starters* depart, only but only three were any good: Jason Avant, Adam Stenavich, and Gabe Watson. The other four ranged from mediocre-at-best (Grant Mason) to plain bad (Leo Henige, Matt Lentz, and Pat Massey). So there's that: in terms of returning production Michigan must lead the country, especially when you consider the veritable plague of injuries that rained down. Mike Hart was healthy for four games, Jake Long none. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God smote Michigan safeties like one would expect. Lamarr Woodley about a quarter of the season, including the final, fateful drives against OSU. For most of the season the right tackle was Rueben Riley, the third string guy even when both his thumbs weren't broken.

That returning production did lead to 7-5 and the (gasp!) "three plays from 4-7" meme that hacky sportswriters love to trot out, but Michigan was (gasp!) four plays from 11-1 too. That's what happens when every single game you play is decided on the last drive. Phil Steele made this argument about Arkansas: when a team loses a lot of games by narrow margins but can reasonably expect significant improvement the team's record can change drastically for the better.

Lloyd Carr's tendency to sit on slim leads and punt on second and ten is a negative that costs Michigan some expectation and thus a few spots in the poll, but most of the piercing analysis of Michigan that's been offered during the offseason amounts to "OMG LLLLLOYD LOL" and vastly overstates whatever negative impact his game theory flaws bring, especially since Michigan's version of Jeff Bowden is gone.

*(Six if you count Tim Massaquoi, but Tyler Ecker saw at least as much time as he did.)

11. Florida

I trust the EDSBS evaluation of the Gators and place them in approximately the same spot.

12. Cal

A team much like USC except this year they get their version of Reggie Bush back. Actually, they get their versions of Bush back -- both Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch averaged well over 6 YPC. The catch is that the heavily promoted defense didn't do much to earn the hype being given it this year, yielding 47 points to UCLA, 38 to WSU, and 35 to USC. Giving up only 20 in regulation to Oregon seems impressive, but the Ducks had just lost Kellen Clemens for the year. Cal's rep as a tough defense was built on crushing Arizona, Sacramento State, Stanford, and the like. They stopped no one of consequence.

Then there's the QB issue, still unsettled between three players. Nate Longshore missed last year with a broken leg; Joe Ayoob was more joke than quarterback; Steve Levy played well once, against Mormons. Marshawn Lynch is real nice but is this a top ten team? Uh. No.

13. WVU

Poised for a step back this year as everyone who plays them will be hell-bent on figuring out the particulars of WVU's spread-option offense. As SMQB points out, the 'Eers were moments away from being on the receiving end of a unholy beating from Louisville and nearly managed to blow the Georgia game once UGA managed to stumble to its feet and take a standing eight count. This may be an overreaction to the Great Purdue Misprediction of 2005, but it feels lke their fifteen minutes are up and at the end of the year people will be milling about asking each other "what the hell did we even see in them in the first place?"

14. Miami


15. Florida State

16. Boston College

17. Clemson

Everyone else is voting for them. Why?

18. Oklahoma

I think there's a chance people are making too much of Rhett Bomar's departure, since he wasn't exactly Tom Brady last year. A starting guard getting booted, though, is bad for Adrian Peterson, and what's bad for Adrian Peterson is bad for everyone.

19. Arkansas

I trust Phil Steele. Orson also argued in their favor, citing Steele, dismissing the absence of McFadden as trivial, and pointing out 6'6" wide receiver/mobile wall Marcus Monk, the closest thing to Calvin Johnson since... er, he's still in school. The closest thing since sliced bread!

Willing to take input here as well.

20. Northern Illinois

Garrett Wolfe made believers out of Michigan fans in last year's season opener, which was closer than the score suggested. The little Husky is a tiny, impossible-to-find slasher and legitimately one of the premier backs in the country. You've got a love a running back who rocks the #1 jersey. He'll get an opportunity to believe-ify plenty more Big Ten opponents in games at Ohio State and Iowa. I expect NIU to at the very least scare the hell out of OSU in their season opener. Tackle Doug Free is a potential first or second round draft pick and though NIU loses three starters from last year's line they get guard Matt Rogers, a starter in '04, back from an academic suspension.

Also of note for name-watchers... NIU's crack SID staff has your back (pdf):
the question remains who moves up to the No. 2 [RB] spot---junior-to-be All-Name Team candidate Cas Prime, soph Montell Clanton, red-shirt frosh Justin Anderson, or incoming freshman Ricky Crider?
21. Tennessee

Orson swears that the return of Cutcliffe is worth games all by itself and that Tennessee fans will no longer have to curl up in the fetal position, muttering "why didn't they hand it to whichever impossibly giant, suspiciously robotic back probably sent from the future to kill Steve Spurrier we have this year?"

I am suspicious about the loss of Mahelona and what seemed like the only good bit of team Tennessee had last year. Willing to listen here, as well.

22. Virginia Tech

Purely a rep pick. Very open to pro/con arguments.

23. Drew Stanton

I suppose he has teammates.

24. Fresno State

Mid-major respect know-nothing pick. Flexible here.

25. Georgia Tech

Sure, they'll probably be 7-5 at the end of the year, but whoever ends up here at the end of the year is going to be around 7-5 anyway. Not many potential #25 teams have Calvin Johnson, a veteran quarterback, and the consistently swarming defense Tech features. Okay, the veteran quarterback looks and throws like Gary Coleman, but it's #25. What are you going to do?

Votes due by Wednesday @ 10, so get yer bitchin' in today.