First things first: I could not in any good conscience include Rutgers in my first poll. What was is that Coach Schiano said last year after the conclusion of the team's up and down season vs. Ball State? Something like 'I voted them at #25, these kids deserve it'? At the end of the day, Greg Schiano is accountable to his players, and he has a vested interest in finishing with a higher ranking, I, while a devoted fan, at least try to look at things objectively from time to time.
From doing my team unit previews, one fact has become abundantly clear - this time has a lot of question marks. That does not mean they are bad. That doesn't even mean they won't have a good year, and can't overcome a lot of them. They won't overcome all of them though, not in August anyway. The 2008 team has the kind of talent that, only a few years ago, I would have never dreamed that Rutgers could ever acquire. But they're very, very young in key areas. Hopefully they are playing at a top 25 level at some point in the season. Maybe they'll even show it against Fresno. We'll see.
Until they single-handedly helped Bill Stewart get hired by West Virginia, I thought Oklahoma was playing better than anyone in 2007. Their only loss came vs. Texas Tech when they were short-handed due to injuries. They lost a handful of contributors to the NFL, but there is little doubt in my mind that, on paper, this is the most talented team in the country. More talented that USC. I would have voted them #1 before Georgia and Florida's recent rash of injuries. Key stats: #1 in passing efficiency, #5 in sacks allowed, #5 in scoring defense. Oklahoma, even without Malcolm Kelly, has an explosive passing attack. Their achilles heel last year was a combination of special teams and mediocre pass defense; the latter likely a function of an increasingly-pass happy Big XII.
The second curiosity about my ballot is that I deliberately left off Texas Tech. As MgoBlog notes, there is no one set voting philosophy. I am as fond of Captain Mike Leach and his pirate crew as the next voter, but there is no excuse for playing two I-AA teams in OOC play. OOC schedules around the country unfortunately are growing weaker and weaker, but after a point I will be voting based on results and not intuition. I don't think I will have enough information to properly evaluate Texas Tech for months into the season. If they impress during later tests, then I will certainly give them the ranking that they deserve at that point.
I am not privy yet to how the other voters cast their ballots, but at #14, I voted USF 7 spots higher than the coaches poll. That's higher than what intuitively seems fair, but it's the decision I came to after comparing them to other ranked teams. They return a top QB, and will have one of the best defenses in the country. Yes, at times I will likely display a Big East bias. I have viewing access to games that others around the country do not (and vice versa), and I may hold a differing opinion on the conference's strength than Jimmy Johnson. Other voters will have their own opinions. Hopefully, the entire sampling of voters will do a respectable job of balancing out the various regional biases.
I am not a complete Big East shill though, or at least I'll try not to be. After some deliberation, I can't in good conscience vote for Cincinnati if Ben Mauk is not returning, nor for Pittsburgh with the dearth of experience on their offensive line. As with Rutgers, the potential exists with both teams to have very fine seasons, but it is all up in the air at this point. Those are all cases where my familiarity with the Big East may actually bias me against its teams.
Let's see, what else. At #18, I voted Kansas in at 5 spots lower than the coaches poll. Part of that is out of a belief that USF will beat them, part of it our of sincere belief that their 2008 will mirror Rutgers's 2007. Consider that Kansas ranked #1 in the nation in turnover margin last season. In 2006 they were all the way down at #87. It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain such performance (Rutgers fell from #10 in 2006 to #93 (!!!) in 2007). I was cheering as loudly as anyone for the upstart Jayhawks and their delightfully obese coach last year. I sincerely hope that they prove me wrong, and still feel obligated to give them a top 25 vote as a reward for their wonderful 2007, despite my belief that they will regress to the mean in 2008.
Consequently, I have more respect for Wake Forest than most. With an experienced, veteran team, and the ACC still in a state of flux, this is as good of a year as any for the Deacons to match their brilliant 2006 with another conference crown.
I'm also fairly high on mid-majors Fresno State and Utah. I've done extensive reading on Fresno State over the summer, and they will be one of the top offensive units in the nation. If they can win their OOC games, this may be the best mid-major of the BCS era ever. Utah, while overshadowed by its neighbor in Provo, quietly had a very strong 2007 and the core of their team is intact for another run at the MWC Championship.
My last team out was South Carolina. I also seriously considered voting for Maryland (a possible sleeper in the ACC with a solid, veteran-laden squad), Michigan State, Pittsburgh, California, and Cincinnati.
In conclusion, none of this is set in stone. If you've got a beef with anything I've said, even if you're not a Rutgers fan, post a comment or email me and state your case. I plan to be accountable, and will defend any of my selections upon request.