Mark Schlabach released his updated preseason top 25 on Monday. Noteworthy is that the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide does not occupy No. 1 despite returning quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon, tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, wide receiver Amari Cooper and integrating a host of highly touted recruits.
No, the No. 1 ranking belongs to Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes.
Meyer and Alabama head coach Nick Saban tussled for the mountaintop of the SEC in the former’s final years with the Florida Gators. Saban won their final two encounters in 2009 and 2010. Denying Saban his fourth crystal ball at Alabama and fifth national championship overall would be suitable revenge for Meyer.
Braxton Miller headlines an experienced and talented corps returning for Meyer’s second season at the helm. Meyer brought a decidedly SEC mindset to the Big Ten, essentially enacting the old mantra if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
No league has experienced the opposite end of the Southeastern Conference’s recent dominance quite like the Big Ten, members of which have lost nine New Year’s Day bowl games against their SEC counterparts in the last three seasons. Ohio State in particular has the dubious distinction of coming on the wrong end of each of the first two BCS championship wins in the SEC’s ongoing seven-year title streak.
A coach with both championship and SEC experience could turn the tide, as it were. Imagine Meyer as a defecting spy with insider knowledge of the enemy’s tendencies. Combine that with a seemingly easier road to Pasadena, and Ohio State just might be the — pardon the pun — silver bullet to take down the SEC beast. Schlabach writes as much:
“I’m not saying the Buckeyes are a better football team than the Crimson Tide; I’m saying Ohio State has an easier path to an undefeated record this coming season.”
Perhaps. But last week, I examined Ohio State’s path to the Big Ten championship. It’s not exactly a clear path.
There’s a decided SEC lethargy among the college football-following nation — at least, among the league’s outsiders. Logic would dictate the conference’s run has to end eventually. Logic would also dictate that a conference as top-heavy as the SEC would eventually cannibalize itself out of title contention.
That just hasn’t happened. Precedent outweighs logic when assessing the SEC, and Alabama in particular. Until the Tide give indication otherwise, predicting against it is a fool’s errand.
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Ohio State’s bitter rival Michigan Wolverines are among the candidates for derailing the Buckeyes’ title hopes. Michigan draws Ohio State in the Big House this November in what could be the first top 10 match-up in the series since 2006.
ESPN’s rankings have the Wolverines slotted at No. 9, an eyebrow-raiser coming out of spring practices. Michigan returns just 11 starters after losing leading tackler and linebacker Jake Ryan to an ACL tear. Ryan could return late in the fall, but his absence in the interim leaves Michigan as the least experienced team in the Big Ten.
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Schalbach gives the Louisville Cardinals the most significant vote of confidence seen in this postseason. Coming off a thoroughly dominating defeat of Florida in the Sugar Bowl and returning Heisman candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, there’s a lot to love about Louisville.
But No. 4?
UL was certainly impressive in the Sugar Bowl, but the Cardinals also lost two of their final three in the regular season, to Connecticut and Syracuse. Neither was a world beater last season. The double-digit underdog status Louisville sported in New Orleans was earned.
Louisville was undefeated entering mid-November, but the loss to Syracuse was perhaps an inevitability after the tightrope it walked throughout the campaign. Six of the Cardinals’ 11 wins were by single digits.
The Cardinals have made strides every year under Charlie Strong’s guidance, and there are 15 starters returning. His team’s last season in the first year of the American Athletic Conference could yield special results, but Schlabach goes on a limb few are willing.