3 teams getting too much way-too-early love and 3 teams not getting enough way-too-early love
It’s way-too-early season.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s that magical time of year when we, in the national media, break down the Top 25 for the start of the upcoming season. We do it without knowing the entire list of early NFL departures. In a year like this in which eligibility is guaranteed for seniors, that’s an especially difficult element to navigate.
Nonetheless, we push on. After all, it’s way-too-early Top 25 season. If you haven’t read ours yet, I’m biased but I think you should totally do that.
To be honest, that’s why I actually read the other way-too-early Top 25 rankings and can have an opinion. I’ve done the rankings. I’m not just blindly saying “Iowa State outside of the Top 10 is insane.” That would be insane based on what I’ve seen, watched and read.
Here are 3 apiece for those categories:
Too much way-too-early love
Their rankings — No. 15 (The Athletic), No. 19 (CBS), No. 23 (ESPN), No. 23 (Sporting News)
My ranking — Unranked
What, do I hate fun and mullets? Absolutely not. I love fun. I love mullets.
I just don’t love Coastal Carolina the way others do. If I’m going to bat for a Group of 5 team, I need to have seen what they can do against Power 5 competition. With all due respect Kansas, we didn’t see Coastal Carolina play against a Power 5 team. What we did see was an independent team better than BYU, Liberty, beat Coastal Carolina at a neutral site.
I get it. The Chants get Jamey Chadwell back. That’s huge, as is the return of Grayson McCall. But this is a team with 12 projected starters back, and they lose a lot in the front 7. It’s not easy to become a Boise State, a UCF or a Cincinnati. I need to see another year of Coastal Carolina being nationally relevant before I assume this the No. 2 Group of 5 team in America like others.
Their rankings — No. 8 (CBS), No. 9 (The Athletic), No. 12 (Sporting News), No. 20 (ESPN)
My ranking — No. 15
I actually thought when I did my rankings that I’d be higher on LSU than most at No. 15. With the exception of ESPN, I stand corrected. It took a 2-game winning streak at the end of the regular season just for LSU to get to 5-5, and they were a pair games that went down to the wire. Most 5-5 teams that have to replace both coordinators aren’t even worthy of Top 25 buzz. LSU isn’t most teams.
And that’s not to say there shouldn’t be expectations for a bounce-bank year. LSU is expected to return 8 starters on each side of the ball, and at quarterback, Max Johnson and Myles Brennan both shown they could be legitimate SEC starters. They’ll have talented skill-players to work with — especially Kayshon Boutte — behind an extremely experienced offensive line. Both offensive and defensive lines should look like typical LSU. Along with some elite recruiting classes and the best cornerback duo in America in Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks, there’s definitely no shortage of hope in Baton Rouge.
But to start the year in the top 10 would basically be ignoring how big of a train wreck the Tigers were for most of the 2020 season. It’s assuming that LSU will have prolific balance on offense with a new coordinator, and it’s assuming that a pass defense that was among the worst in the country will automatically improve just because Bo Pelini is gone.
A team going from 3-5 in December to a top-10 team to start 2021 seems ambitious, to say the least.
Their rankings — No. 2 (The Athletic), No. 2 (CBS), No. 3 (ESPN), No. 4 (Sporting News)
My ranking — No. 4
Why get worked up over 1 or 2 spots? Here’s my problem with this: I get that Spencer Rattler is the Heisman Trophy favorite and this defense returns a lot of production after it improved greatly in 2020. Dominate a New Year’s 6 Bowl and people notice. Lincoln Riley deserves credit for the way his team finished the season. There’s no doubt about that.
But putting Oklahoma at No. 2 ahead of teams like Alabama and Clemson is too much. The Sooners have yet to win a Playoff game, and they were run over 3 of the 4 teams they got there. How many times have we said “this is Riley’s best team,” only to watch the Sooners falter on the big stage? Too many to say that’s one of the 2 best teams in America come September.
Oklahoma was a different team once Rhamondre Stevenson came back from his suspension. Now, he’s gone, along with the majority of that starting offensive line. As much as we assume the Sooners will find ground game production, we saw Rattler struggle when Oklahoma was still figuring that part out. I don’t think he’s a finished product, and I’m not convinced that he can be relied on to play mistake-free football if and when he has to throw 35 times.
Don’t get it twisted. Oklahoma deserves to start off as a slight Big 12 favorite to Iowa State. That’s fair when you win the league 6 years in a row. But let’s pump the brakes on the top-2 hype until we actually see the Sooners win a Playoff game.
Not enough way-too-early love
Their rankings — No. 15 (CBS), No. 18 (Sporting News), No. 20 (The Athletic), No. 25 (ESPN)
My ranking — No. 11
I think 2 big things are contributing to some rare underrating of Miami. One is obviously the D’Eriq King injury. Getting hurt in the bowl game put a damper on his decision to return to Rhett Lashlee’s offense. Even though he has 9 months before the start of the season, some are assuming he’ll be out to start the year.
Speaking of the start of the year, Miami opens against Alabama. I hate, hate, hate when some project records instead of valuing how good a team is at the start of the year. Even though I wouldn’t dare pick against Nick Saban in a neutral-site opener, that shouldn’t impact a preseason ranking. We’re not guessing records here.
I realize that Miami lost a lot on the defensive line with Gregory Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips both turning pro. Manny Diaz still kept the Canes in the top 10 for most of the year without Rousseau, who opted out before the start of the season. Miami also revolutionized that offense last year, and it’ll take another step with it after a (mostly) normal offseason this time around.
I’ll roll the dice on King making a speedy recovery and Diaz finding ways to maximize the potential of that defense in Year 3.
Their rankings — Unranked (all)
My ranking — No. 22
So Northwestern definitely kept tabs on all things way-too-early Top 25. Let’s just say 1 publication made the Cats happier than others:
Not seeing ‘Northwestern’ on a BUNCH of ‘way-too-early Top-25’ polls.
— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) January 12, 2021
Good lookin’ out 👊
— Northwestern Football (@NUFBFamily) January 12, 2021
The Big Ten West champs finished No. 10 in the AP Top 25, yet they didn’t get love by any of those 4 publications in part because they lose a lot on defense, including longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Also losing quarterback Peyton Ramsey to the transfer portal wasn’t ideal.
But Pat Fitzgerald just boasted a top-5 defense with a bunch of 2- and 3-star recruits. It wasn’t like he just lost a generational talent. Plus, nobody had more interceptions in America than Brandon Joseph, who will return with promising defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore and prolific senior linebacker Chris Bergin is taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
We watched Fitzgerald’s squad gave Ohio State everything it could handle in the Big Ten Championship. This should still be one of the nation’s top defenses, and with Year 2 of Mike Bajakian as the offensive coordinator, I think the Cats have a much more favorable shot at picking up where it left off than not. That’s more worthy of a Top 25 start than the likes of TCU, NC State and Auburn, all of whom got a nod from 1 of those 4 publications.
Their rankings — No. 8 (Sporting News), No. 12 (CBS), No. 16 (ESPN), No. 17 (The Athletic)
My ranking — No. 12
OK, so I actually don’t have a problem with half of these rankings. I’m looking into the crystal ball for the offseason, and I can already see that I’m more optimistic than most about the Gators bouncing back after the rough finish. Part of that is because Florida earned 3 consecutive New Year’s 6 bowl appearances. That’s no small feat. Here’s the list of teams with that active streak:
- Ohio State
Yeah, it’s a much smaller list than the average person realizes. That matters in a year of transition like the one Florida is about to undergo.
Those who will take the “under” on any sort of Florida 2021 outlook will cite the struggles without those top 4 pass-catchers in the Cotton Bowl. Dealing with that with roughly a week to prepare and having just 60 scholarship players also played a part in that.
But Emory Jones getting an entire offseason with the first-stringers will be invaluable, and Florida has 3 legitimate first-team All-SEC candidates back on defense (Kaiir Elam, Brenton Cox and Zachary Carter). Dan Mullen’s floor in Gainesville is much higher than some realize. Florida is a fringe top-10 team to start 2021.