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August 22, 2011For the sixth time in history, the University of Alabama football team enters the college football season ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. As Nick Saban said on Saturday, the ranking is really nothing more than a conversation piece. It indicates that expectations are high for the Crimson Tide among a group of national media, 99 percent of whom haven't seen Alabama practice or play, most likely, since the end of last year's Auburn game. A few might have tuned in for the early going of the Capital One Bowl, but only Alabama fans watched that blowout until the end.
For the record, I am not a voter this year, although I was last year. The state's two AP votes rotate among several media outlets, with this year's voters coming from Anniston and Mobile. If had been voting, I probably would have had Alabama somewhere in the Top Five, maybe even as high as No. 2. And no matter which team I had at No. 1, I probably would have switched my vote to the LSU-Oregon winner in the second poll.
At any rate, the poll is nothing but a conversation piece at this point. Alabama was No. 1 in last year's pre-season poll and Ohio State was No. 2, and neither made it to the BCS title game. The two teams who did go were ranked No. 11 (Oregon) and No. 22 (Auburn). This year, that would mean a Wisconsin-Florida championship game - not too likely, but no more unlikely than last year's game.
Even history is inconsistent as a guide for what a No. 2 ranking really means. Alabama was the pre-season No. 2 in 1967, only to be tied by Florida State back in the day when the Seminoles were hardly considered a football power. Alabama was No. 2 again in 1975, when Missouri came to Legion Field and shocked the Crimson Tide. But the No. 2 ranking isn't always an albatross. The 1979 team also started No. 2 in the poll and it wound up an undefeated national champion.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the poll was the love lavished by the voters on the SEC as a whole. Eight SEC teams were in the poll. The reason is obvious - five consecutive BCS championships - but the mathematics aren't going to hold up. Someone in that group of eight teams is going to be a major disappointment, if for no other reason than the fact that all the teams play each other and someone has to lose. Either Alabama and LSU aren't going to be as dominant as some people think, or the league isn't going to have eight teams in the poll for very long. Even more curiously, two of those eight teams (LSU and Georgia) are underdogs - modest ones, but underdogs nonetheless - in their non-conference season openers.
And Georgia's opener may hold the key to the BCS situation, because if the Bulldogs don't beat Boise State, it is quite likely that we will have another year of debate over whether the Broncos should be in the BCS title game. I have never been a strong advocate of teams with lackluster schedules being rewarded, but have just about reached the point where it is no longer worth withstanding the siege. If the Broncos run the table, and there aren't two other clearly-deserving undefeated teams in their way, send them on to New Orleans, if only to give them a chance to settle the debate. Of course, that could mean leaving a one-loss SEC team out in the cold, but that's another debate for another time.
That's what pre-season polls are good for, though. Nothing - except making you think of all the hypothetical possibilities, which is part of the fun of college football.