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HURT: LSU or USC may get preseason No. 1 vote

For the fourth time, The Associated Press has tabbed me as one of this state's voting journalists in its annual football poll, more of an entertaining exercise than anything else since the AP poll doesn't (and shouldn't) figure into any version of the BCS formula. Still, in the next week or so, a ballot must be formulated, even though every team still has questions to be answered.
I don't even know what the answers will be at Alabama, which I cover regularly, and don't even know what all the questions will be at Oregon or Oklahoma, for instance. So for a few weeks at best, don't expect even a pretense of precision. (The great thing, which people still don't seem to get, is that you can shuffle your ballot like crazy throughout September, as the picture starts to clear.)
In the preseason, though, you not only have to do some guesswork, you also have to decide what criteria you are going to use. Do you vote for the best team, in your opinion? Or do you vote for the team with the best chance to win the title? There is overlap there, but the two ideas aren't identical.
Would it be wiser to vote for an Oklahoma or a Florida State, whose schedules aren't as potentially demanding as those in the SEC and the Pac-12? It might be safer. But that leads to all sorts of guesswork about things that no one can foresee. Not many people thought we would see Alabama and LSU play twice in 2011. Could we see a rematch again in 2012?
What about a three-match? What if Oregon and USC play a great game in the regular season, another great game (with a reversed result) in the Pac-12 Championship, and both end up at 12-1, with no unbeaten teams on the horizon?
There is probably a group of six to eight teams that will be at the top of most ballots - Alabama and LSU, USC and Oregon, Oklahoma and FSU. If you just jumped up and said "What about Georgia?" or "What about Wisconsin?," point taken. See the above comments on what September is for.
On a purely "best team" basis, the SEC might have five teams worthy of the top 10, maybe more. The last time I voted, no one had Auburn close to the top in September, and it won the whole thing. I don't think there is a junior-college-to-Heisman story out there this year, but I didn't think there was at this time two years ago, either, and there was.
Alabama belongs somewhere in the mix. Can it get past a tough schedule and defensive rebuilding? Perhaps, but it isn't enough of a sure thing to give the Crimson Tide a preseason No. 1 nod. I am leaning to either LSU or USC, acknowledging that those teams have questions, too. And who knows? In two months, maybe it will be Arkansas and Michigan State. It just depends on who has the best answers to all these August questions.
Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225.