To begin, preseason polls truly need to be labeled what they intend to be: subjective. Stating as much, too many people allowed to vote do so politically, and do so lazily.
It’s just bad journalism.
Do all the Associated Press (AP) writers fail to do their jobs? No, of course not. Too many do not take this poll seriously, however, and it leads to the amateurish rankings that came out earlier today.
For the sake of argument, here’s the top 25, and then onto actual thoughtful commentary about football, not politics and laziness. Here’s a video defining what’s wrong with the AP Poll, followed by an overview of the questionable picks for certain spots in the poll and where UCF should be ranked.
- Ohio State
- Texas A&M
- Iowa State
- Notre Dame
- North Carolina
- Southern California
- Penn State
- Coastal Carolina
- Arizona State
Top 10, Really?
Iowa State is this year’s media darling. Okay, Brock Purdy can spin it. Darn good quarterback that’s likely to make an NFL roster. He’s not making tackles, however, and until the Cyclones prove they can play really good defense, especially utilizing cover 1 to prove they are truly athletic enough to join the big boys of college football, this pick is over the top.
Just not enough raw defensive talent in Aimes, Iowa to be ranked No. 7. Sorry, just not enough. Even with award candidate Breece Hall coming back for his junior year at tailback after rushing for 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns, he’s still not playing cornerback or being a difference maker on defense in general. Really like Head Coach Matt Campbell. He’s a classy guy, but there’s no way the Cyclones are No. 7 without more speed and depth on ‘D.’
Great Defensive talent Returns, but Who’s the Quarterback for the Ducks?
Oregon brings back defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux for his junior season. The 6’5, 258-pound junior defensive end brings the length, speed, and ‘want to’ to find his way into the opponent’s backfield at a really high rate per snap. He’s one of college football’s true game wreckers. There are other ample talents like sophomore linebacker Noah Sewell, too. The issue with the Ducks stems from the other side of the football though.
It looks to all be on the shoulders of senior quarterback Anthony Brown. The former Boston College player is now the Oregon starter and it appears that he will be placed under quite a bit of pressure. Is he good enough for Oregon to be ranked No. 12? Uh, probably not. He threw for 164 yards last season, and he’s never proven to be a consistent passer against good competition.
A Pedestrian 25 Points Per Game, and then Ranked No. 12?
Wisconsin scored 25.1 points per game last season. Yes, that’s all the Badgers could muster. Still, there’s a talented offensive line and a young quarterback in Graham Mertz that could blossom. Key word: could. The Badgers really struggle to sign elite wide receiver talent as well. He’s not just throwing it up to studs like they have at Georgia or Texas A&M or Clemson or Ohio State.
The Badgers will probably struggle on offense against good defensive teams, and that will place the onus on a good Badgers defense once again. Will it be enough to keep the Badgers at No. 12 this year? Do not count on it. In today’s era of college football, a team needs to score over 30 points, if not 35 or more points, to consistently be ranked in the top 10 to 15 schools. Wisconsin fails to meet that criteria.
More Questionable Picks
Miami at No. 14 or Penn State at No. 19 raise an eyebrow. The Hurricanes were horrendous defensively at the end of the 2020 season, but still boast a talented signal caller and speed on both sides of the football. So perhaps top 20, but top 15, not so much. Hard to not like quarterback D’Eriq King, but he needs a lot of help this season for the Hurricanes to actually finish in the top 15, assuming the ‘Canes defense steps up and plays to its ability (same with the Hurricanes defensive coaches).
If Miami can find better defense, perhaps the Hurricanes will be college football’s surprise team. It would be a cool story with King coming back for a sixth-year of college football. Let’s see how it plays out.
Penn State started the 2020 season 0-5. Yes, Penn State started 0-5. That’s the worst start for any non-probation Nittany Lions team in modern history, yet they are now ranked in the AP top 20. That’s being ranked on name recognition, not merit.
Who’s the quarterback going to be and why should anyone trust this signal caller? Probably Sean Clifford, but can he make a difference and get the Nittany Lions into the end zone more?
Further, after watching several highly touted offensive linemen get pushed backwards for a good portion of the 2020 season, why in the world would anyone believe that good defenses will not still give Penn State's running game fits?
Penn State possesses talent, but does the Penn State coaching staff maximize that talent? The answer to this point in his career would be no. A resounding no. After last season especially, but overall Penn State Head Coach James Franklin had his moments and did well from 2016-2019, but since even during that time span too many critical in-game decisions went awry and cost Penn State a chance to be in the college football playoffs. Then, last season was a disaster. Coach Franklin and his staff have much to prove after 2020's 0-5 start in Happy Valley. That mark alone should make people skeptical.
Why UCF Received a Poor Ranking, and Where the Knights Should be
First off, UCF’s defense was a sieve for much of last season. It’s understandable if any particular AP writer wanted to leave UCF out of the mix for the top 25. The Knights, however, came in at No. 40. UCF deserves far better than that ranking. Some place between 18-30, just to provide a wide range, is appropriate. This team can light it up, and offensively few teams will match what the Knights can do.
With Dillon Gabriel and a host of talented wide receivers to throw the football to like Jaylon Robinson, Ryan O’Keefe, Amari Johnson, Jordan Johnson, and Nate Craig-Myers just to name a few, the Knights will throw the football all over the lot (unlike Wisconsin, Penn State and Oregon).
Defensively, adding defensive end Big Kat Bryant from Auburn, defensive tackle Ricky Barber from Western Kentucky, and getting defensive tackle Kalia Davis back at defensive tackle will be huge for the Knights. Additionally, linebacker Bryson Armstrong from Kennesaw State and two talented cornerbacks with Jarvis Ware and Marco Domio, coming from Missouri and Auburn respectively, this is a totally different defensive unit than it was in 2020.
The Knights rolled up 42.2 points per game last season, and now with a defense that can play more aggressively and added depth across all three levels of the defense, there’s reason to believe a 10 win season should not be a reality.
So, No. 40? Perhaps the Knights should not be ranked No. 11 like the Ducks, but here’s to betting the Knights finish quite a bit higher than their original AP Poll ranking than the Ducks do.
College football has weird traditions, and one of them is sadly really bad preseason polls. Laziness and political bias are certainly a part of it, but more than anything it’s a simple lack of research. There’s no reason for such obvious mistakes this early in the season. Why? Because a simple phone call can be made. Do not assume based on the helmet and uniform that a team will be good. Take the time; do the research.
When it’s all over with the rankings will likely be quite different than what they originally displayed. Regardless of how it all shakes out, know that this UCF team has the ability to play with just about any team in the country, and several teams ranked ahead of the Knights are probably overrated.