Major poll shakeup possible after Week 1 impressions; more Mailbag

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The preseason sports information directors Coaches' Poll was released last week, and even though the BCS commissioners recently decreed these arbitrary exercises to be an unsound method for determining the national championship, we're unfortunately still stuck with them for another two years. Thus, the fact that LSU edged Alabama and USC in the first edition could very well impact the course of the 2012 season.

That is, unless the voters blow up their ballots after one week.

The Coaches' Poll is out and LSU has a slight lead over Alabama and USC, even though both those schools have more first place votes. Given Alabama opens against Michigan and USC is going against Hawaii, while LSU takes on North Texas in Week 1 ... If they all win, could this be the quickest and farthest fall a top ranked team has seen after starting out the year ranked first?-- John, Spokane, Wash.

No records will be set unless the Tigers lose 31-0, like preseason No. 1 Florida State did against Miami in 1988, but the scenario John describes is certainly realistic. Alabama-Michigan will be the most watched game in the country that opening Saturday, and USC-Hawaii, which gets the honor of being Fox's first primetime regular season game, will also draw eyeballs. LSU-North Texas, on the other hand, is on ESPNU, and for most people will probably be little more than a score on the ticker. Even though we have spent eight months under the general consensus that LSU or USC are the teams to beat this season, impressions can change in a hurry once teams actually start playing games.

Most are expecting Alabama to handle Michigan fairly easily. If the Tide beat the Wolverines 24-13, say, while USC destroys Hawaii and LSU drubs North Texas, then all three will have basically played to expectations. But what if Alabama puts on a clinic? What if the Tide show little drop-off from last year's dominant defense, sack Denard Robinson nine times, roll up 250 yards on the ground and win 34-9? Voters are easily swayed, and in fact there is recent precedent for just such a thing. In 2008, the preseason Coaches' Poll went 1. Georgia (22 first place votes), 2. USC (14), 3. Ohio State (14). While the Dawgs beat Georgia Southern 45-21, and the Buckeyes blanked Youngstown State 43-30, the Trojans went to Virginia, a 9-4 team the year before, and rolled 52-7. USC promptly rose to No. 1.

I can't see LSU falling two spots unless it has an awful showing against the Mean Green, but Alabama could certainly move up to No. 1 in the aforementioned scenario. On the one hand voters might say, it's just one game, don't read too much into it. They might still think LSU is the better team. But the sooner we can remove preseason perceptions from the equation, the better. And besides, I'm all for rewarding teams that challenge themselves out-of-conference. LSU plays Keith Price-led Washington the following week. If the Tigers pick him off four times and win by 21 on the same day Alabama pushes around Western Kentucky, by all means, voters should feel free to switch them back. And of course, what happens if Michigan wins? Would the Wolverines jump from No. 8 to No. 1? Probably not, but they probably should.

Stewart, it always seems that the traditional powers get the benefit of the doubt early but programs on the rise have to prove themselves all over. I compared the most recent Coaches' Poll with the final AP poll of last year. Four teams dropped out of the Top 25 (Baylor, Houston, Southern Miss and Cincinnati) and four climbed in (Texas, Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn). Of the teams that dropped out, which is the most likely to make some national noise in the polls again this season? And of those teams that climbed back in, who's there because of its big-name appeal and will have a difficult time staying ranked?-- M.K., Winston, Ore.

Funny how that works, isn't it? It's as if the ballot comes in the mail every year with certain teams already written in ink.

I understand the reservations with Baylor post-RG3 (and Kendall Wright, Terrance Ganaway, et. al.). Cincinnati barely cracked the final poll last year and lost all of its most important offensive players. And presumably the reason Houston (13-1 last year) and Southern Miss (12-2) fell is because their coaches left. Personally, I believe the team the coaches slighted most is BYU, which went 10-3 and finished 25th in their own poll last season but garnered just 10 points. With quarterback Riley Nelson leading what could be a loaded offense, and with several potential showcase games this year (Washington State on opening night, Utah, Boise State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech), I expect the Cougars will grace the rankings at some point this season.

As for the glamour teams: There's reason for skepticism with all of them, but the real standout here is Florida. The Gators regressed from 8-5 to 7-6 in coach Will Muschamp's first season, beating a 6-6 Ohio State team in the Gator Bowl. The quarterback spot remains in flux; for the first time since pre-Steve Spurrier I'm not sure the average fan could name a single Florida running back or receiver; and the defense is littered with former five-star guys who have yet to deliver. I defy anyone to come up with a legitimate reason the Gators should have appeared in this poll besides the size of their stadium.

Oklahoma has now lost two starting offensive linemen (center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans) for the season, both were projected starters. This seems to happen every year for the Sooners' offense. It can't be just bad luck can it? Would you say they have more injuries because of the mere fact that OU runs so many offensive plays and are on the field so much?-- Jason, Ankeny, Iowa

It does seem like Bob Stoops has had some awful injury luck of late. Certainly every team deals with injuries, but the Sooners' tend to involve their most experienced players. Three years ago it was Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham. Last year star linebacker Travis Lewis was feared out for eight weeks (though he only missed the first two games), and all-time receiving leader Ryan Broyles tore his ACL in the last month of the season. I don't think it's any more explainable than Iowa's running back curse or UCLA's quarterback jinx. At one point in the Dennis Dixon era it seemed like Oregon was ACL U. These things happen.

It does, however, prompt me to reassess the Sooners' 2012 prospects. OU has long been viewed as a consensus top five team and preseason Big 12 favorite, but the Sooners have gone from having an extremely experienced offensive line to one with just 43 career starts. (Evans and Habern combined for 59.) Experienced receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks have been reinstated but will still be suspended for multiple games, while Kameel Jackson has been dismissed. (On a positive note, Bob Stoops is raving about Penn State transfer Justin Brown.) That's a lot of roster issues for a purported top team. The door may be open for someone else to win the conference, but everyone in the Big 12 has questions. It may just be that the league won't produce a national title contender this year.

Is there really only one team in college football, really? It seems all you talk about is USC. Will you admit your bias at least?-- Richard Downs, Little Rock, Ark.

Yes. I'm biased toward the existence of football outside the South.

Is the fact that the NCAA is now changing how it punishes schools actually a quiet admission that it overstepped its bounds and really punished Penn State without authority to do so?-- Matt, Manassas, Va.

No, the movement to overhaul the regular enforcement process has been in the works since well before the Penn State situation. If anything, it was a response to the year of scandal that began roughly with the USC sanctions in the summer of 2010 and encompassed North Carolina, Cam Newton, Ohio State, Oregon and others. NCAA President Mark Emmert and VP of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach both took office in the fall of 2010, at which point they undertook a review of the process. The coinciding outbreak of scandal presumably motivated the presidents to take action, beginning about a year ago. But it's certainly amusing that the board of directors' endorsement of the new enforcement model came just a week after we learned the whole thing can be circumvented if warranted.

I'm on board with most of the proposals. Certainly we can all agree that not all major violations (in the current parlance) are created equal, hence, it makes sense to create new classifications. Stiffer penalties for egregious violations -- in particular those that hold coaches more accountable (like suspensions for misdeeds of their staff) -- are welcome. And I've long felt the area most in need of an overhaul is the Committee on Infractions. The NCAA is planning to expand and diversify its roster, thus allowing it to process cases more quickly. I only wish it had gone one step farther and made the committee a full-time vocation rather than the voluntary side job that it is.

Having said all that, Bylaw Blog publisher John Infante, who knows more about this stuff than any of us, says the new model (which would go into effect Aug. 1, 2013) isn't actually all that big of a change.

With Auburn having a change at both OC and DC, what impact do you think the new hires will have this season in the formidable SEC West? Can Scot Loeffler have the same results he had at Temple in his first year with the team's young talent on offense? Brian VanGorder needs to be able improve passing over Ted Roof's tenure, but do you see the ability for him to bring back the success the defense had under Will Muschamp or Gene Chizik as defensive coordinators?-- Fred, Orlando

I've got a lot more confidence in VanGorder than I do in Loeffler. The former engineered some terrific defenses during the first part of Mark Richt's tenure at Georgia, finishing in the top 10 nationally from 2002-04. Since then he's racked up five years' experience as an NFL coordinator. Auburn basically upgraded from a run-of-the-mill journeyman in Roof (now at Penn State) to potentially one of the premier coordinators in the country, provided he can readjust to the college game. And Chizik has recruited particularly well on defense since he got there. With nine returning starters, including some very talented defensive linemen (Nosa Eguae, Corey Lemonier), I'd expect the Tigers to improve significantly from last year's 81st-ranked unit.

Loeffler, on the other hand, has his work cut out on offense. Much will depend on the development of sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier. By all accounts Frazier has improved over the offseason, but Loeffler seems an odd choice to oversee his development. Loeffler, you may recall, was the quarterbacks coach Urban Meyer brought in his last year to help develop John Brantley. That didn't take. Prior to that, most of his experience came at Michigan, working with pure drop-back guys like John Navarre and Chad Henne. In his first year as a coordinator last year at Temple, Loeffler basically rode the Owls' running backs. Frazier was a true dual-threat quarterback in high school who came to play in Gus Malzahn's system. Either Loeffler has immersed himself in the ways of the running quarterback after working with Meyer and Steve Addazio, or this will be an awkward marriage much like his two-year stay in Gainesville was.

Still trying to figure out why the Heisman goes to a player who has the best talent around him. Maybe that's why a lot of Heisman winners are not successful in the NFL. Another joke is schools that actually spend a lot of money on a promo campaign for their player. Where did amateur athletics go?-- Terry Moores, Mancos, Colo.

Indeed, where would Robert Griffin III be without all those Baylor five-star recruits around him? And apparently the decay of amateur athletics can be traced to those Byron Leftwich bobblehead dolls.

Has Chick-fil-A just "campaigned" its way right out of contention for one of the two remaining premium bowl spots for 2014? If you are the BCS commissioners, why would you even consider such a toxic partner that would bring such bad press?-- Ryan Taylor, Atlanta

It's an interesting question, and one I've found myself thinking about during the recent controversy. Seemingly overnight Chick-fil-A became the most polarizing brand in the country -- the subject of protests and boycotts but also the beneficiary of so many supporters it set a sales record last Wednesday -- and it just so happens to be one of the most visible brands in college football. You've probably heard by now about the mayors of Chicago and Philadelphia vowing not to allow the company to open franchises in their cities, but you may have missed this headline: the University of Louisville's president and provost announced they "will not be eating at Chick-fil-A anytime soon." I can only assume this means they would not allow the school to participate in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game if invited.

We'll find out soon enough whether the Chick-fil-A controversy was a momentary blip in the news cycle or a long-term issue for the company. Will the season-opening NC State-Tennessee and Clemson-Auburn games be subject to protests outside the Georgia Dome, or will this be out of mind by then? I can't imagine the BCS commissioners would be thrilled at the idea of marriage equality advocates protesting outside one of their new Final Four games. But keep in mind, Chick-fil-A does not run the game. It's a sponsor, and its contract with the Atlanta bowl expires after next season. Also, keep in mind that with the BCS package, ESPN, not the bowls, sells the title sponsorships (Tostitos, Allstate, etc.). Assuming that arrangement continues going forward, the Atlanta bowl could theoretically land one of the Big Six games, and then it would be up to the network that lands the rights to decide the sponsorship question.

It's something to keep an eye on in the coming months, as the bidding for spots in the new rotation is expected to commence shortly after the season.

Which former Notre Dame coach will win more games this fall -- Charlie Weis at Kansas or Bob Davie at New Mexico?-- Bruce Elgersma, Lakeville, Minn.

It's going to be pretty rough for Davie, taking over a New Mexico program that's gone 1-11 each of the past three seasons. Two wins this year would be a huge accomplishment. Weis, meanwhile, recently declared that the Notre Dame and Kansas jobs are "the same," which I take to mean: He can produce the same 3-9 record at both places. So, for this year at least, advantage Charlie.