Wednesday, January 09, 2008

SESB College Football Final Top 25

Live from Knoxville once again, in waiting for tonight's SEC basketball opener between the #8 Vols and unbeaten #15 Ole Miss...

48 hours removed from LSU's BCS Championship win over Ohio State, here's one final comprehensive look at the 2007 college football season, where we may not have all been happy, but we all got our money's worth. The final AP and Coaches polls both have LSU/Georgia ranked first and second, and both have the Vols at #12. However, I think the fatal flaw of the polls - looking at only the recent part instead of the total whole - is exposed even more at the end of the season. So in ranking my final Top 25 for the 2007 season, we're putting less emphasis on who's playing hot at the end of the season, and a greater effort towards the total picture, as it should be. So here it is, the SESB Final Top 25 for an enjoyable college football season:

25. Virginia
For a team that was called lucky all season, the Cavs were really a few plays away from being good at the end of the year. Their late losses to Virginia Tech and the narrow defeat in the Gator Bowl against Texas Tech still aren't enough to leave them out of the final Top 25. The Cavs finish 9-4 and are still young enough to think about 2008 in a positive light, and even though they didn't get the bowl win or score the big upset to win the division, there should be much rejoicing in Charlottesville over this 2007 season.

24. Penn State
A fary cry, perhaps, from their lofty championship expectations, but the Nittany Lions under JoePa still found a way to win consistently, and picked up another bowl win over Texas A&M in the Alamo. The Big 10 is down and that's reflected here, as the Nittany Lions were essentially the 4th best team in the league.

23. BYU
11-2, Mountain West Champions, and got a key bowl win with the blocked field goal over UCLA, who had beaten them previously in the regular season. It may be unfair, but Hawaii's performance in the Sugar Bowl undid much of what Boise State was able to do for mid-majors last year. The Cougars are the cream of the crop among mid-majors and always have been, and they deserve to be in the final Top 25...it's just that the nation at large, especially after the 17-16 Las Vegas Bowl win, would question their ability to beat anyone ranked in front of them on this list.

22. Illinois
Again, I'm not alone on the Big 10 hating. The Illini had a good regular season and did beat Ohio State and Wisconsin, but did not deserve to be in the BCS and it showed against the Trojans. Their win over Ohio State doesn't look nearly as impressive now either. Still, the Illini are young and no one thought they'd be cracking this list back in August, so it's still a solid year for the Zookers, who beat Penn State, Wisconsin and the Buckeyes this season. If Juice and Mendenhall are around and healthy in 2008, this team can win the Big 10.

21. Texas Tech
Once again, if you're putting together a preseason Top 25 for 2008, you'd better make sure you include these guys. The Red Raiders will always be there with their offense, hovering around 8-10 wins, and picked up the big January 1 bowl win to cap off their season this year. They knocked Sam Bradford out of the Oklahoma game and picked up that key upset, and with weapons returning, including all-world WR Michael Crabtree, the '08 expectations will get jacked up, and we'll have to see if the boys in Lubbock can live up to them. Still year in, year out one of the most fun teams to watch in the free world in any sport.

20. Cincinnati
Is this the second best team in the Big East? You almost have to believe that after watching South Florida get trounced by an undermanned Oregon squad in the Sun Bowl, while the Bearcats got their 10th win by beating Southern Miss. This was a big year for Cincy - while Louisville, Rutgers, and even South Florida fell by the wayside throughout the year, the Bearcats consistently rose to the moment and deserve a Top 20 ranking.

19. Hawaii
Well...like we said, what Boise did for good, Hawaii made for evil in getting trounced by Georgia. But while the Warriors played with fire all year in several close games and comebacks, they still won 12 games and the WAC, and should be rewarded and mentioned in the final rankings. June Jones may have realized he's reached the ceiling on the islands in jumping to SMU...but still, you can't really complain about a 12-0 year.

18. Clemson
Another year of almosts for Tommy Bowden's squad, who gave away a division title at home to Boston College, then lost in overtime to Auburn to close out the year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Still, the Tigers are in process of establishing themselves as an annual force in the new ACC. They'll just need the division title somewhere along the way to back it up.

17. Tennessee
Here's the best evidence that this is a totally rational poll, because I'm ranking the Vols lower than everyone else has them at the end of the year. The Vols are 10-4 with three brutal losses (all to bowl teams, but all looking much worse now than they did at the time), a heartbreaker in the SEC Championship to the eventual National Champion...but did pick up 10 wins, blasted those whiners from Georgia, and won the SEC Eastern Division before capping it off with an Outback Bowl victory. Tennessee had a good season.

16. Florida
...but even I know it's ridiculous to rank them above Florida. The Gators, however, aside from beating the Vols 59-20...where are the other marquee victories? Kentucky, Florida State and South Carolina were nice wins...but the Gators also lost to Auburn, LSU in a heartbreaker, got run over by Georgia and then gave a similar defensive effort in losing to Michigan. So it's hard to say what it feels like to be a Gator fan right now. Hey, we'll take the East title, you keep the Heisman Trophy.

15. Auburn
Hey, both 9-4, and Auburn beat them in Gainesville. Enough said. War Eagle recovered well from a rough start in losing to South Florida and a game Mississippi State team, in beating Florida and also playing LSU to the wire. Georgia jumped them in the second half, but still Auburn got yet another Iron Bowl win and installed some of that new offense in beating Clemson. Nothing is ever enough in the SEC, but Auburn had a solid year and will, as is the staple crop of SEC football, look for more in 2008.

14. Michigan
Guess who else beat Florida? I struggled with the placing for Michigan more than anyone, because yeah, those first two weeks in September were brutal and the Big 10 is down. However, I also think health was a factor in some of their other losses, and if I rank 9-4 Auburn above Florida because they beat them head to head, I have to do the same thing with Michigan.

13. Arizona State
Here come the three lossers...and yeah, the Sun Devils didn't play well defensively in the Holiday Bowl against Texas. But still, their only losses were to USC, Oregon and Texas. This was a good team that never crossed that threshold of being great, but they won all the games they were supposed to. National perception will put them much lower after the Texas game, but 10-3 is 10-3.

12. Texas
I was not a believer, at all, in these guys until the Holiday Bowl. However, I have been a big believer in Jamaal Charles all year, and the rest of the Longhorn offense caught up for the bowl game. They looked incredibly terrible in their losses, but still had plenty of firepower left in the tank and will have those same guns back for another run in 2008. Texas isn't going anywhere on the national landscape.

11. Boston College
Among the teams who were once ranked #2 in the nation, BC actually had some talent and ability and ended up being more consistent than any of them in the long haul. The Eagles won their division in the ACC and could've slid into the BCS if they'd played better against Virginia Tech in the second half, still rebounded to beat Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl, and finish 11-3 with another title in Boston.

10. Oregon
Alright, look, health is a factor...and I believe that had Dennis Dixon not gotten hurt, this team is playing for the National Championship. They beat Southern Cal at full strength, which I've heard exactly no one mention over the last seven days. This doesn't even mention the blowout in Ann Arbor. The late slide without Dixon obviously hurt them, but then they exploded in the Sun Bowl with 56 points. It has to hurt, thinking about what could've been, but still the Ducks at full strength are a top ten team in 2007.

9. Virginia Tech
This makes two years in a row that VT has had a good regular season - and in this case, an ACC Championship - and two years in a row that quarterback play got them beat in their bowl game. Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor appear to be only good enough to get VT to the big games, but not good enough to win them. It would help, of course, if they didn't throw pick six interceptions. Still, while the bowl game is currently leaving a bad taste in Hokie mouths, VT responded well in an impossible situation to win the ACC. Well done.

8. Kansas
The Jayhawks got a first place vote in the final AP poll, and got arguably the biggest win in Kansas football history in the Orange Bowl. You kept waiting for them to lose in 2007, and they never did until they were supposed to, the loner against Missouri. Which is why, by the way, I know they're 12-1, but you can't rank them in front of...

7. Missouri
...who had a great Cotton Bowl performance, a great regular season, and everyone is already pumping them up for 2008. National perception is that Mizzou is a top five team, and so is Kansas, but yet again, you can't rank them in front of...

6. Oklahoma
...who, despite being the biggest BCS disappointment, beat Missouri. Twice. You cannot rank Missouri in front of OU with any sort of integrity. I would've voted the Sooners - who yes, were upset by Colorado, but lost their only other regular season game because Sam Bradford got hurt - in ahead of LSU to play the Buckeyes for the National Championship, and fully expected them to rout the interim West Virginia Mountaineers. Instead, they got blown out. Puzzling. Still, Big 12 Champions.

5. Ohio State
If you're Jim Tressell...what do you say to your kids now? All those speeches about getting to the big one and losing making you better...you just used them last year, and they were only good enough to get you back to the big one...to lose again. Big, big props to the ESPN GameDay crew after the title game - none of whom have previous SEC ties - for giving the conference massive respect, and especially Chris Fowler, for bringing up the obvious point that no wonder the Big 10 doesn't want a playoff, because a team like Ohio State can run through the conferences and then either take their chances in the BCS or hope they don't run into an SEC team. The Buckeyes still deserve to finish in the top five with an 11-2 finish and a Big 10 title. But this program, this university, is bruised.

4. Southern Cal
Let's see if I can get through these next two without my head exploding. "Southern Cal is the best team in the country!" They lost to Stanford as a 41 point favorite. They weren't better than Oregon when Dennis Dixon was playing. And their dominant Rose Bowl victory was against...Illinois. Of the Big 10. Who did these guys beat all year? The win at Arizona State was good stuff...but other than that, who? Nebraska? California? Illilnois? These are not the notches in the belt of a team that deserves to play for it all, or even be in the conversation. Stop drinking from the USC well.

3. Georgia
The only reason this argument is better is because Georgia plays in the SEC...which, by the way, THEY DIDN'T EVEN WIN THEIR DIVISION IN. Remember Tennessee? 35-14? If you don't win your division, you lose your argument. Period, the end, hope you enjoyed playing Hawaii. Now Georgia's president is on his high horse arguing for an eight team playoff, because his beloved Bulldogs got the shaft in his mind. Where was he on this argument last year, when Florida was making it - with integrity, after the Gators had already edged out Michigan to get in the title game? This way to the children's table...

2. West Virginia
West Virginia is the second best team in the country. The Mountaineers did lose at South Florida, and did choke it away to Pittsburgh. But beating Oklahoma 48-28 is a better quality win than any of the other contenders - Georgia, USC, Ohio State, Kansas, anybody - can claim, by far. And they did it with an interim head coach. If they quit fumbling, they'd be 13-0 and National Champions.

1. LSU
The best team in the best conference in college football is once again the best team in college football. People, including me, have said that LSU wasn't really that good, but yet again the strength of the SEC bears itself out in bowl season and in the BCS, with two more blowout wins and another National Championship. More proof that if you can win your division in the SEC, you can win in Atlanta, and if you can win in Atlanta, you can beat anybody. And really, no matter how they might've struggled to win against the SEC like everyone else here, their only losses were in triple overtime games. LSU deserves this, and you can't make a logical argument for anyone else right now. Congratulations to the Tigers, congratulations to the SEC.

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