And when we say first stabs, we mean jagged slashing with a sling blade type jabs at what might approximate a best top ten teams of 2007. (Mmm. French fried potatoes.) In fact, just think of us as the retarded, murderous redneck coming to butcher the art of prognostication, one lonely denim strap unbuckled as a proper top 25 sits drunk on the couch and helpless. Not that you don't think of us that way already, of course.
Yup. Thankin' 'bout makin' a top 25.
The upside is that when it comes to prognostication, we're all Hills Have Eyes mutants looking for a fresh meal for daddy, since we all uniformly suck at predicting the future. It's a great trick of the human brain: we're terrible psychics, but we're superb editors, giving ourselves credit for things largely acheived by outrageous fortune, a little hard work, and the endless combinatorials of fate. This explains why you can tell yourself you did not, in fact, want that promotion, you are, in fact, quite happy with the way your body looks, and that you think that despite having no offensive line, a quarterback you've personally seen vomiting up a 12 pack in a Quik Trip parking lot, and a coach with the IQ of a salamander, that you think [INSERT TEAM HERE] has a great chance to [ACHIEVE SOMETHING THEY MOST DEFINITELY CANNOT, PUNY HUMAN.]
And yet despite the innate futility of predicting the future value of college football teams in the upcoming season, it's a great time-killer, and not an entirely inaccurate one thanks to inequities within college football.
The advantages even the most gin-poisoned college football prognosticator (raising hand, looking around tentatively) has are numerous:
1. The nature of the sample. How anyone picks the winner in the NFL defies our comprehension, since the league has installed so many economic doohickeys (profit-sharing, most notably) into the system that parity's the expected rule in the league, not elite dominance. In fact, it's almost more remarkable to not make the playoffs eventually in the NFL than to make them, since so many advantages are given to struggling teams. (Note: seek creation of Bidwell Award for Most Persistent Failure in the Face of Imminent, Impending Success immediately, Roger Goodell! It can be named after no other.)
College football, on the other hand, is a classic "giants and dwarves" sample. There are reaaaaalllly big programs whose food budget could fund an entire small program for a year. Only thirty or so teams may realistically compete for the national title, and of those you may whittle down more based on coaching turnover, lost starters, and other relatively locktight factors.
College football has plentiful dwarves. One lives in Buffalo.
2. Consistent good management is a safe bet, too. When picking, it never hurts to roll over last year's top ten in slightly distressed fashion. The good tend to remain good in college football, since so much of what affects performance on the field occurs off-stage: coaching contracts, recruiting budgets, the established paths to getting less-than-qualified students into school.
In fact, changing management should be a seabird thrown right into your windscreen of prognostication about a team. Players cycle through college in very little time (unless you're Asad Abdul Khaliq, who played at Minnesota for 16 years, and had a very thorough understanding of Glen Mason's system by the time he left.)
Asad Abdul Khaliq, seen here in his 12 year at Minnesota, understood the importance of consistent management.
Systems, procedures, and the ability to mold players quickly and effectively matter. Only qualified people do that, and there aren't many with the gift--see Nick Saban's 5 million dollar salary as evidence of just how rare and expensive a commodity that truly can be.
When things change at the top, they will change on the field, with how slowly or quickly they change being the only question. Take Les Miles, the most misread of all major coaches: LSU's played significantly differently under Miles than they did under Saban, with the primary difference being that under Miles, LSU's lost fewer games, proof that "new" does not necessarly constitute "6-6 and a spot in the Federated Trucking Bowl."
This year, Miami and Louisville both try on new heads. The challenge for the murderous redneck prognosticator is not to issue a blanket "HOLD" judgment on them, but rather to feel out whether the move takes them up, down, or sideways. And then, of course, remain unsurprised when you're totally wrong.
However, overall you can follow the patterns of brain drain from the mid-majors into college football's Premier League and make reasoned, solid guesses at who'll be or remain successful. Pete Carroll's probably not going to suck this year. Neither will Urban Meyer, and neither will Charlie Weis, even given the fact that Notre Dame's depth chart will be riding out the bottom curve of Willinghamization this year.
Good management equals good results. (Unless we're talking about Tennessee '05. But that would complicate our already clause-ridden guidelines! Goddamn what hanging out with lawyers has done to our once-purely irrational psyche!)
Checking your calendar helps. A hedgy bet here, since your 11-1 Hawaii team could enter their bowl game and dent your eventual luster by facing an extremely pissed-off 10-2 Texas team in a 66-3 razing. However, schedule-peeking can help ensure some modicum of reality to the top ten. Hawaii remains a perfect example: gusting on a good dose of preseason hype, their sweet, condensed-milk covered confection of a schedule is way high on the glycemic index, and should have them riding into the last few weeks of 2007 with a "BCS-buster"-worthy ranking.
Conversely, Miami faces Oklahoma and Texas A&M out of conference, two games that could deal early losses to a potentially talented team. Note that this, the "good, consistent management" trend and other logics (Patrick Nix, offensive coordinator? O RLY?) have kept Miami out of many preseason polls; if they are listed, they're usually in the Georgia Techish range of 20-15, desultory territory for Da U.
Then again, Florida had cancer of the schedule last year, too. They did all right, we guess.
Trends are the wobby bannister of predictions. When all else fails, just size up the most immediate trends of a program and go with instinct. No one could have predicted Tennessee's 5-6 2005, USC's bizarre loss to Oregon State last year, or the improbably continued relevance of Penn State in the face of Joe Paterno's continual struggle with the Solanum virus and its devastating effects.
Any of the other "anomalies" that happen every year in college football can happen for a reason: when 30 or so teams are competing with roughly comparable resources, shit happens and will continue to happen. In fact, if you want a forecast for the college football season, just imagine a weather map. Everywhere it says rain, just replace with "SHIT." That's your map, and stick with it, because that's just how it'll turn out.
Your 2007 college football forecast done honestly: you won't believe this shit. Illustration by House Rock Built, as most of the good ones seen here lately are.
This was equally true in 2006, and will be true again in 2008 when we do this again. Ohio State was supposed to blow Florida off the board. USC was supposed to beat Oregon State. Oklahoma was supposed to embarrass Boise State, and for the fourth year running we hopped aboard the Ferentz-wagon at Iowa and called for them to do something championship-esque in the Big Ten. (Though we still picked Ohio State as our preseason number one--again, bet good management, scheduling, and your sample size. You'll likely be in the neighborhood.)
But you saw all that coming, of course. Or at least you did in retrospect, now that you've had a few months to process, rewrite, and edit your memory a bit. And that wedding you called off? Totally the right decision, like the time you quit law school to become a guitarist in that Christian nu-metal band "rapturrD." (Too bad everyone missed the Biblical reference and just pronounced it "rap-turd," an appropriate name given how the band sounded.)
It all worked out for the best, really. And if it didn't, just give it some "perspective." Or as your brain might more honestly label it, a nice coating of ameliorative untruth. It certainly works for us when we think about the 2001 Florida team, now doesn't it? (Looking around, searching for the bottle of "perspective" with the words "ZYBROWKA" in big letters on the label.)