The USA Today/Coaches Poll was released Thursday and the results — especially at the top — were a surprise to say the least.
The coaches voted LSU as the nation's top team with 18 first-place votes. Alabama was second and USC was third. This order was a little shocking because many believed it would be LSU and USC jockeying for that top spot. However, Alabama got 20 first-place votes; USC received 19. This is the first time since the poll began in 1991 that the No. 1 team had fewer first-place votes than the runner-up.
The difference between USC and LSU was 15 points, which is the tightest margin between first and third in poll history; the difference between Alabama and LSU was just four points. It's clear that it was difficult to choose between these three programs. And let's not forget that Alabama plays three of the top 10 teams in this poll on the road this year.
As an aside… Anyone who reads Dr. Saturday consistently knows I detest preseason polls. They're nothing more than a hopeful guess based on last year's results, depth charts and promise. If this poll was done in October — after a few games had been played — it would have a much different look.
OK, back to what I was saying about this preseason poll…
USC is one of just a handful of teams floating in a sea of SEC. Five of the top 10 teams in the poll are from the SEC — LSU (1), Alabama (2), Georgia (6), South Carolina (9), Arkansas (10) — and of that group, Arkansas is definitely undervalued. This is a team that won 11 games last year and now has its top running back back in the mix after injuries. If anything, Arkansas and Georgia should have swapped spots. Georgia is way overvalued.
Other overvalued teams include: Wisconsin (12), Texas (15), TCU (17), Stanford (18), Florida (23), Notre Dame (24) and Auburn (25), though those last few spots are often a crapshoot anyway.
In addition to Arkansas being undervalued, Michigan State should be good this year even without quarterback Kirk Cousins and their top four receivers from a year ago. I certainly think they should be ranked higher than Wisconsin, which has some questions at quarterback.
Some teams to watch will be Oklahoma (4) and Florida State (7). I think both are in the spots they should be, but I also think both could challenge for the national title. If Oklahoma can score receiver Justin Brown from Penn State, it would be a huge boost to the offense. Similarly, if Florida State can find a competent cornerback to replace Greg Reid on defense and a diamond in the rough to replace him on special teams, the 'Noles might be able to live up to the expectations that everyone continually heaps on them.
Again, this is a preseason poll. Oklahoma was No. 1 in the preseason poll a year ago and we all know how that turned out. In fact, the last time the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the preseason USA Today poll went on to play each other in the BCS championship was 2005 with Texas and USC. So take it with a grain of salt. At the very least, it's a guideline to highlight the teams to watch this season.