One byproduct of the web's relentless, 24-hour content machine is the expansion of the classic meaningless preseason poll into several phases, beginning with the exquisitely meaningless pre-preseason polls in January and February, and evolving into the more standard "post-spring" model in time for the preseason magazines to hit racks before we settle into the dog days in June and July. With all major spring practice sessions now a wrap, we officially entered Phase II this week with new polls from both ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples.
Their new polls tell us pretty much exactly the same thing that their old polls did, namely that a) Alabama is still No. 1 despite overwhelming attrition from the nation's best defense, b) 2010 is still Boise State's year to break through to the BCS title game on behalf of the little guy everywhere, and c) Ohio State, with nine offensive starters and a majority of the defense back from an 11-2 Big Ten champion/Rose Bowl winner that beat three top-10 teams in its last four games, is still carrying too much baggage from its big-game failures from 2006-08 to cast in the top spot.
This looks like your conventional wisdom going into the season: It's going to be pretty much exactly the same as last season!
In fact, it's probably bigger news that there actually was a fairly significant shift over the course of the spring, at the top of the Pac-10, where Oregon was downgraded from "likely national championship contender" in February to "shaky conference favorite on the fringe of the top 10" following the season-long suspension of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (not to mention an assortment of other unpleasant headlines with a less direct impact on the field). Southern Cal, on the other hand, benefitted enough from Lane Kiffin's newfound ability to avoid public censure from the conference commissioner for four consecutive months to calm a few nerves about the dynasty's impending collapse, moving up six spots (from 21 to 15) in Schlabach's poll and appearing at No. 20 on Staples' "ballot," which left out the Trojans entirely a few months ago. Stanford replaces Oregon State in one poll; California drops out of the other. And did the Holiday Bowl flop against Nebraska invalidate the steady progress Mike Stoops has made at Arizona? Even if it fails again to produce a serious national contender – and I'm more reluctant to dismiss Oregon in that role – at least you can't say that league isn't interesting.