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Big 12 Football: Several Thoughts On The ESPN Preseason Top 25 Poll, West Virginia And The College Football Landscape

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The mothership in Bristol, CT has issued it’s picks for the college football preseason top 25 and, as always, there are some things that don’t look quite right.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas
The Longhorns are back in top 25 shouldering hefty preseason expectations, once again. Where does West Virginia fit into the big picture, both in the Big 12 and nationally?
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN, for better or worse, is still the mothership. While other media outlets have begun to emerge and find a foothold among an ever-growing consumer base, the powers that be in Bristol, CT, still issue the loudest and mightiest decrees in the sports world.

So it should come to the surprise of no one that when their preseason top-25 college football poll is released, people will think thoughts. Some will think pleasant thoughts. Some will think perplexed thoughts. Some will want to grab their pitchforks and form a violent mob. Variety, amirite?

Thanks for giving us Mark May all those years, by the way. Nothing got my blood pressure rising at an alarming rate like that man with a microphone.

Those of us that reside in Mountaineer nation are no different. Our world view is subject to the same level of bias, discord and contentment as any other fan base. I’d also like to make it clear that I’m not a mouthpiece for Mountaineer fans by any stretch. I’m simply a guy voicing an opinion (a really good opinion #humblebrag) and sharing some observations based on what I’ve drawn from this latest preseason poll produced by ESPN.

So, to get to the issue at hand, here are some of my thoughts on ESPN’s preseason top-25 rankings and where the Mountaineers figure in to the college football world at large.

Death, Taxes, Alabama

This shouldn’t have crept up on anyone. The Crimson Tide are back at the top of the proverbial mountain where, in recent years, they’ve purchased several time shares, opened up a casino and are building a Top Golf off the interstate. As much as it might hurt to admit, Alabama is a perpetual front-runner for a reason.

Nick Saban is probably the best college football coach ever (be proud, WV). They sign more top-end talent in a season than some programs do in a decade. They play footbawl in the SEC and, if Paaawwwl Finebaum were President, he’d likely annex all the land from Georgia to East Texas and make that its own sovereign nation.

Alabama gets to kick its season off in Atlanta against Florida State in what is already being staged as a preview of two probable/possible playoff teams. From there, Alabama has seven additional home games against the likes of Mercer, Colorado State, Tennessee and Arkansas before capping off the regular season on the road against Auburn. I don’t see the Tide losing many games this year (if any), especially since the “neutral” site game against the Seminoles is in the heart of SEC country, a mere 200 miles from Bryant-Denny stadium.

Auburn could give ‘Bama some problems, assuming Jarrett Stidham is who [Auburn] thought he was and there is a road game to College Station that could prove troublesome but, in all likelihood, Nick Saban will have burned the image of last year’s CFB championship final score so deeply into his player’s brains that they’ll essentially develop into an army of real-life Winter Soldiers, programmed to destroy without thought or emotion.

Expect the Tide in the playoffs, expect a trickle down from the number one spot which they’ll likely occupy all season. This is just life, people.

Oh, Hey There, Texas

What was re-assuring about this poll was the presence of not one but SIX Big 12 teams. For a conference that’s supposedly a foot away from a defibrillator at any given time, this should quell some unease as to whether or not its teams can compete. The real question, though, becomes when the rubber meets the road, will the Big 12 start winning its P5 out-of-conference match-ups (nice of you to join us, Baylor) or will it again come up with missed opportunities? Will any of its members measure up to the hype?

Speaking of hype, check out Texas! The Longhorns show up in a relatively high position at number 20, edging out The Mountaineers, Washington State, TCU, South Florida and Virginia Tech. Granted, Tom Herman was a pretty savvy hire given what he did at Houston in a relatively short amount of time. Credit where credit is due, Houston was the most popular option throughout the elaborate troll job that was “Big 12 Expansion”. Not to mention, the Longhorns consistently win on the recruiting trail and are never without talent in Austin.

Which also makes this so interesting.

Texas is likely still feeling the hangover of Charlie Strong’s failed tenure in Austin and a 4-7 outing in 2016. Yes, Shane Buechele is back but ESPN also conveniently points out that he might not be the best fit for Herman’s offensive scheme (head scratch). If it sounds wonky, it’s because it is. Could Texas surprise people and beat USC on the road then win a tough October slate? Anything’s possible, but I’m not buying it. Justin Fuente won 10 games last year at Virginia Tech but still had to explain blowout losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Do you think burnt orange nation will have much sympathy for Herman if he stumbles against the likes of an atrophied shell of a Baylor team and Texas Tech’s attempt at playing defense? No, I didn’t think so.

Let’s hold off on trying to sell people on Texas, for the time being and give Tom Herman a year to apply his footprint in central Texas and, if I’m wrong- I’ll come down and stand in line at Franklin’s wearing Texas gear. I promise.

Notre Dame Isn’t Ranked Top-25 Preseason And Now The World Will Definitely End

I literally had to read through this about eight times end-to-end before I was finally convinced that South Bend, IN was not represented in this poll. What in the #$@% is going on anymore? Are we living a plot ripped from a Cormac McCarthy novel? Are Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith going to have to bomb an alien spaceship? SkyNet’s gone live and the machines are beginning their siege, that’s it.

All of these scenarios seem far more plausible given that we have a poll that doesn’t show Notre Dame sporting a top-25 ranking going into the season. When was the last time this happened- Grenada? The Beatles’ first TV appearance? I can always count on ESPN for several things, one of which is finding new and creative ways to convince us that the Fighting Irish are friggin’ back, baby! Has ESPN decided to finally give up the ghost??

Something’s afoot, here. Now don’t get me wrong- there are several other red flags visible in this poll, such as:

  • Michigan coming in at 13th despite losing practically their entire team, the training staff and their head videographer from when they underachieved in 2016
  • South Florida won eight games against juggernauts like Navy, Towson, Northern Illinois and Memphis so OBVIOUSLY they’re in ahead of several P5 teams who played tougher schedules and/or had better records last year
  • I love Mike Leach as much as the next guy but Washington State had about the cushiest, mushiest schedule last year of any 8-5 team in the country and the Pac 12 will likely be less friendly to them in 2017

Still, not seeing Notre Dame gives me hope. Maybe ESPN is starting to evolve. Maybe, just maaaaybeee, they’ve learned that Brian Kelly can only throw so many players under the team bus before traveling across every square inch of the country each year to collect four wins just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If Brian Kelly wants to travel to the Klondike and call a terrible game against Alaska-Anchorage that’s his problem. Don’t reward him for it.

How Does The College Football Look From Morgantown, WV?

Now, I’ll get serious for a hot second.

Preseason polls are about as meaningless as the nutritional info on a Wendy’s triple with bacon. That is to say, they do nothing and they mean nothing. But college football fans are experts at being both simultaneously elated and miserable. No one does it better. So what better way is there, here in the dog days of summer, to whet your appetite than to read up on your team and stew in palpable anger when the press doesn’t tell you what you want to hear? There isn’t one.

As far as West Virginia is concerned, this is what I see:

West Virginia is showing at 25 in the ESPN poll and 20 in the recently released coaches’ poll. Coming off a 10 win season, the first since WVU brought home its third and final BCS trophy in 2012, is a big deal for many reasons. Chiefly, it forced everyone to realize that West Virginia may have finally navigated the learning curve upon entering the Big 12 and had rediscovered its rhythm. It was also critical in securing Dana Holgorsen long-term, thereby cementing continuity and identity within the program. A recipe for success by any measure.

While West Virginia is sitting within the top-25 in two major polls, there’s still a prevailing sense that the media doesn’t put much stock in the Mountaineers accomplishing anything of real consequence in 2017. To be honest, I couldn’t be happier about that. While those of us who follow the program might realize the breadth and depth of talent on Dana’s roster, the rest of the country seems more focused on Sam Darnold and the Trojans or Baker Mayfield and the Stoops-less Sooners. There’s this belief that the losses on defense were too great and that, without a marquee name like Gibson to stretch the field, Will Grier simply doesn’t have the weapons to move the ball against opposing secondaries. Again, that’s all fine, fine, fine.

The view from Morgantown can be summed up in one word: Encouraging. Encouraging because right out of the gate a former long time rival is also ranked and will be lining up to play Crawford, Grier, Benton and White, LLC on September 3rd. Encouraging, again, because Tony Gibson has proven that he can sharpen just about any knife in his drawer and use them in creative ways. Encouraging, once more, because Will Grier has been given the keys to an F-35 and he’s been cleared hot.

Granted, Oklahoma is still the lone box that hasn’t been checked and it’s a road game to Norman, this year. Dana’s been close there before with a lot less firepower. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like our chances this year.

The entire country, whether its a team in Athens or Madison or Seattle or Eugene, is looking seemingly anywhere but Morgantown. Everyone wants to be on the national radar until, well, they’re on it. West Virginia has all the tools and all the momentum without the country-sized target that some of the other aforementioned programs do going into 2017. Most people would call that an advantage ...I’m one of them.

The view from on high looks pretty good, folks. Enjoy it while you can.