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As I See It

26 July 2002

As the football season slowly unwinds across our TV screens, part of the annual ritual is to rank the top 10 teams, which is so much easier in January than September. But waiting until it is obvious who the best teams are would take all the fun out of it.

It seems as if many of the picks are done by rote, and are almost automatic, with some of the voting sportswriters just following the herd. That's why there is frequently a logjam among the top 10, with the usual suspects assuming their accustomed places year after year.

I prefer to analyze and review each team which gives me a very different take on how the teams should be ranked.

Note that I put the onus on the sportswriters for the flawed selections. But there are some very good gaming publications such as The Gold Sheet, and Phil Steele's weekly newsletter, that come closer to the real rankings than the press would ever dream.

What I am trying to say is that anyone who is involved in booking or betting at an above-average level knows more about the teams' true rankings than 80 percent of the voters.

I'm not belittling the writers or their predictions. But invariably, they lean toward the biggest favorite or simply reflect last year's final poll.

We all know that many of the top teams are strong recruiters, and the term reload is used to describe a team expected to easily replace key losses. But that is sometimes a bit of a stretch in today's game. It is important to be able to distinguish between a team that is reloading and a team that is simply not going to be as good as some writers assume.

Even among the top teams, the talent level is shrinking and replacing key players by a highly touted freshman or juco isn't accomplished so easily.

I would prefer to see the first top 10 list come out in early October, which I believe would be a much more accurate gauge of who the top teams really are.

Having said all that, let me throw in my two cents right now, and then we can check the scoreboard in early January. One thing which will be quickly apparent, is that I don't put much stock into some of the early assumptions about who will be donning the mythical crown after the Fiesta Bowl.

1. FLORIDA. I believe they are up for their two early key matchups, with Miami (FL) on September 7 and Tennessee on the 21st.

2. OKLAHOMA. Yes, the defense took a hit with the loss of Calmus and Williams, but it will still be good, and the offense will be an improvement over last year. Let's face it, Stoops can just get the job done. I am a believer.

3. LOUISVILLE. Sometimes you just get a good feel for a team that is quietly putting it all together. The Cardinals will be like last year's Maryland.

4. FLORIDA STATE. Even Bowden is crowing a little over this year's squad. But with games against tough teams like Louisville, Miami and Florida, there is plenty of opportunity to stub your toe.

5. WASHINGTON. With Cody Pickett getting better and the OL returning four out of 5 starters, this team will put tremendous pressure on opponents to trade points. The Huskies will be exceptional.

6. TEXAS. Despite two areas of concern, QB and head coach, they are the most talented team in the country.

7. MIAMI (FL). Good, yes. Very good, yes. National champs, no. Just too many deficiencies to overcome, even with Dorsey returning.

8. TEXAS TECH. Tough schedule. But with Kingsbury under center and head coach Leach having three years at the helm, he'll show why they lured him to Lubbock from Oklahoma. Look for a big year from the Red Raiders.

9. GEORGIA. With Super Soph Greene at the controls and Spurrier gone, you never know. They are not quite good enough to beat Florida, but everyone else better be ready for a dog fight.

10. BOSTON COLLEGE. Even with the loss of stellar RB Greene to the NFL, the Eagles are improved over last year's team. QB St. Pierre with 25 TD passes and only 10 INTs could possibly put his team in a January 1st bowl game.

Well, there they are, my pre-season top 10. As you can see, I deliberately omitted some teams that have garnered strong support in the football annuals. Most notable of the overrated teams in my opinion are Tennessee and good old Nebraska, for whom I see more of a rebound, as opposed to a reload.

Take care,

Jimmy V.

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