Alright, we all know how much I distrust the rankings, especially the preseason rankings, and even more especially the rankings that come out before we know who is entering early for the NFL and which new freshmen are coming in. Despite that, I still have to wonder why the talking heads who are doing their absurdly premature 2008 rankings aren't giving LSU more love.
Here is Mark Schlabach's early preseason ranking. It has LSU at #8, behind other SEC powers Florida and Georgia, and behind Oklahoma, Missouri, USC, Ohio State, and Texas.
First, let's go into (again) why I don't like preseason rankings in general. I've discussed it before, and the criticisms are mostly obvious, but I want to go into one that isn't obvious.
Late-season polls and rankings are (or should be at least) measurements of how good your season is, compared to other teams. Late season polls are based on performance, then. All the talent in the world won't get you in the top 10 if you finish the season 5-8.
On the contrary, preseason and early-season polls and rankings cannot be based on performance, because there is no performance to gauge. They have to be based on something else. But what exactly?
In my opinion, preseason polls and rankings, if you're going to have them at all, should be based on perceived ability. This means that you look at the talent on the team and the coaching and try to decide who is better than whom. Frankly, I think it's an impossible task to get right, and it's plainly laughable to make a serious effort at it when you don't know which key players on the teams will be leaving early for the NFL.
The problem is that I don't think many polls or rankings in preseason or early in the season are based on perceived ability. I think they're based more on expected performance. These are two different things, and I'll illustrate to you what makes them different. If you are evaluating perceived ability, I think the easiest way to visualize this is to imagine two teams playing on a neutral site, and imagining who would likely win. If you are evaluating expected performance, you look at the team's schedule and decide how they will perform against that schedule, compared to other teams will perform against their own schedule.
If you're using expected performance, you aren't ranking ability before the season. You're predicting the end result after the season. I believe it is illegitimate to do so, since the biggest and most commonly referenced rankings are actually used as a starting point for future rankings. In other words, they predict performance and then the predictions actually have an impact on how performance is gauged. Schlabach is doing exactly this kind of prediction, as are most people. How do I know? Every one of his brief team profiles contains at least one sentence evaluating the difficulty of the team's schedule. If you were simply using perceived ability to evaluate the team, there would be no reason to even consider the team's schedule.
But that's not really the point of this post. I want to know why LSU is consistently outside of the top 5's given by all the talking heads. Granted, I think they're entitled to their opinions, and I certainly can't complain too vehemently against Florida and Georgia being highly ranked. Those teams clearly have a lot of young talent that will be returning as seasoned veterans next year.
Let's look at LSU, though. Our offense was awesome this year, averaging almost 39 points per game, and really doesn't lose that much. We lose Early Doucet, who we played without for half the year anyway. We lose Matt Flynn, but Ryan Perrilloux is considered to have Heisman-calibre potential and has starting experience. We lose Jacob Hester, but we have plenty of depth at that position, and it has been a common refrain that certain others of those running backs were better anyway. We lose Carnell Stewart, but he was our weak link on the offensive line, and his true freshman backup this year looks like he'll be a stud when he's ready.
An offense that was among the best in the country, while playing against SEC defenses, looks like it might be even better next year.
The defense? OK, we lose some players on defense, but I think the national championship game proved that we have young studs behind our veteran studs, and that those young studs are more than ready for increased roles. Just look at what Harry Coleman was able to do coming off the bench to replace an injured All-American. Coleman had hardly played all season, and he didn't just hold his own. He excelled. We lose 7 starting seniors on defense, but we have recruited lights out for the past few seasons, and we have the young talent to replace the veterans, at every position. Sure, we don't know exactly who are going to be our starting cornerbacks, but I have little doubt that between Jai Eugene, Chris Hawkins, John Williams, Phelon Jones, Ron Brooks, certain players who may change position, and incoming freshmen Derrick Bryant and Patrick Johnson, we're going to find two good corners. The same is true of our linebackers (Perry Riley has looked great when he's gotten a chance). And we can all see what this team missed not having Ricky Jean-Francois this year on the defensive line. He'll be back next year.
I'm not saying we're the preseason #1. I just don't understand why the talking heads are predicting there will be such a drop off.
Anyway, now thtat