LITTLE ROCK — Thanks, Eli.
Perusing a preseason poll and projecting the disappointments of the college football season seemed the height of silliness until the quarterback of the Super Bowl champions donned some wings and flitted around doing commercials for a satellite TV provider.
Picking Florida State and Oklahoma to fall short again is sensible when compared with the wing-wearing Manning and his sales pitch partner, Deion Sanders.
In this exercise, the higher the expectations, the easier it is to fall short. Oklahoma is No. 4 and Florida State No. 7 in the coaches poll released a few days back. No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama, and No. 3 USC split 57 first-place votes almost evenly. One coach voted for OU and one for FSU.
A year ago, Oklahoma was No. 1 in AP’s preseason poll and the Seminoles were No. 5. When they met in the middle of September in Tallahassee, OU’s defense recorded three turnovers and six sacks, Landry Jones’ TD pass in the fourth quarter broke a tie, the Sooners won 23-13, and the Seminoles were never the same. The next two games, the Seminoles lost to Clemson and Wake Forest by the same 35-30. In the final AP poll, 9-4 Florida State was No. 23.
OU was unbeaten until a mid-October loss to Texas Tech. A month later, Robert Earl Griffin elevated himself to the top of the Heisman Trophy voting when he engineered Baylor’s victory over the Sooners. Oklahoma State routed OU in the regular season finale. In those three losses, OU gave up 41, 45, and 44 points. The 10-3 Sooners were No. 16 in the final poll.
This year, both the Seminoles and the Sooners are likely to tease their fans into November. Florida State has Clemson in September, but little other serious competition until Virginia Tech on Nov. 8 and Florida 16 days later.
Unless Texas is all the way back, OU should be unbeaten through October. The closing stretch is stout — road games against Big 12 newcomers West Virginia and TCU sandwiched around a rivalry game vs. OSU — and at least one stumble is likely. The Sooners’ path to perfection is compounded by the conference’s round-robin schedule.
Expecting FSU to lose is more about a feeling than a foe. The Seminoles have not finished in The AP top 15 since 2004 and have lived up to their preseason ranking only twice in 11 years. Painting the Seminoles with such a broad brush might be unfair since Jimbo Fisher has only been in charge for two years, but they have to prove they can get over the hump.
Other top 10 teams with a license to disappoint are No. 6 Georgia without Isaiah Crowell and No. 8 Michigan with an opener against Alabama and a season-ending string of eight consecutive Big Ten games.
Identifying teams most likely to frustrate their fans is easier than unearthing the Baylor of 2012. A year ago, the Bears were not even among teams also receiving votes in AP’s preseason poll. At the end, 10 wins in tow, Baylor was a well-deserved No. 13.
It is unlikely that any team can duplicate Baylor’s out-of-nowhere season so pursuit of a potential surprise involved a review of teams outside the top 15 and the arrow landed on No. 20 Virginia Tech.
The Hokies lack experience on offense, but they are loaded on defense and Bud Foster’s always-sound unit can carry the load while the coaches find playmakers to complement quarterback Logan Thomas. It also helps that none of Tech’s first seven opponents are among the upper echelon. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Thomas was my darkhorse for the Heisman in 2011 and had a couple of so-so performances. By the end of the season, he had the attention of NFL scouts.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.