We live in some strange days here for the sport of football in the state of Texas. If you had a friend who was a college football fan in 2010, and he or she was captured and put into Han Solo-style carbon freeze for five years and melted on the day that the 2015 Coaches Poll was released, that person would think that either he'd been taken to a different planet or you had pumped him full of hallucinogens the past five years while he was hibernating.
In our fairly large and significant corner of the college football universe — the great state of Texas! — up is down, down is up and we live in a world where the top two teams in the Big XII conference were both almost wiped from the big-time-super-major college football map just five years ago. And oh, by the way, those two schools are two of the top four at the sport of college football in the entire nation, as graded by college football coaches, heading into the 2015 season.
TCU and Baylor. Just five years ago, when the tectonic plates of college football realignment were shifting, TCU was about to move to the Big East (because nothing says "East" like Fort Worth) to merely survive and Baylor was about to…well, we don't know what Baylor was about to do. Probably get swallowed by a sinkhole left behind by all the then-prominent Big XII schools hightailing it for the Pac-10, Big Ten and/or SEC.
It was not a fun time for either school — TCU, despite supreme success at a high level in the one-rung-below-major Mountain West, was on the outside of the big boys club looking in, and Baylor was in the big boys club but was getting bullied on the playground every Saturday.
Now, fast-forward to 2015, and here's what the preseason poll in college football looks like as voted on by the coaches. Ladies and gentlemen, the Amway Coaches Poll for 2015:
1 Ohio State 14-1, 1598 (62)
2 TCU 12-1, 1487 (1)
3 Alabama 12-2, 1452 (1)
4 Baylor 11-2, 1365
5 Oregon 13-2, 1260
6 Michigan State 11-2, 1230
7 Auburn 8-5, 1103
8 Florida State 13-1, 1057
9 Georgia 10-3, 1026
10 USC 9-4, 1014
11 Notre Dame 8-5, 883
12 Clemson 10-3, 838
13 LSU 8-5, 727
14 UCLA 10-3 697
15 Ole Miss 9-4, 668
16 Arizona State 10-3, 577
17 Georgia Tech 11-3, 573
18 Wisconsin 11-3, 470
19 Oklahoma 8-5, 407
20 Arkansas 7-6, 377
21 Stanford 8-5, 365
22 Arizona 10-4, 299
23 Missouri 11-3, 229
24 Boise State 12-2, 190
25 Tennessee 7-6, 166
Others Receiving Votes:
Mississippi State 164; Texas A&M 149; Oklahoma State 89; Virginia Tech 70; Utah 40; Kansas State 37; Louisville 27; Nebraska 27; Minnesota 25; Penn State 20; South Carolina 18; Miami (Fla.) 16; Texas 8; Illinois 7; Duke 6; Air Force 5; Louisiana Tech 5; Marshall 4; Utah State 4; West Virginia 3; North Carolina State 3; Brigham Young 3; Florida 2; Georgia Southern 2; North Carolina 2; Maryland 1; Michigan 1; Kentucky 1; Central Florida 1; Cincinnati 1; Washington 1.
Here are some random observations on this poll:
1. Thank God college football is almost back. I mean seriously, THANK YOU ALL OF THE GODS…now please make these next 35 days fly by.
2. Here is the breakdown of the Top 25 by conference: SEC 8, Pac-12 6, ACC 3, Big Ten 3, Big XII 3, Independent 1, AAC 1. From a purely quantitative standpoint, the SEC's being the leader is not a major surprise. However, there are two interesting dynamics at play here:
One, the Pac-12 is actually providing a decent foil in the argument "Who is the best conference?" It's probably still the SEC, but there's at least one other conference that you feel like you could argue if you were involved in the awkward "court of law segment" that Mark May and Lou Holtz used to with Rece Davis on ESPN.
Two, there are eight SEC schools in the Top 25, which is about in line with where they've been in the last few seasons (if anything, eight may be a little low), but the schools are much more spread out in the Top 25. The eight schools in the Top 25 are not quite as elite as in seasons past. For one thing, Alabama is actually number three, which is like most schools being unranked. But six schools in the top 20 is a bit of a drop off, and they needed MIssouri and Tennessee to sneak in at 23 and 25 to get the eight teams in. (Granted, 26 and 27 are both SEC schools, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.)
Bottom line: It's not a seismic shift between the five major conferences, but maybe there is a little bit of regression and equilibrium slowly moving, glacially moving.
3. If you look at the odds for the 2015 Heisman, and this is not a big surprise, you pretty much have to be playing for a forecasted playoff contender to be considered for college football's top individual prize. Here are the top 15 Heisman candidates according to Bovada.lv:
Trevone Boykin (QB TCU) +450
Ezekiel Elliott (RB Ohio State) +700
J.T. Barrett (QB Ohio State) +900
Jeremy Johnson (QB Auburn) +1200
Nick Chubb (RB Georgia) +1200
Cody Kessler (QB USC) +1200
Leonard Fournette (RB LSU) +1200
Deshaun Watson (QB Clemson) +1600
Cardale Jones (QB Ohio State) +1200
Dak Prescott (QB Mississippi State) +1600
Derrick Henry (RB Alabama) +1800
Malik Zaire (QB Notre Dame) +2000
Samaje Perine (RB Oklahoma) +2000
Braxton Miller (QB/WR Ohio State) +2000
Connor Cook (QB Michigan State) +2500
Of these 15 names, only two (Prescott, Perine) are with a team outside the top 13, and eight of them are with top seven teams; granted, three of them are Ohio State quarterbacks. (Again, it's a weird year!)
4. Not every traditional power can be powerful every season; the math just doesn't allow it. So long as it's not your school going through its cyclical downtime, it's sheer bliss to poke fun at some of these other "perennial power" schools that are having issues. This year's most hilarious examples (not involving Texas; the Horns get their own bullet point) — Florida has as many votes as Georgia Southern, and Michigan has as many votes as Kentucky (which would be awesome if this were basketball, but this isn't basketball).
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5. Finally, we have the Longhorns, who are ranked 38th in the nation with eight votes, one more than Illinois (who has been awful for pretty much ever) and two more than Duke (respectable under Cutcliffe, but c'mon). They open the season against Notre Dame in South Bend as sizable double-digit underdogs and are still trying to score a touchdown against Arkansas in their bowl game. By the way, how did that whole bowl game experience feel, Bret Bielema?
Yes, that's where you are, Texas. Bret Bielema is using their game tape from the bowl game against you as masturbation material. That is equal parts hilarious and disgusting. Honestly, has Texas done anything correctly in their football or basketball programs since the Longhorn Network was created (and started the aforementioned realignment shift in 2010)? Is the LHN the biggest "maloika" of all time? Shaka Smart and Charlie Strong may save them, and that's a good thing, because the only thing AD Steve Patterson seems hellbent on is saving them money, despite the $300 million coming into the coffers from the LHN checks.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.