In the latest sign that, holy crap, college football season is really, really close, we got our first Amway Coaches Poll of the 2016 season on Thursday. The Coaches Poll is of course a celebration, a sign that in just a few short weeks there will actually be games to tailgate for and football on our screens. Still, that doesn’t mean the coaches got everything right. Here are 10 teams, both overrated and underrated, the coaches got wrong.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY SportsButch Dill
Overrated: No. 1 Alabama
If we’re going to talk too high and too low, we might as well start off with a bang, right? Well what’s bigger than saying the Crimson Tide are overrated at No. 1? Alabama should be no lower than No. 3 or 4, but they shouldn't be No. 1. The Crimson Tide enter the season with real questions. They will have a first-year starter at quarterback for the third straight year, which raises the question (based on Jacob Coker’s slightly above-average play last year): If any of them were that good, why didn’t they win the job a season ago? Not to mention that Heisman winner Derrick Henry is gone, and so too is his back-up, Kenyan Drake. Are the unproven Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris ready to take all of Alabama’s carries? And finally, there’s a brutal schedule that includes road games at Ole Miss and LSU, not to mention an opener against a tough USC squad. Again, the Tide should be in the Top 5, but being ranked No. 1 is based more on merit from last year than this year.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Overrated: No. 3 Oklahoma
For starters, this is awful news for Oklahoma fans, since it seems like any year that Oklahoma enters the season ranked high, disappointment follows. But in this case if that happens, don’t blame the Sooners for another "disappointing" season. Blame the pollsters for putting Oklahoma at No. 3 when they clearly don’t belong there. In terms of the logic here, remember that while the Sooners return Baker Mayfield under center, they also lose the heart and soul of their defense in Eric Striker, Charles Tapper and Zack Sanchez, as well as star wide receiver Sterling Sheppard. Then there is a brutal schedule that includes games against Houston and Ohio State before conference play even begins, plus the always brutal gauntlet that is Big 12 play. In the end, Oklahoma is a really good team, but not an elite one, and would more aptly be ranked in the 7-10 range.
Getty ImagesWesley Hitt
Underrated: No. 6 LSU
After nearly getting fired a season ago, this truly is a make-or-break year for Les Miles. Thankfully he’s got a team that’s built to win a title, which is why this ranking is too low. Based on talent alone, aren’t the Tigers no worse than the second- or third-best team in the country? Sure, we all know Leonard Fournette, but don’t forget that the defense is stacked with guys like Kendell Beckwith and Tre’Davious White, who turned down NFL riches to return to college football and play with guys like (the wildly interesting) Lewis Neal, Adren Key and Jamal Adams. Everyone in Baton Rouge knows what's on the line in 2016, except apparently the pollsters. The Tigers should be higher than No. 6 overall.
Getty ImagesScott Halleran
Overrated: No. 7 Stanford
Look, I get that the Pac-12 media picked Stanford to win the conference and that the Cardinal return the Heisman runner-up in Christian McCaffrey. But we all do realize that Stanford has real holes, right? They’ll be breaking in a brand new quarterback, have three new starters on the offensive line, and will have to do it against one of the toughest early schedules in the country. In the first six weeks of the season, Stanford plays USC and Washington State (a dark horse Pac-12 North title contender that won nine games last year) at home, as well as UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame on the road. Understand that’s not just a "tough" schedule -- that is brutal. It’s also why having the Cardinal ranked so high is so darn absurd. They’ll be a good team by the end of the year, but they will take their lumps early.
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Underrated: No. 10 Tennessee
I already know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this: “A preseason No. 10 ranking for a team that hasn’t won 10 games in almost a decade and hasn’t won a conference title since the 1990’s is too low? Torres, you so crazy!” Maybe I am, but the Vols are coming off a nine-win season and return talent all over the field. That includes the best starting quarterback in the SEC (Josh Dobbs), one of the most potent rushing attacks in college football and a defense with a handful of players who will one day be NFL stars. Not to mention the SEC East is a steaming pile of hot you-know-what this year, with Florida still unsure who their quarterback will be, Georgia in the hands of a first-year, first-time head coach and South Carolina and Missouri breaking in new coaches, too. Simply put, anything other than an SEC East title will be a disappointing season, and a college football playoff berth is definitely in the cards. The Vols should be ranked higher than No. 10.
Overrated: No. 11 Michigan State,
Talk about a ranking based on merit, huh? Look, I like Mark Dantonio, and there’s no doubt that I respect the hell out of what he’s done at Michigan State. Two out of three conference titles is incredible at any school, especially when you’re playing in the same division as both Ohio State and Michigan. At the same time, it seems like pollsters are forgetting what the Spartans lost, which is arguably the most successful senior class in school history. Connor Cook won 34 games in three years as a starter (as a team, the Spartans won 36 games over that stretch), and they also lose his top target in Aaron Burbridge and -- actually, just about everyone on offense. The Spartans return only two starters on that side of the ball, both offensive linemen. Add in the loss of key defensive players (I’m looking at you, Shillique Calhoun) and a loaded schedule that includes a full Big Ten gauntlet plus Notre Dame (on the road) and BYU out of conference, and this feels like the year that Michigan State finally takes a step back. A preseason ranking of No. 11 is simply too high.
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Underrated: No. 15 Iowa
Who’s got 10 fingers, two thumbs and loves Iowa football more than anyone in the world? This guy right here! Actually not at all, but here’s the deal with Iowa: After going 12-0 in the regular season last year, things have lined up perfectly for them to have a similar output in 2016. They return plenty of talent on both sides of the ball (NFL fans, learn the name “Desmond King" -- the cornerback is a star) and have a schedule that might actually be easier this year than last. They avoid Ohio State and Michigan State altogether and face virtually all their toughest opponents (Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska) at home. If Kirk Ferentz wins anything less than nine games with this schedule he should be fired. I’m not kidding. It’ll be another big year for the Hawkeyes, who are grossly underrated at No. 15.
Getty ImagesMichael Hickey
Underrated: No. 19 Oklahoma State
So let me get this straight: Oklahoma State started 10-0 last season, returns the most starters in the conference (19) and they’re ranked No. 19 overall? What am I missing? Sure, things didn’t end well for the Pokes last year (three straight ugly losses to close the season), but with all but one starter back off of an offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game this past season, and an improving defense, the Cowboys could very well win the Big 12 and are definitely a dark horse playoff contender. That’s all for down the road, though, and in the meantime they have been underrated starting the year at No. 19 overall.
Getty ImagesBrett Deering
Underrated: No. 20 North Carolina
Look, I know it’s not "hip" or "cool" to talk North Carolina football with the kids these days, but just know one thing: Like Oklahoma State, Larry Fedora’s club is a true college football playoff dark horse. The Tar Heels will once again be the benefactors of an advantageous schedule in the ACC, where they don’t have to play Clemson or Louisville out of the Atlantic Division, and have enough talent back (led by star running back Elijah Hood) to comfortably win the Coastal outright. Ultimately their playoff hopes will come down to two games: Georgia in their opener and a visit to Florida State, but in terms of these actual rankings, No. 20 simply seems too low for the Tar Heels.
Getty ImagesAlex Menendez
Underrated: No. 21 Baylor
To quote Mark McGwire, "we’re not here to talk about the past" when it comes to Baylor football. Yes, Art Briles was fired, and yes most of us can agree it was deserved after all the truly awful things his players were involved with in the last few years. But in terms of strictly football, doesn’t this ranking seem too low? For starters, Baylor returns a big chunk of college football’s best offense last year, including a fully-healthy Seth Russell at quarterback and plenty of talent alongside him, including wide receiver K.D. Cannon, who could be an All-American. The schedule is once again soft, with their opening three games against noted college football powers Northwestern State, SMU and Rice. Even in the Big 12, two of their three toughest games (TCU and Oklahoma State) will be at home. Plus, remember one other thing: Outside of Briles, the entire staff returns intact. Point being, it’s understandable to think that there will be some natural drop-off for the Bears without their long-time head coach. There also aren’t 20 teams in the country better than they are at this point in the season.