Today, the USA Today coaches preseason poll was released, with the Nebraska Cornhuskers breaking through at #22. Certainly a sign of respect for where Bo Pelini has rebuilt the program, but is it a fair ranking?
Offhand, while I'm not sure whether #22 is too high or too low, I am sure that if Nebraska is #22, Kansas is too low at #26. The whole idea of a preseason poll is somewhat silly, since it's merely a prediction. What makes that an issue is that these preseason polls tend to set a baseline for week 1, which sets a baseline for week 2, and so on and so forth. That's because some people feel that you cannot downgrade a team unless they lose a game, which doesn't make sense when the initial ranking was made before a team had played a single game.
But why do I feel that Kansas should be ahead of the Huskers at this point? After finishing my preview of the Jayhawks for CornNation.com, I give the edge to the returning offensive skill players in Lawrence. Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier give the Jayhawks a significant advantage over the Huskers, who need to find new playmaker at quarterback and wide receiver. Yes, I think Nebraska has the advantage on defense, but it's not as big as Kansas' advatage at receiver. Both teams need to find linebackers, both return 3 starters on the defensive line (though Ndamukong Suh is by far the best player on either roster), and the Jayhawks might have an edge in the secondary at this point.
So right now, I give the Jayhawks the advantage. But that's in August, based on what players did in the past. 2009 is a whole new season, and I'm optimistic about what Bo Pelini's group will do this season. I've heard some reporters say that Nebraska has the highest upside of any team in the North division, and I agree. I love Roy Helu, and I think Zac Lee could be very good based on what I saw in the spring game. But that's just the spring game, and it's nowhere enough to push the Huskers ahead of the Jayhawks in August. Note that Bo Pelini is also taking a cautious approach as well.
If my observations, expectations (hopes? dreams?) prove to be correct, there will be plenty of time this fall for the Huskers to leap the Jayhawks once the season gets going. But until then, I've still got to put more faith on what players have done in actual games. (With the exception, of course, of those people who insist that you can't drop a team who hasn't lost.)
Looking over the rest of the AP Top 25, I don't see much to quibble over. I think Ohio State at #6 and Penn State at #8 is too high, based on the history of the Big Ten in recent years. I'm not so sure about Ole Miss at #10 at this point either. Notre Dame has no business being ranked until they actually defeat somebody; their best victories from last season were against Navy and Hawai'i. Iowa being one spot ahead of the Huskers is probably curious as well, but nothing to get worked up about at this point.
But hey...we're now down to four weeks left in the offseason, and the end of guesses.