Coaches get it right?


LITTLE ROCK — Now that the 62 college football coaches who participate in the USA Today poll have shared their insight, what team will embarrass the men perceived to be experts?

A given in college football, some team considered a solid choice for a BCS game and a possible contender for the national championship will disappoint. Some slip to a secondary bowl; others fall farther.

Before identifying the team most likely to fail in 2013, take a look at recent preseason polls and reality.

Razorback fans will argue that no team fared worse vs. expectations in 2012 than their beloved Hogs. Picked 10th by the coaches in the preseason poll, Arkansas never recovered from the overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe in the second game of the season and finished 4-8. Personally, Arkansas was pegged at 9-3 and there is an argument that third-ranked USC was a bigger bust than the Razorbacks.

Quarterback Matt Barkley’s December 2011 announcement that he would play his senior year, plus the return of a dozen other all-conference performers, formed the base of the USC pedestal. Injured at times, Barkley was a disappointment. USC lost four of its last five regular-season games, scored seven points in a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech, and became the first team since Ole Miss in 1964 to begin the season No. 1 in The AP poll and finish unranked.

Beginning No. 1 and ending up No. 13, LSU was also a disappointment, but the Tigers did win 10 games. Oklahoma, No. 4 in the preseason, also won 10 games and finished No. 16. Michigan’s fall from No. 8 in the preseason poll to No. 17 after an 8-5 season is tolerable up against Arkansas, USC, LSU, and OU.

In January, only half of the teams in the 2012 preseason top 10 were 10th or better.

The coaches did slightly better in 2011 with six of the preseason top 10 still around after the bowls.

Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma tied for third in the Big 12 with a 6-3 conference record. No. 5 in the preseason, Florida State lost three games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Texas A&M, ninth in the preseason, was 4-5 in the Big 12 and salvaged a winning season by defeating Northwestern in a bowl game.

Disappointments in 2010 included preseason No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Florida, and No. 4 Texas. The Crimson Tide lost conference games to South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn. Florida managed only a 4-4 record in the Southeastern Conference and Texas was a woeful 5-7 on the season. In the end, only four of the top 10 performed close to expectations.

Despite the coaches’ recent history of being wrong half the time, it is difficult to find a likely loser of more than two games in the preseason top 10 unless you are privy to some inside info on the status of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. If he is suspended, an asterisk will be attached to the Aggies’ No. 6 ranking, anyway.

No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Oregon, and No. 9 Louisville deserve to be favored every week while No. 4 Stanford might be the underdog only against Oregon. Such a schedule means the Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes and the rest can circle the one or two opponents that loom large.

On the other hand, the schedule works against No. 5 Georgia, No. 7 South Carolina, No. 8 Clemson, and No. 10 Florida. For starters, the three SEC teams play each other, and Clemson has both Georgia and South Carolina outside the ACC. With LSU, Florida State, and Miami, the Gators are the team in the preseason top 10 most likely to lose three or more. Clemson is No. 2 on the list.

To replace a top 10 team that slips up, the winner of Texas-Oklahoma on Oct. 12 is the choice.

For the most part, the coaches have it right.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.