SEC Teams High

Polls are starting to get interesting as the season gets toward he end. There was no little consternation in Crimson Tide country that Alabama remained fourth in this week's Associated Press poll (which has nothing to do with the BCS rankings anymore) and in the Harris Poll (which replaced the AP in BCS compilations). Harris Poll voter Steve Townsend looks at the national college football picture.

Alabama has a slim lead on Miami in the USA Today Coaches' Poll and in the BCS compilations this week, but the Hurricanes moved ahead of Bama in the high-profile AP poll and in the Harris Poll. They are in the third and fourth spots behind USC and Texas.

There was some movement in the poll this week as two previously undefeated teams, previously third-ranked Virginia Tech and previously fifth-ranked UCLA, were beaten. Virginia Tech fell to Miami, explaining the once-beaten (by number 19 Florida State) Hurricanes' leap past Bama in the AP and Harris polls, and the Hokies dropped to sixth. UCLA was blasted by Arizona and fell all the way to 15.

Steve Townsend is one of the 113 voters in the Harris Poll. He said, "I'm not surprised that UCLA lost because they have been teetering all year, but I was surprised at the margin. UCLA is not a very good defensive team and it was just a matter of time until someone beat them. And I was surprised at how Miami handled Virginia Tech."

Townsend was an early convert to the Crimson Tide and has ranked Bama among the top ten teams for a number of weeks and has also had Alabama as his top-ranked team from the Southeastern Conference for several weeks.

Townsend said that the five SEC teams still in contention to win the league title are all among his top 15 teams. They are Alabama, LSU and Auburn from the Western Division and Florida and Georgia from the Eastern Division.

Townsend said, "I had Alabama above Miami. Miami made a substantial move this week."

He noted that, "A lot of people think LSU has the best talent in the SEC and that Auburn has the best team. Alabama obviously has its work cut out for it playing LSU and Auburn the next two games."

Townsend said that LSU has some negatives and some positives going into the Alabama game. "The real negative for LSU is that they are at bottom in turnover margin," Townsend said. "And they are way down in penalties committed, too. The thing Alabama has to be concerned about is how good LSU is in all aspects of the punting game. They are great when punting and great when returning punts, and I'd say those are Alabama weaknesses."

Townsend said, "LSU quarterback Jermarcus Russell had a hurt hand against Auburn, but was able to play. He can be great. He certainly has a lot of skills."

Townsend noted that the teams making a bid for championships have great quarterbacks. "You hear that about the quarterback getting too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when it loses, but the better teams have quarterbacks who make big plays," he said. "A perfect example is that Alabama struggles when Brodie Croyle isn't at his best. I think Alabama might have challenged for an unbeaten season last year with a healthy Croyle. USC and Texas would be good without their quarterbacks, but with them they are incredible."

Townsend thinks the 85 scholarship limit has finally taken hold and produced something close to parity. Back in 1973, I thought there were 10 teams in the country that no one else could beat except one of those ten," he said. "It's not that way now."

Parity doesn't mean good, Townsend said. "I don't think there is a great league out there," he said. "I think the top six in the SEC match up with the top six in any other league. I hear people talk about the ACC being much better than the SEC, but I'm not sold on that. I think Miami is good, but not like in those years when Kevin Winslow was the back-up tight end. I don't think they are on that level. Florida State is not the intimidating team they were a few years ago.

"I think there are a lot of average and below average leagues. The Big 12 is the Big One and Eleven Others. The Big East is below average. The Big 10 looks pretty good at times, but then you see a team like Northwestern who goes up and down the field against them all. Penn State has done a nice job of coming back, but they don't remind me of any of those great Penn State teams."

Townsend thinks the Notre Dame-Tennessee game was an important one for the Irish last week. "Notre Dame probably wrapped up a BCS spot," he said. "Everyone seems to think Fiesta Bowl (which has first choice) is going to take them."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Townsend, an independent consultant for college football, is one of 113 voters in the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, which is part of the equation for choosing teams for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games at the end of the season. The BCS formula also consists of the USA Today Coaches Poll, and an average of six computer rankings (Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, Jeff Sagarin and Peter Wolfe).

Steve Townsend previously served as media relations director at Alabama (1988-98) and for the Southeastern Conference, co-publisher of Tiger Rag (the LSU equivalent of ‘BAMA Magazine), and as a graduate assistant under famed LSU Sports Information Director Paul Manasseh.

He shares his thoughts on the national scene with on a regular basis.

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