Breaking Down the Coaches Poll

The preseason edition of the USA Today Coaches Poll is out as teams hit the practice fields for the first time. A few of their choices are surprising when compared to the conventional wisdom heading into this season. It seems for some coaches, old habits are hard to break.

Six schools got at least three votes as the nation's number one team, with No. 1 Georgia having just 22 of the possible 61 first place votes. Not having one or two teams as consensus front runners going into the year is highly unusual. Three SEC teams got first place votes, while the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 had one each.

Most observers feel the SEC is particularly deep this season, but the coaches seem to feel the strength is mainly with a few schools. The SEC has three of the first six teams in the poll but just five in the poll overall. Both Georgia and LSU are ranked considerably higher than Florida and No. 11 Auburn, the opponents who were selected to win their divisions by the voters at SEC Media Days.

The Big 12 appears even more top heavy according to voters, putting five teams in the top 14 spots and then not having another one show up until the 11th spot outside the poll in others receiving votes.

The Big Ten's fortunes are not typically considered too positive right now. Coming off another year with two BCS bowl losses plus a coaching transition underway at Michigan, expectations were supposed to be low. Instead, the Big Ten wound up with the same number of teams in the top 25 as the SEC and the Big 12, tied for the most of any conference. Included among their five were the Wolverines at No. 24, a surprising selection since most expect a difficult year in Ann Arbor.

If voting for Michigan at the beginning of the year is a habit some coaches haven't broken yet, there is evidence it can be done. Once upon a time a top 25 poll without FSU or Miami was unfathomable. Neither of them made this year's opening edition. USF was the only ranked team from Florida besides the Gators, coming in at 21. How far have Miami fortunes fallen? Fifty-five teams got at least one vote in the preseason poll, including a Notre Dame squad coming off a nightmarish 3-9 year. The Hurricanes were not one of them.

Also not receiving a vote was Duke, as Steve Spurrier did not cast his typical 25th place vote in the first poll for the Blue Devils. Spurrier said he had been asked not to by Grant Teaff, director of the American Football Coaches Association, as a result of complaints about the "integrity of the poll" being damaged by his vote the previous year.

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