The Sweep: Week 1

Reality check: Stanford can be a pretty darn good football team this season, but its record might not improve that much – if at all. Read on for more on the schedule and check out the Top 25 in this season's Week 1 Sweep.

The Sweep: Week 1 Preseason Top 25 As always, we begin the Sweep with a Top 25. These are our best guess as to where all the teams will end up ranked, not power rankings that attempt to actually rank said teams on strength, as there are plenty of preexisting sources for that. As nothing major has changed since a month ago, let's use the same Preseason Top 25 I published then:

2009 Preseason Top 25
1. Florida
2. Texas
3. USC
4. Oklahoma
[GRAND CANYON]
5. Penn State
6. Ohio State
7. Notre Dame
8. Mississippi
9. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
11. TCU
12. California
13. LSU
14. Georgia Tech
15. BYU
16. West Virginia
17. Pittsburgh
18. Oklahoma State
19. Illinois
20. Oregon State
21. Boston College
22. Georgia
23. Alabama
24. Wisconsin
25. Iowa
Just missed: Michigan, North Carolina State
Easiest schedules: Mississippi, Notre Dame, Boise State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State (eight home games!)
Toughest schedules: USC, LSU, unranked Nebraska and Arkansas
Most underrated: Virginia Tech, Cal, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech
Most overrated: Oklahoma State, Alabama
Biggest surprises: North Carolina State, Boise State, Penn State, Georgia Tech

Questions, comments, concerns? Dannovi on this site or dannovi@gmail.com.

Reality check

Reality check: Stanford can be a pretty darn good football team this season, but its record might not improve that much – if at all.

Guess where last year's final Sagarin rankings ranked the 5-7 Card? Forty-second! Stanford would have been receiving votes in the AP and Coaches Polls had the humans been so kind. Sagarin had Stanford as its highest ranked team with a losing record and, incredibly, ahead of 9-4 Georgia Tech and 11-3 Cincinnati, each BCS programs. Sagarin, admittedly, publishes two ratings, but even in his other, weaker rankings without margin of victory for BCS political correctness the Card still check in at No. 50, with the only losing team ahead of us No. 47 Virginia. The reason for writing about these rankings, of course, is that Sagarin doesn't award a special Stanford bonus in his formula, nor does he factor in last year's US News and World Report ratings. Instead, the Card had the nation's No. 12 schedule last year and so even though they were a top-50 team who would have gone at least 9-4 against Tech's schedule or 11-3 against Cincinnati's, a 5-7 final record was perfectly consistent with the strength of their schedule.

I'm surprised the Pac-10 as a whole and the Stanford Media Relations folks in particular don't play this up more, but the league as a whole and the Cardinal in particular have, year in and year out, one of the nation's hardest schedules. Last season, for example, half of the Card's games came against top-30 Sagarin opponents, against whom the Card went 2-4. (USC and TCU were top-ten, Oregon, Oregon State and Cal top-16 and Arizona No. 24.) Nationally, only Baylor played more top-30 opponents in the regular season than Stanford. (Add in conference championships and bowl games and Oklahoma and Oregon State played seven top-30 opponents.) The schedule difficulty comes from several sources. Foremost is the Pac-10's nine in-conference games, which effectively means Stanford plays UCLA instead of Northwestern State each season. Also, while it's not all that at the top, the Pac-10 is among the nation's deepest conferences, alongside the ACC and SEC, so for a team outside the Top 25 like Stanford, every week brings a challenge. Additionally, Stanford's schedule makers should be either congratulated or shot, with Notre Dame and another strong opponent (previously TCU and Navy, among others, now Wake Forest) on each year's slate. This leaves, of course, room for only one cupcake in a 12-game season, and Stanford's cupcake of choice, San Jose State, is no Louisiana Lafayette or Army. The Spartans do play in the WAC, one of the two strongest non-BCS conferences alongside the Mountain West (which, of course, posted an embarrassingly strong record against the Pac-10 last year, showing that fringe BCS teams are a dangerous lot).

This year, the schedule figures to be only harder than last season's. Notre Dame (who finished ranked behind Stanford in last year's final Sagarin rankings, by the way) and Washington should be way up, which will hurt the Card. USC should be down while Washington State should improve, but neither should matter. Oregon should be worse, but Oregon State week six instead of week one presents a far tougher challenge, so call that a wash.

As best as I can tell, one of the only breaks Stanford catches is substituting TCU for Wake Forest. Wake Forest is just a two-point home favorite to Baylor this week, folks. Vegas is thinking 4-8, not the Wake Forest of recent years. Another break are the seven home games, compared to last year's five, but perhaps my favorite lucky bounce for Stanford is again catching Arizona in October, Oct. 17 to be exact. I'll wish the Cardinal well this weekend and wish you an enjoyable Saturday in front of the TV with a factoid I would have never guessed: Arizona is 25-34 under Mike Stoops and a similar 17-26 in the Pac-10. However, in the middle third of their season, the Wildcats seemingly always tank. Under Stoops, Arizona is just 5-15 (.250) in weeks five through eight, about .150 worse than their Pac-10 and overall records under Stoops. Who'd have thunk it?

Stanford has caught Arizona in October the last four years, and the Card have benefitted, winning three of those games (by a combined six points) and five of the last six in the series. Though all eyes are on Washington State this weekend, the Card most certainly could use what little luck they can find, like they have against Arizona in recent years, in Pullman this Saturday and up and down the West Coast in the weeks to come. Here's to one heck of a schedule in 2009, and hoping that Stanford can find the talent, the coaching and the good old-fashioned luck to match the challenge.


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