The hazy days of summer are upon us, and as football players sweat through July workouts, the college football annuals are hitting the newsstands with their predictions of what the fall might bring.
I don't really put much stock in the accuracy of preseason predictions. There are just too many variables involved in college football to be able to predict results with any accuracy, especially looking months ahead. The luckiest of us can't predict winners from one fall Saturday to the next with more than maybe 65 percent accuracy, let alone reliably predict how a team will fare over the course of the season. Tell me how Geno Smith will do as WVU's starting quarterback, tell me what injuries we'll have, tell me how the ball will bounce in close games and how many crucial turnovers we'll painfully suffer -- and then I'll feel better equipped to predict how WVU's season will go.
Still, the preseason predictions are fun to ponder. At the very least, they suggest how the "experts" see the season ahead, and being listed in the preseason predictions gets a team some early notice. Results on the field will mean incomparably more in moving up the polls as the calendar pages turn through September, October, and November. But if a team starts low in the polls, that of course makes it more difficult to finish in the top two slots.
A good friend of mine who bleeds Scarlet and Gray recently sent me an email containing a link to an article by Steve Helwagen, who covers Ohio State. In the article, the writer combines the predictions of 14 preseason rankings to yield a Preseason Consensus Poll.
Now, if individual preseason rankings are not particularly reliable, then combining 14 probably doesn't provide a result with any greater degree of reliability, but Helwagen's consensus poll is nonetheless interesting to review. The sources he uses include all the familiar college football annuals and national websites that have made their preseason predictions by mid-July. You can check out his article for the full results.
The consensus top five teams are Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Texas, and Florida. There aren't really any surprises there, although some fans will be a little shocked to see Boise State mentioned in the same breath as those four traditional powerhouses.
The Big East has three teams in the consensus top 25, with Pitt at number 18, Cincinnati at 24, and WVU at 25. The highest ranking I see for WVU is 16th, in the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook. Pitt seems to be the consensus pick to win the Big East Conference, but two facts probably weigh heavily in that notion -- WVU enters the season with an unproven quarterback, and the Backyard Brawl will be played in Pittsburgh. (Personally, I think the Mountaineers will reclaim the Big East title this season, but I'm slightly biased.)
Another interesting item in the consensus poll is that in addition to Pitt and Cincinnati, the only WVU opponent on this year's schedule that ranks ahead of WVU is LSU, coming in at number 20. My hunch is that it will be more difficult to beat the Tigers in Baton Rouge than it will be to beat either Cincinnati at home or Pitt in the Brawl, although those latter two games will undoubtedly be dogfights.
Other games on WVU's schedule will also be tough ones, of course. I'm a firm believer that no game is a gimme. Ask Michigan fans if Appalachian State was a gimme back in 2007. Most of the teams on our schedule are perfectly capable of beating us, depending on how the ball bounces and fortune falls. But if we get the kind of quarterback play I'm hoping for from Geno Smith, if we don't have devastating injuries, and if we get a few breaks along the way, I believe WVU is capable of bringing the Big East championship back to Morgantown. Wouldn't it be sweet to have the conference trophies in football and men's basketball sitting side by side?
I'm optimistic that our running game, our defense from front to back, and our offensive line will be strong points this year. We have the divine Noel Devine back for his senior season. And we also have other talented running backs in Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke. On the edge, we have playmakers who can dazzle with the returning Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. I think our defense could be tremendous, from the line to the corners to the safeties. At its heart, our linebackers should be excellent. We may also have the depth a championship team needs.
Finally, I'm cautious but hopeful about our quarterback situation. That is the obvious and biggest key to WVU's season: Will WVU get the success from the quarterback position that we need to have a championship caliber team? Will Geno Smith be the quarterback we hope he can be? In just a few weeks we will begin to find out.
Meanwhile, the preseason predictions are fun to look at and think about. As for their accuracy? Well, I have a Magic 8-Ball. When I ask it if WVU will win the Big East title this season, it answers, "You may rely on it." Now, I had to ask it and shake it multiple times to get that reply, and it's not remotely scientific, but as a predictive model it's probably about as reliable as preseason rankings. Still, they're fun to peruse.