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Shallow end of the poll

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If I were the shallow sort who wanted to show just how smart I am, I would take the time to toot my horn and note that I was one of only two voters who picked Texas ahead of Florida in The Associated Press preseason poll.

Toot! Toot!

All kidding aside, my first ballot hardly reflects the final AP rankings.
It’s a total crap shoot.

But I was keeping score all season because it was my first time voting and was interested to see how my first ballot fared compared to the final rankings and thought I’d share. (Full disclosure: my vote was taken away by the AP when I was moved off the Pitt beat the first week of September).

• As much as I’d love to say I had the No. 1 team correct, I didn’t. I picked Texas first and the Longhorns finished second to Alabama, which I had ninth in the preseason. And I picked Florida to finish second, expecting a Florida-Texas matchup in the BCS national championship game.

Hindsight is 50-50:

• In fact, only one team (Penn State) finished in the spot (11th) that I predicted. I had five of the final top 10, though not in the correct order. And I was right on nine of the top 15, 11 of the top 20 and 15 of the top 25.

• The top-10 misses were Oklahoma (7-5), which lost to Brigham Young in the opener and then lost Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford to a shoulder injury; Southern Cal (8-4), which lost three of its last five games and finished fifth in the Pac-10; and Cal (8-4), which was outscored by an average of 28.8 points in its defeats.

• Three schools in my top 25 made coaching changes after disappointing seasons. Notre Dame (6-6) fired Charlie Weis after losing its final four games to Navy, Pitt, Connecticut and Stanford; Kansas (5-7), which started 5-0 only to crumble during an investigation into Mark Mangino’s behavior; and Florida State (6-6), which forced Bobby Bowden into retirement.

• As for No. 16 Tennessee and No. 21 Northwestern, I plead the fifth. …

Actually, I thought Lane Kiffin would have a big impact at Tennessee. And he did, leading the Vols to a 45-19 victory over Georgia – who I was criticized for leaving off my ballot – and close losses to Florida (23-13) and Alabama (12-10). But home defeats to UCLA and Auburn are hard to justify, and the 42-17 drubbing at Ole Miss is inexplicable.

As for Northwestern, I was the only voter in the nation to pick the Wildcats in my preseason top 25, and with good reason. I was expecting the Northwestern that handed No. 4 Iowa its first loss and beat No. 16 Wisconsin instead of the Northwestern that finished 8-4, with losses to Syracuse (4-8), Minnesota (6-6) and Michigan State (6-6).

Didn’t see it coming:
• I left Cincinnati (12-0) off my ballot, underestimating Brian Kelly’s coaching genius and figuring losing 10 of 11 starters on defense would somehow hurt the Bearcats.

• I didn’t expect Iowa to have such a strong season, mostly because I wasn’t impressed with the Hawkeyes when they played at Pitt in 2008. What a different team Iowa was with Ricky Stanzi at quarterback.

• Arizona has an impressive resume, especially considering coach Mike Stoops entered the season on the hot seat. The Wildcats (8-4) beat Central Michigan, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State and Southern Cal, and their losses to Iowa, Washington, Cal and Oregon were by a combined 24 points.

• Central Michigan (11-2) went 8-0 in the Mid-American Conference, which should count for something, and has an underrated quarterback in Dan LeFevour. The Chippewas’ non-conference losses were to Arizona (8-4) and Boston College (8-4), but proved worthy of a No. 25 ranking.

Still not sold:

•  Miami (9-3) has a nice win over Georgia Tech, but the Florida State and Oklahoma victories don’t look at impressive in hindsight.

• West Virginia (9-3) finished strong, with victories over Pitt and Rutgers, but still lost to Auburn and South Florida.

• Stanford (8-4) has one of the best backs in the country in Toby Gerhard, but the Cardinal lost to 5-7 Wake Forest, in addition to Oregon State, Arizona and Cal and appear to have benefited by a big win over Notre Dame.

• Wisconsin (9-3) lost to Ohio State and Iowa, along with Northwestern in the season finale, and didn’t have to play Penn State. The Badgers’ best win was a 34-31 overtime victory over an 8-4 Fresno State.

• Utah (9-3) was pounded by TCU, 55-28, but is ranked because of close losses to Oregon (31-24) and BYU (26-23 in OT). The Utes showed they could hang with ranked opponents but didn’t beat anybody of consequence.

And I’m not at all impressed with anyone outside of TCU in the Mountain West, as BYU lost, 54-28, to a Florida State team that finished 6-6. BYU beat Oklahoma with Sam Bradford, but the Sooners finished 7-5.

Then again, we’ll see how Pitt fares at Utah in the season opener next year.

Here’s a comparison of my preseason ballot with the final AP poll:

My AP ballot Final AP poll
1. Texas 1. Alabama
2. Florida 2. Texas
3. Oklahoma 3. TCU
4. Ohio State 4. Cincinnati
5. Southern Cal 5. Florida
6. Oklahoma State 6. Boise State
7. LSU 7. Oregon
8. California 8. Ohio State
9. Alabama 9. Georgia Tech
10. Georgia Tech 10. Iowa
11. Penn State 11. Penn State
12. Ole Miss 12. Virginia Tech
13. TCU 13. LSU
14. Boise State 14. Miami
15. Virginia Tech 15. BYU
16. Tennessee 16. Oregon State
17. Notre Dame 17. Pitt
18. Oregon 18. West Virginia
19. Kansas 19. Stanford
20. Florida State 20. Nebraska
21. Northwestern 21. Oklahoma State
22. BYU 22. Arizona
23. Pitt 23. Utah
24. Oregon State 24. Wisconsin
25. Rutgers 25. Central Michigan
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