From time to time as the summer advances, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how this year's conventional wisdom is coalescing -- which teams look destined to be overrated, which ones are being overlooked, etc. To do this, I will be comparing some of the mainstream "Preseason Top 25" columns with what we are coming up with in our preseason F/+ projections (the final version of which has not yet been completed).
Conventional Wisdom Top 25, May Edition
1T. USC (49 points, 1 first-place vote)
1T. LSU (49 points, 1 first-place vote)
3. Alabama (46)
4. Oregon (44)
5. Oklahoma (42)
6. Georgia (38)
7. South Carolina (37)
8. West Virginia (32)
9. Arkansas (31)
10T. Wisconsin (30)
10T. Michigan State (30)
12. Michigan (29)
13. Florida State (28)
14. TCU (27)
15. Kansas State (24)
16. Stanford (23)
17. Clemson (18)
18. Nebraska (17)
19. Virginia Tech (14)
20T. Boise State (9)
20T. Texas (9)
22. Oklahoma State (7)
23. Ohio State (6)
24. Auburn (4)
25. Washington (3)
Also receiving votes: Notre Dame, Florida, Georgia Tech.
(That's right -- two different polls differed on only three teams. ESPN included Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida, while Staples included Auburn, Washington and Georgia Tech. And the votes for Teams 3-5 were exactly the same.)
So how does that differ from initial projections?
Destined To Be Overrated
Washington (Conventional Wisdom: No. 25 | F/+ Projection: No. 59). We'll see if others pick up the Washington baton, or if Staples is the only one. But while the Huskies have an intriguing offense, and while they have made some hires that may help their absolutely dreadful defense, it is quite a bit to ask for that defense to improve this much in one season. I love what Steve Sarkisian is doing, but UW still has some climbing to do.
Kansas State (Conventional Wisdom: No. 15 | F/+ Projection: No. 35). My friends at Bring On The Cats and I had an eventful autumn last year. I was repeatedly told that I hate K-State even though I couldn't stop gushing about the job Bill Snyder (and, of course, Collin Klein) did in 2011. Why? Because they did it in such an unsustainable way (record in one-possession games: 8-1), and the numbers never bought in. Even with Klein's return, I just cannot believe they will see the same success in 2012. Then again, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop last year, too, and it only did briefly (Oklahoma 58, KSU 17).
Boise State (Conventional Wisdom: No. 20 | F/+ Projection: No. 39). Boise State is one of the two hardest teams to evaluate this offseason (we'll get to the other one in a bit). Despite a long run of high, high quality, they are projected 39th because they return just five starters (three on offense, two on defense). Using returning starters is dicey because, in the middle (between about 12 and 16 returning starters) it just doesn't mean that much. But on the extremes, it can be telling. And five returning starters is about as extreme as it gets. I expect Boise State to pull a 2011 TCU, actually -- struggle in September, spend a good portion of the year unranked, then round into their old form in November. Still, I like that they are still getting respect via Top 25 votes.
Clemson (Conventional Wisdom: No. 17 | F/+ Projection: No. 31). Clemson wasn't as good as they occasionally looked last season -- the great Sammy Watkins distracted us from what was a pretty terrible defense. Like Washington, they have made moves to shore that up, but their projection will remain low until they prove that they can indeed improve when they don't have the ball.
West Virginia (Conventional Wisdom: No. 8 | F/+ Projection: No. 17). West Virginia just looked so damn good in the Orange Bowl, didn't they? It distracted everybody from how mediocre they looked in November, losing at home to Louisville and beating Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida by a combined seven points. That they did win those games (and the Big East) proves that they should easily be a Top 20-25 team entering the season. But the sheen from the Orange Bowl is bumping them into the Top 10 when they haven't quite earned that yet.
Destined To Be Overlooked
Oklahoma State (Conventional Wisdom: No. 22 | F/+ Projection: No. 4). Oklahoma State is the other hardest team to evaluate this offseason. They return a perfectly healthy 14 starters, their recruiting has been solid, and they have consistently improved as a program. But among the eight starters lost are Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Markelle Martin, and Jamie Blatnick ... i.e. probably four of their five or six best players. They are destined to be overrated by the numbers because of their peripheral numbers (though they probably won't end up fourth once draft points are taken into account), but they might deserve Top 20 votes regardless. Or not. I have no idea.
Notre Dame (Conventional Wisdom: Receiving Votes | F/+ Projection: No. 11). That's right, Boise State is overrated, and Notre Dame is underrated. It's a weird world. Turnovers devastated Notre Dame in 2011 -- with some normalizing in the turnovers department, they probably beat both South Florida and Michigan, finish about 10-3, and end up severely overrated heading into 2012. Instead, they finished 8-5, ended the year with two (perfectly respectable) losses to Stanford and Florida State, and, especially with Tommy Rees' arrest, will be off the radar when the season starts.
Florida (Conventional Wisdom: Receiving Votes | F/+ Projection: No. 13). HEY, MEDIA MEMBERS: YOU'RE GIVING TOO MUCH RESPECT TO BOISE STATE AND KANSAS STATE AND NOT ENOUGH TO NOTRE DAME AND FLORIDA. Ugh. Let's move on.
Texas (Conventional Wisdom: No. 20 | F/+ Projection: No. 10). I hate myself. Just know that their defense is going to be ridiculously, devastatingly good. And not just because Manny Diaz likes Football Outsiders.
Texas A&M (Conventional Wisdom: No Votes | F/+ Projection: No. 16). When you blow so many leads against so many good teams, two things are certain: 1) you were probably pretty good (you did, after all, build leads against so many good teams), and 2) you are going to be completely ignored come preseason voting time. I don't buy them at 16th by any means, but they are probably going to be better than we want to think. (And it probably won't matter because they're in the SEC West.)