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Evaluating the First Coaches’ Poll of 2019

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Here’s what the Coaches’ Poll got right and what it got wrong.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - LSU v Central Florida Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The first USA Today Coaches’ Poll of the 2019 season debuted last Thursday, and there’s no better time to discuss it than a full week later. (Better late than never, or so I often tried to convince college professors.)

Coaches’ Polls are always pretty bland. I’ve heard rumors that it’s mostly the sports information directors that fill them out in coaches’ steads, but I don’t know how accurate that is. And there aren’t many coaches/SIDs that screw things up too badly or have consistently outlandish rankings like, say, a Jon WIlner in the AP Poll.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still evaluate the Coaches’ Poll. Here’s what this year’s inaugural poll looked like:

And here’s three things that are right and and three that are wrong about it.

RIGHT: The Top Three

Clemson, Alabama and Georgia are the top three teams, in that order.

Good call! The Tigers are defending national champs and have Trevor Lawrence at quarterback and Travis Etienne and running back, two Heisman candidates. The Crimson Tide are, well, Alabama, and they still have Tua Tagovailoa, who would’ve won the Heisman last year had Kyler Murray not turned it on at the end of the season. Georgia also returns a quarterback in Jake Fromm, and Kirby Smart seems to have found his groove at head coach. This is an impeachable top three.

WRONG: Oklahoma at No. 4

This is not meant at all as an insult to the Sooners, who are still the clear-cut Big 12 favorites. But it remains to be seen if Jalen Hurts can replicate the production of Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, who won back-to-back Heismans. The loss of nearly the entire offensive line and wide receiver Marquise Brown won’t help, either.

The No. 4 slot should probably belong to Ohio State, though it pains me to say so. J.K. Dobbins is a bona fide star in the making at running back, and Justin Fields is a more-than-adequate quarterback. Add that to a typically tough defense, and the Buckeyes are primed to win the Big 10 yet again and grab a playoff spot.

RIGHT: LSU at No. 6

This is an oddly specific number to say the Coaches’ Poll is right about, but it marks the first spot of what you might say is the second tier of contenders. Ohio State, at No. 5, has 1368 points in the poll, while LSU is at 1218.

The Tigers really are first among the second tier. Joe Burrow is a better-than-average LSU quarterback, and Ed Orgeron will have his team fired up. The only reason LSU isn’t in the top tier is because the SEC East is sigh the toughest division in college football, and making it through unscathed is a tough task. But the Tigers are for real, and they should finish in the Top 10 this season, and with a miracle, could make a playoff push.

WRONG: Utah as the third highest-ranked Pac 12 team

I’m not saying the Utes are a playoff contender. But ranking them behind Washington (No. 12) and Oregon (No. 13) is plain wrong.

Pick Six Previews — which you really should be reading — has been the most accurate preview site in the last seven years, and they have the Utes as the fourth best team in the nation. That’s a little rich for my blood, but Utah plays in the weaker Pac-12 South, and their non-conference schedule is a breeze. The Utes will play Washington, which will be a must-watch game, and could render this analysis completely mute. But the preseason media poll has Utah atop the conference, and four Utes are on the preseason All-Pac 12 team on defense alone. Bet the over on Utah’s win total, and expect the Utes to be the cream of the crop in their conference.

RIGHT: Syracuse in the Top 25

Sure, Eric Dungey, folk hero quarterback, is gone. But Tommy DeVito, his replacement and surprisingly not a character from The Sopranos, went 44-87 for 525 yards and four touchdowns when Dungey was out last year, and is a perfect gunslinging fit for the offense that Dino Babers has installed that has the Orange humming. And Syracuse has a cupcake out-of-conference schedule in 2019, with Maryland as the only P5 opponent.

Yes, the Orange have to play Clemson, but the rest of their ACC schedule is easy. And the defense is loaded with eight seniors. Expect Syracuse to be a good football team in 2019, and definitely worth its No. 22 ranking.

WRONG: Michigan State in the Top 25

Michigan State was 7-5 last year, and was 5-4 in the Big 10. The Spartans only beat Rutgers by four points and lost to Nebraska 9-6. They had an anemic offense that returns most of its starters — is that a good thing, or is it just a bunch of average players returning for another lackluster season?

The schedule is also typically brutal, as MSU will have to play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, all of which are ranked in the Top 20. It’s understandable to think that Mark Dantonio, a good coach, will help his team to a bounce-back year in 2019. But preseason, there’s no clear sign that that will be the case. Putting Michigan State at No. 20 above teams like Stanford, Syracuse and Iowa State is a bad call.