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Cleveland: Weighs Preseason Polls: Mississippi State

25232705_BG1Much ado has been made about the media picking Mississippi State to finish last in the SEC Western Division in the annual preseason media poll. As if it matters…

Preseason polls mean nothing. We shouldn’t have them. Polls should start after the first half of the season in mid-to-late October when we actually know something. As of now, we know next to nothing.

Dan Mullen and I almost agree on this. In Mullen’s words: “I don’t put a lot of weight in preseason polls.”

I don’t put any.

We could spend hours examining the inaccuracy of preseason polls on an annual basis. But for time’s sake, let’s just look at last year when Florida State was nearly unanimous choice as the nation’s best college football team. The Seminoles finished fifth and sixth in the final polls, 39-point losers to Oregon in the semifinal playoff game. Meanwhile, Ohio State, picked fifth in the preseason, won it all. South Carolina, picked ninth in both preseason polls, was clocked at home by 24 points in its opener, finished 3-5 in the SEC out of the polls, and needed a 3-point Independence Bowl victory to avoid a losing season. Oklahoma, preseason No. 4, lost five games. And we could go on and on.

Mississippi State, picked fifth in the SEC West in last season’s SEC Media Days poll, rose to No. 1 in the nation for weeks. South Carolina, picked to win the SEC East, finished fifth in the division, four games behind Missouri, which was picked fourth in the preseason.

Get the idea? And we haven’t even mentioned that Auburn is the pick to win the SEC championship in 2015, despite the fact that Alabama is picked to win the West.

Two words come to mind: Can’t happen.

I have two predictions on this coming season in the SEC West:

  • Somebody is going to have to finish seventh and last, and
  • That somebody probably will have a winning overall record and could conceivably be ranked in the Top 25.

That’s just how strong the SEC West is. Never forget that the 2010 Mississippi State Bulldogs finished fifth in a then-six team division. Yes, and they also finished 15th in the country and body-slammed Michigan by 38 points in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl. Michigan led 14-10 after one quarter. State scored the last 42 points. Had it been a prize fight, State would have been declared winner by TKO after the third quarter.

There’s just no accounting for how new players will influence a team’s season. Or injuries. Or breaks. Or, simply, how the schedule falls.

You can guess, but you never know.

I would guess that Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss are three of the four most talented teams going into this SEC West season. But all three will feature unproven quarterbacks. You cannot win the most difficult division in college football without above-average quarterbacking. We’ll see. Auburn folks are calling junior QB Jeremy Johnson the next Cam Newton. He might be. He looks the part. But who really knows? Not even Gus Malzahn, I’d venture.

What we do know is that in Dak Prescott, State returns the most proven QB in the SEC. Yes, State has to replace several starters, but Mullen substituted liberally last year. His backups played a lot.

Should you really believe State will finish last in the SEC West this season, consider:

Last season, Mullen’s sixth at State, the Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth in the West and finished second and in the Orange Bowl. His Bulldogs have exceeded expectations in five of the six seasons he has been there. Indeed, the only year they didn’t exceed pre-season predictions was when they were picked fifth and finished fifth, demolishing Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Who expected that?

So there’s a track record to consider. But again all this comes with this disclaimer: The Bulldogs could be a really good team and finish seventh. Somebody has to finish last.

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpg

Rick Cleveland rcleveland@msfame.com is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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