Consider me Virginia's designated piñata, DP for short, this college football season. Translation: I'm the state's voter on the Associated Press' top 25.
The AP was desperate enough to ask, and I was gullible enough to accept, knowing full well how torqued fans get by pollsters' slights, real and imagined. And those faithful, bless their twisted hearts, are not shy about emailing or calling.
No worries. This is football, not foreign policy. Moreover, the AP poll — the preseason top 25 was released Saturday — has no bearing on which teams qualify for the Bowl Championship Series title game.
So vent away, but if possible, please refrain from giving my yard the Toomer's Oaks treatment.
Two serious points: First, the AP allocates voters based on a state's number of Bowl Subdivision programs. So the commonwealth, with only Virginia and Virginia Tech, has one pollster. Texas, with 10 FBS schools, has four voters.
Second, this preseason ballot is based on returning talent. I did not attempt to project teams' strength of schedule and chances of running the table.
For example, many folks include Virginia Tech among the top 10, even the top five, in large measure because of the Hokies' forgiving schedule. But while Tech should be no worse than 9-1 entering November, I ranked Frank Beamer's crowd 13th based on special teams and defensive issues.
So without further delay, the ballot. Weekly updates will be posted on my blog, the link to which is below.
1. Oklahoma (12-2 last season): Sooners quarterbacks used to wear bandannas and run the wishbone. Now they throw for crazy yardage and win Heismans. Landry Jones could be the next.
2. Alabama (10-3): Redshirt freshman Phillip Sims from Oscar Smith High versus A.J. McCarron is the summer's most intriguing quarterback competition.
3. LSU (11-2): Is any coach more entertaining than the Mad Hatter? And is any venue more intimidating than Death Valley after dark?
4. Oregon (12-1): Auburn proved that the Ducks' spread isn't unstoppable. But does any Pac-12 defense approach Auburn's from a year ago. Unlikely.
5. Stanford (12-1): Coach Jim Harbaugh will be missed, but Andrew Luck's presence at quarterback virtually assures the Cardinal national contention.
6. Boise State (12-1): Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore reminds me of Matt Leinart, the USC, not the NFL, Leinart. Hokies know how surgically precise Moore can be.
7. Florida State (10-4): The Seminoles have the talent — watch tailback Chris Thompson — and coaching to earn their first top-10 finish since 2000.
8. Oklahoma State (11-2): Receiver Justin Blackmon — 20 touchdown catches last season — is the Cowboys' most dynamic player since Barry Sanders.
9. Texas A&M (9-4): Quarterback Ryan Tannehill returns after leading the Aggies on a six-game winning streak last season that included conquests of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.
10. Wisconsin (11-2): The Badgers are 49-16 since promoting defensive coordinator Bret Bielema to head coach five seasons ago. Perfect role model for Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster.
11. Nebraska (10-4): This Big Ten newcomer should be 4-0 entering its conference opener, at Wisconsin. Huskers' defense will be first serious test for Badgers quarterback and N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson.
12. Arkansas (10-3): A season-ending ankle injury to Knile Davis, the SEC's top returning rusher, hamstrings an inexperienced offense that plays at Alabama in the conference opener.
13. Virginia Tech (11-3): If new quarterback Logan Thomas is as good as I suspect, the Hokies will finish the season much higher than this.
14. South Carolina (9-5): Steve Spurrier welcomes back 14 starters from a team that finished No. 22, the Gamecocks' first top-25 season since 2001.
15. TCU (13-0): Horned Frogs will miss Andy Dalton, 42-6 as their starting quarterback. TCU, Alabama and Ohio State only programs to finish among top 10 last three seasons.
16. Michigan State (11-2): With road games at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska, good thing the Spartans have quarterback Kirk Cousins.
17. Mississippi State (9-4): Bulldogs finished 15th in the AP poll last season but fifth among six in the brutal SEC West.
18. Notre Dame (8-5): Irish will attempt to win ACC Atlantic with consecutive November games against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College.
19. Ohio State (12-1): Buckeyes' game at Miami on Sept. 17 doubling as NCAA enforcement division convention.
20. Southern California (8-5): Defensive improvement a must if Trojans, saddled by NCAA sanctions, are to reclaim Pac-12 supremacy.
21. Missouri (10-3): Dates at Arizona State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M before November will reveal the Tigers' mettle.
22. West Virginia (9-4): The Mountaineers he-said-she-said coaching transition from Bill Stewart to Dana Holgorson downright tame to the shenanigans elsewhere.
23. Texas (5-7): Only a win over Florida Atlantic spared the Longhorns a season-ending, six-game losing streak. They can't be that bad again, can they?
24. Georgia (6-7): If Aaron Murray (3,049 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and only eight picks last year as a freshman) is much-improved, Bulldogs will finish higher than this.
25. Auburn (14-0): Tigers return a meager five starters from their title team, but tailback Michael Dyer (1,093 yards) broke Bo Jackson's school rushing record for freshmen last year.
As the accompanying story shows, my ballot mimicked the masses. Texas was the only team I ranked that didn't make the top 25 — colleagues preferred Florida.
But enough speculation. Games start in less than two weeks, and after an offseason that NCAA president Mark Emmert described as "God-awful," nothing could be more welcome.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times