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The times they are a-changin' in college polls

August 15, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

My, how the times have changed.

With The Associated Press releasing its preseason college football poll Saturday (see page D5), it's amazing to see how some of the traditional powers of the last 30 years have faded, while other schools are more than willing to jump into their vacant slots in the rankings.

Sure, there are still many of the usual suspects. Oklahoma, Florida State, Miami, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State are all in the top 10 as you would expect.

But Georgia? LSU??

WEST VIRGINIA???

Meanwhile, the final two teams listed in the "Also receiving votes" (or "Thanks for playing, here's your parting gift") category are Notre Dame and Penn State - each the recipient of one 25th-place vote.

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In the past, it seemed those teams would get into the poll simply based on name recognition and reputation.

Now, it seems the only way they're getting recognized is through a mercy vote.

Who could have figured West Virginia as one of the teams that would step into the void as a top 10 team, though?

A weak schedule could have something to do with it. The only team on the Mountaineers' schedule ranked in the preseason poll: No. 22 Maryland.

West Virginia should run through the diluted Big East and earn a spot in a BCS bowl in January.

But that doesn't make the Mountaineers a top 10 team any more than Maryland's playing in the Orange Bowl three seasons ago made the Terps a top 10 team.

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez sees it that way, too.

"We have to try to play and justify that ranking," Rodriguez said.

He only has to ask Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen about that.

Friedgen's Terps were ranked 15th in last year's preseason poll, only to lose their season opener to unranked Northern Illinois and drop into the aforementioned "Thanks for playing ..." category.

It just goes to show that the preseason rankings - as most coaches will say - don't mean a thing.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

But, as the Mountaineers and Terrapins are beginning to realize, it still feels better to start inside the top 25 than outside it.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com

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