By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Before this football season began, back there what seems to be six or eight years ago, someone got into a conversation with Iowa State football coach Paul Rhodes and commented to him that Kansas State had been picked to finish sixth this year.
“I thought he meant nationally, not in the second half of the Big 12,” Rhodes recalled during Monday morning’s Big 12 football coaches conference call.
Indeed, when you think back on it, this team that seems certain to be the Big 12 champion was selected sixth among the 10 teams in the conference in the annual preseason poll ... a poll, Rhodes was quick to point out, not conducted by a vote of the coaches.
“No, no, no ... we don’t pick. Coaches don’t pick. Nothing’s been put in front of me to vote on who goes where,” Rhodes said.
Indeed, the blame for being so wrong does fall upon the media, who certainly could never be as astute as the coaches when it comes to looking into the future. Why, the coaches, of course, had Notre Dame as the No. 1 team in the country, right?
What’s that? They didn’t? Top 20? No, not that high, either.
In fact, the Fighting Irish, who went unbeaten and will play for the national championship, was selected No. 25 by the coaches in their preseason poll, right behind ...
Right behind Auburn, which was selected No. 24, a team not good enough to so much as win an SEC game and that just fired Gene Chizik as its coach, two years following winning a national championship.
Of course, the AP, which is a media poll, didn’t rank Notre Dame at all.
If there is any lesson in this, it is not to put too much stock in the polls, be they preseason or during the season.
Think about this Top 25 preseason poll that the coaches’ put together. The No. 1 team was LSU, followed by Alabama — a no-brainer — and USC, also a no-brainer of a different sort. Fourth was Oklahoma, fifth Oregon, sixth Georgia, seventh Florida State, eighth Michigan, ninth South Carolina and the No. 10 team was another doozy in Arkansas.
West Virginia, by the way, was 11th and rose as high as fourth before the defense exposed the Mountaineers as just another football team.
But, for a moment, let us go back to Kansas State, which had risen into the No. 1 spot in the nation before being embarrassed by lowly Baylor, knocking them out of the BCS and leaving the Big 12 without a representative in the title game.
How could this team that went into its next-to-last game of the regular season unbeaten be so badly overlooked in the preseason by coaches and media? How could it be picked behind a West Virginia team, for example, that it would maul, 55-14, when they met in the regular season?
Rhodes had his own take on that.
“I think you look at their team and you see — and I mean this with all due respect — Joe College average football players,” he began. “You don’t see all these guys the draft prognosticators are talking about. You just see an ordinary man’s football team, but that’s still pretty important, especially when you have Collin Klein at quarterback. With him on the field they can beat anyone in the country.”
Ah, Collin Klein, the quarterback. Again, let’s go back to the preseason, to a time when Landry Jones of Oklahoma and Geno Smith of West Virginia were the hot QB names in the Big 12, each putting together a marvelous season.
“You look at Geno’s stats and they are as good as anyone in college football,” WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s done a great job of protecting the ball. He’s done a great job of running the offense. Has it not been enough in specific games? Yes, but that’s the case with a whole lot of people across the country as well.”
Landry, too, has been said to have fallen short, developing a love-hate relationship with the Oklahoma fans.
“I think that’s been overplayed,” said Coach Bob Stoops. “That’s 5 or 10 percent of ignorant fans that are never happy. I promise you, 90 percent of the fans love the game. When the media gets something they can throw out there — I’m not being critical, it makes for a story, but in the end the guy has Big 12 records, he’s won a Big 12 championship, he’s won a BCS bowl or us — what else do you want?”
Then along came Klein, a kid with a heart bigger than his arm, the right kid on the right team at the right moment ... and that turned the Big 12 into something no one had expected when the season began.
But isn’t that the way it was supposed to be this year, a year where Georgia Tech goes to the ACC championship game with a 6-6 record, where a five-loss Wisconsin team plays for the Big Ten championship, a year where Kent State, coached by former WVU assistant Darrell Hazell, is knocking on the BCS door?
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.