After decades of futility, the Cajuns have strung together three straight 9-win seasons. That kind of success entitles UL fans to one of the great rights of college football - complaining about your ranking. With expectations so high for this coming season, they have every right to complain. We're no longer in the BCS era, but I guarantee public perception will have a lot to do with where teams end up during bowl season.
When it all comes down to it, ranking 128 complex entities in any logical order is both impractical and insane. That didn't stop a brave few from attempting it. Our job is to separate the logical arguments from the lazy and impractical. Basically, we're ranking the rankings.
Keep in mind that I'm not listing these based on how accurate I believe their final number is. We're just focusing on the logic behind each conclusion. Let's get started.
10) ESPN Preseason Power Index - Nationally Ranked #71
As they should be, this ranking is done by cold, emotionless machines. ESPN statisticians. To get a 71 ranking, the worldwide leader blended the Cajuns' 2013 rankings in total offense, defense, and special teams. Add in a hint of net efficiency with a dash of disregard for personnel changes. Now put that in the ol' Bristol oven for an offseason, and viola. You've successfully undermined a team's public perception with a ranking 10 spots below average.
9) NFL.com college football team rankings - Nationally Ranked #58
Hate when pro guy writes about college. Reads like scout report shorthand. Points out leading receiver has ability to run. Not much of a revelation. Upside is mention of Quave brothers. Negative is use of lazy blanket terms like downhill runner and dual-threat QB. Implies Hud needs new job. Grit.
8) Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Coaches Poll - Sun Belt Ranked #1
This isn't a national ranking, but it is a very meaningful one. The Cajuns were unanimously chosen as conference favorites by the 11 guys who should know. Sun Belt sports information directors. Honestly, every media outlet in this list has UL winning the conference this year. This is just the poll we pretend means the most.
7) Billingsley's 2014 Preseason Projections - Nationally Ranked #57
This projection is interesting for a few different reasons, with the foremost being that college football once picked a champion based on it. Billingsley's model wasn't perfect for the BCS era, but it does have a lot of things going for it. It takes into account strength of schedule and past performance. This may be great for impartiality, but hurts the Cajuns since they only line up against a top 40 team once a year. Either way, Billingsley predicts UL will drop two games and finish the season ranked #27. If that's the case, why not put them there now instead of pigeon holing them early?
6) CFB Against The Numbers Ratings - Nationally Ranked #69
There is a special place in my heart for delinquent sports betting. Although this preview doesn't provide much in the way of information, I think it deserves some respect. ATN has UL ranked a sexy-but-sub-average 69. I may be willing to agree with a guy who would risk his kneecaps on it.
5) Football Study Hall Initial S&P+Projections - Nationally Ranked #79
This may sound like I'm towing the company line, but this is how data driven projections should be handled. S&P+ takes the 5-year weighted average, considers returning starters, and then adds in recruiting data. That gives us a past, present, and future look. It also gives us UL's lowest ranking. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Sun Belt can be found below 100 in this one. Lucky for FSH, I'm not ranking these based on whether or not I think they're accurate. UTSA four spots higher? Really?
4) Rant Sports College Football Rankings - Nationally Ranked #54
This is a nice breakdown of the Cajuns going into next season. Primarily stats driven, Rant Sports pays mind to nearly every aspect of the team. I say nearly, because they glaze over the most deep, but banged up units coming out of spring - the offensive line. Overall, Rant is very bullish on UL, and it shows in their ranking. It's a good preview, but not the full picture.
3) Orlando Sentinel CFB Top 128 Countdown - Nationally Ranked #59
The lone regional publication in this list makes a pretty good case for a top spot. While not as information packed as some may like, The Sentinel staff does a good job pointing out strengths and weaknesses of this team. They also get bonus points for highlighting the number of returning starters as a basis for their prediction.
2) Athlon Sports Team Previews - Nationally Ranked #60
This is a pretty solid preview. Athlon is still one of the few national outlets that takes the time to look at the previous season, as well as spring practice. Based on all the injuries and developments we read about this March, health will be a big factor come kickoff. Still, the Cajuns are expected to win 10 games and ranked as a middle of the road team. I understand the strength of schedule may not support a higher ranking, but you did the research Athalon. Does this team look middle of the road?
1) USA Today Preseason Magazine - Nationally Ranked #40
This ranking was an outlier in many ways. It's the best researched and written preview, short of the one done by our own Bill Connelly. It also happens to be the one that ranks UL the highest. There is an interesting debate to be had about causation and correlation, but I choose to believe the former led to the latter. You can argue that 40 is a little high, especially since I doubt oddsmakers would favor UL against the three teams ranked below them. (Mississippi State, Northwestern, and Mizzou) But when the games are all played, this is most likely where the Cajuns will end up.
This team will face two real challenges this year, and Boise State isn't the automatic loss most outlets are making them out to be. So take all of these rankings and predictions with a grain of salt. If anybody knew anything ahead of time, we wouldn't bother playing the games.