Polls justifiably baffle Duke, ECU fans
Posted August 18, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Florida State went off at No. 11 in the 2013 preseason Associated Press football poll. That’s something Duke, ECU and UNC fans should keep in mind -- although for different reasons -- in view of the strange nature of the 2014 preseason poll that was released Sunday.
As was the case in the USA Today/Coaches poll, which was released earlier, UNC surprisingly came in 23rd.
Duke, which won the ACC Coastal Division and defeated the Tar Heels last season, was not ranked. Ditto for ECU, which completely routed Carolina (59-38) in Chapel Hill.
The Pirates went on to a 10-3 finish with an easy bowl win. Duke wound up 10-4 but only after a 52-48 loss to heavy favorite Texas A&M in the postseason.
Carolina, on the other hand, finished a relatively modest 7-6 but closed with an impressive win over Cincinnati (39-17) in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl.
Since the previous season’s performance normally is the driving force behind preseason polls in almost all sports, it’s understandable that Duke and ECU fans feel their teams were disrespected and at the expense of elevated appreciation for an in-state rival.
It’s for sure that the Tar Heels’ top-25 status qualifies as one of the most surprising aspects of both the AP and Coaches poll.
Not only are the Tar Heels the only 7-win team from a year ago included in the top 25, they easily bested Missouri (12-2 in 2013), Washington (9-4), Central Florida (12-1), Louisville (12-1) and Oklahoma State (10-3) among others in the voting.
Meanwhile, the Pirates didn’t get a single voting point in either poll, which not only is baffling, but an insult to what Ruffin McNeill, his coaches and players have accomplished against often long odds and routinely difficult non-conference schedules.
Not only that, the Pirates have two of the school’s all-time most prolific offensive players returning in wide-out Justin Hardy and quarterback Shane Carden.
Duke retains eight offensive starters from 2013, including quarterback Anthony Boone and wide-out Jamison Crowder, and several defensive leaders. Obviously that defense took a big hit last week when linebacker Kelby Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury, but it’s rare that preseason injuries have much bearing on the poll voters.
UNC’s poll popularity no doubt is due in large part to Larry Fedora’s recruiting success, the presence of a certified field-flipper in return man/wide-out Ryan Switzer and expectations for dramatic defensive improvement.
But there’s also the fact that the Heels will have to visit ECU for their first road game, Duke for their last road game and three others to Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami in between. While it’s entirely possible UNC will be favored against both the Pirates and Devils, the 6-game road schedule (Virginia is also in the mix) isn’t exactly inviting.
Most fans, and even a few coaches, see preseason polls as essentially harmless and there’s no question that major surprises -- for better or for worse -- occur each season to disrupt August logic. At No. 10, and ranked just ahead of Florida State last season in the AP preseason poll, was Florida. The Gators finished 4-8, including a late-season loss to Georgia Southern.
At the opposite extreme, Missouri didn’t land a single preseason 2013 AP vote. Neither did Duke, ECU and Central Florida.
But many coaches take the polls seriously, primarily because they remember better than the fans that there have been times when preseason votes have given root to false security for those included and elevated motivation for those disregarded.
It’s probably a cold lock that Fedora will remind his team of that fact during the next few days.