USA Today Coaches' poll raises a few eyebrows

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

One of interesting items that always comes up this time of year is the release of the ballots following the final regular-season balloting of the USA Today Coaches' poll. It provides you a good handle of what some coaches really think about other teams.

And it also could lead you to wonder if coaches might remember grudges or occasionally vote their friends or conference teams a little too highly -- or lowly.

There's nothing at all wrong with this, of course. But it does provide some interesting day-after conversation, particularly when the vote ends up being as close as Oklahoma's one-point victory over Florida for first place.

Take a look at how the coaches considered the Big 12 teams in the poll.

Oklahoma: The Sooners claimed the title at the end of the year by one vote, claiming 31 first-place ballots to 26 for second-place Florida.

Most of the Big 12's coaches held firm with the Sooners as the best team. It's no surprise that Gary Pinkel would vote them that highly less than 12 hours after his team had been thumped 62-21 by the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game. Art Briles, Dan Hawkins, Mike Leach and Bo Pelini all voted for Stoops. And in the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that Leach and Pelini both worked as assistants under Stoops and Briles worked under Leach, making him a second-generation descendant of the Stoops coaching tree.

The Sooners were listed fourth on UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's ballot and third on 11 others, including the ballot of Texas coach Mack Brown.

Texas: Four first-place votes helped push the Longhorns to third place. One of them didn't come from Brown, who voted with his conscience rather than giving his team the maximum number of points. He voted his team second, behind Florida and in front of Oklahoma.

Texas' four first-place votes came from Gene Chizik, Todd Dodge, Neuheisel and Mike Price of UTEP. Chizik coached under Brown before taking the Iowa State job. Dodge played for Texas. And Price played against the Longhorns earlier this season, losing 42-13 in a game that was considered the biggest home football game in the Miners' history.

The Longhorns' lowest votes were fifth, given by four coaches -- Briles, Leach, Rutgers' Greg Schiano and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders finished in eighth place, two points behind Utah. Their highest votes were the second-place ballot cast by Leach for his own team and a third-place vote delivered by New Mexico State's Hal Mumme, whom Leach worked with at several jobs earlier in his career.

Nobody else had the Red Raiders higher than sixth. Among the 12 coaches who had Tech at sixth place were Briles, Chizik, Pelini and Pinkel. Brown had the Red Raiders eighth.

But their lowest vote was 11th, cast by TCU's Gary Patterson. The Red Raiders delivered a 70-35 whipping to the Horned Frogs in 2004. It remains the most points ever allowed by a Patterson-coached team and the worst defeat in his head-coaching career.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys finished the regular season 14th. The voting wasn't as varied on them as some others. Their highest vote was 11th, provided by Briles, Pinkel and former Oklahoma State and current LSU coach Les Miles. Their lowest was a 20th place vote from Florida International's Mario Cristobal. I have no explanation for that.

Missouri: Despite losing by 41 points in the Big 12 championship game, the Tigers fell only six spaces in the coaches' poll. They had fallen six places the previous week from 11th to 17th when they lost to Kansas.

Interesting, the highest ranking the Tigers got was an 11th-place vote from departing Washington coach Tyrone Willingham. Maybe there was a show of loyalty for Pinkel, a one-time Washington offensive coordinator under Don James. Other than that, the Tigers' highest votes were three 18th-place votes cast by Pinkel, Schiano and Patterson.

Missouri was left off the ballots of 12 coaches, including those of Brown and Leach.

It's always intriguing to look at these votes. The transparency provides some interesting fodder and a more interesting way to determine how coaches look at their opponents -- and their rival coaches.