SI.com’s Stewart Mandel presents a reasonable scenario:
No records will be set unless the Tigers lose 31-0, like preseason No. 1 Florida State did against Miami in 1988, but the scenario John describes is certainly realistic. Alabama-Michigan will be the most watched game in the country that opening Saturday, and USC-Hawaii, which gets the honor of being Fox’s first primetime regular season game, will also draw eyeballs. LSU-North Texas, on the other hand, is on ESPNU, and for most people will probably be little more than a score on the ticker. Even though we have spent eight months under the general consensus that LSU or USC are the teams to beat this season, impressions can change in a hurry once teams actually start playing games.
Most are expecting Alabama to handle Michigan fairly easily. If the Tide beat the Wolverines 24-13, say, while USC destroys Hawaii and LSU drubs North Texas, then all three will have basically played to expectations. But what if Alabama puts on a clinic? What if the Tide show little drop-off from last year’s dominant defense, sack Denard Robinson nine times, roll up 250 yards on the ground and win 34-9? Voters are easily swayed, and in fact there is recent precedent for just such a thing. In 2008, the preseason Coaches’ Poll went 1. Georgia (22 first place votes), 2. USC (14), 3. Ohio State (14). While the Dawgs beat Georgia Southern 45-21, and the Buckeyes blanked Youngstown State 43-30, the Trojans went to Virginia, a 9-4 team the year before, and rolled 52-7. USC promptly rose to No. 1.
Me? Though this is a reasonable scenario, if all three teams win, I don’t see a change coming. Most voters would realize the two teams play later in the year and would probably let things shake out then.