Polls do not mean as much as you think. They are great fodder for media types like myself and great for recruiting mail-outs for schools. But do they matter? The USA Today Coaches’ Poll, despite its many, many flaws, does matter, because it is factored into the BCS formula. The Associated Press Poll is nice, but not official, yet it does impact the BCS. Confused?
Timing is Everything
I have absolutely no doubt that polls should not be released until at least the middle of October. There is no reason to release them earlier and, for that matter, the earlier they come out, the more mistakes seem to be made. Keep in mind how preseason and early season polls are created. For most media polls, voting press members look at a few factors when ranking teams: how the school finished last season, how many starters return, how tough is the schedule and is there a star on the team. So, in reality, the polls are based more on how teams did in the past, not how they are doing now. And that is the biggest reason to delay the release of polls.
Too Early to Tell
Let’s take a look at the Associated Press poll from Week One, the starting poll, until Week
Three, the most recent poll released earlier this week. In Week One,
Michigan was the No. 4 team in the county and Oklahoma was
No. 7. In less than 14 days, Michigan is way down at No. 14 and the struggling Sooners come in at
Iowa State wasn’t even ranked and now it is at
No. 24. The point? When polls are released, they should be close to accurate. But they can’t be, because not enough games have been played to give voters a true measure of teams in September. Clearly, Michigan is not one of the Top 5 teams in the nation. The Wolverines might be by December, but by then, we will be able to make that judgment based on fact, not assumptions.
Eight is Enough
Is one game enough to judge a team? Two? I say wait until at least mid-October, when teams have played most of their non-conference games as well as some of their conference match-ups. By mid-October this season, we will know all about
Tennessee after it takes on the likes of Florida and LSU. I think if the Vols are still undefeated by Week 8, we can safely say that they are one of the best in America.
If releasing polls early wasn’t such a bad thing, then why are the new Harris Poll and the BCS standings not released until October? Because they want to be as accurate as possible. And keep this in mind. Both AP voters and the USA Today Coaches’ Poll often closely mirror one another because—surprise—voters in both polls know where teams are ranked in the other poll. So… in theory, the AP poll early in the season may actually matter because it influences the Coaches’ Poll, which in turn influences the Harris Poll, which we know will influence the BCS. So misguided early season rankings do matter (just ask undefeated
Auburn from 2004). Even more reason to delay the polls.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that polls matter. Then why not wait until October to make sure they are as accurate as possible. Let’s say they don’t matter. Then what’s the point of rushing them out early in the season when they’re wrong?
YES. First off, the
whole poll system in college football is kind of a wart on the nose. It’s
there, you can’t change it, just deal with it. And yes, we know that some
teams have been screwed by the early poll returns. In fact, you can just see
the Auburn fans raising their hands and jittering in their seats like Arnold
Horshack wanting to make the point about how the pre-season polls ruined
the Tigers' chances for a national championship last year.
Though few in number and rationale, there are reasons to rejoice in the
polls. And yes, even the pre-season variety has its positives.
They Get People talking
I’ve always sort of hated this argument. It’s the same lame four words you
hear from the BCS hacks about how a controversial finish to the bowl season
is good for college football. The pre-season polls, on the other hand, are a
good way to start a buzz for the upcoming season. Put a Boise State at No.
21 in the pre-season and next thing you know ticket sales increase, TV
networks start looking for games to broadcast and water coolers in the
entire state get all that “they’re supposed to be pretty good this year”
kind of banter.
The Mid-Majors Love An Over-Rated Bigshot
Do you remember back in 2003 when Marshall – with no Randy Moss, no Chad
Pennington and no Byron Leftwich – went to No. 6 ranked Kansas State and
pulled the upset? Now when people go to the Marshall trophy case they’re
going to see a football with the score of the “win over No. 6 ranked Kansas
State” on it. The ball won’t say, “beat Kansas State, who eventually
finished the season with four losses and ranked No. 18.” Results like that
happen all the time for the Bowling Greens, Fresno States and Hawai’is of
the world that are able to ambush major conference teams that have no
business being in the early season rankings. Which brings me to my next
Poor Judgment Makes Media Look Stupid
I’m not afraid to say it. Most people dig it when the media pundits get
things wrong. Hell, I do.
It Puts a Meaningful Stamp on Big Matchups
Could you imagine how boring it would’ve been for ABC to publicize Saturday
night’s game between Texas and Ohio State? “See Texas play Ohio State” sure
doesn’t sound as good as “See No. 2 ranked Texas take on No. 4 ranked Ohio
State in a battle of Top 5 behemoths!” If polls didn’t start until October,
there would be no way to give the game as much meaning.
People Like Lists
Letterman’s Top Ten. Kiplinger’s List of Most Livable Cities. People
Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. You get my point, right? The pre-season
and early season rankings provide a good way for fans to quantitatively
argue who is better. I mean, could you imagine Maxim magazine coming out
with 100 hot girls and just throwing them haphazardly on a page? How would
that give you a better argument to stand on when trying to tell your buddy
that Eva Longoria is a friggin’ pooch compared to Brooke Burke? Thankfully
it’s called the Maxim Top 100 Hottest Girls list.