POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Are Early-Season Polls Necessary?

 Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions

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    Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst
    NO. 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 No. 21! 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.

    Chain Reaction
    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 point …

    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.

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