Poll Questions

One voter's take on his AP ballot

Sept. 12, 2007

College Football Preview: Week 3

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By Tom Hart

Special to CSTV.com


Tom Hart calls football play-by-play for CSTV and is a contributor to CSTV.com.
E-mail here!


I know what a lot of fans think when they see the polls, and it's usually something along the lines of, "What are these guys smoking?"


I'm here to answer that exact question.


When I was asked to contribute to the Associated Press Top 25 poll this year, I was thrilled to accept.  I was looking forward to putting an innovative spin on things: voting based on performance.  In the past it seemed poll voters voted according to reputation or in an attempt to fulfill their preseason predictions.  Sometimes people have a hard time admitting when they're wrong.  Not me.




Example No. 1:  I truly thought Michigan was a Top 5 team this season.  With Jake Long, Mike Hart, Chad Henne and company on offense, I pictured the Wolverines as a legit contender for the national title.  Sure they had some holes to fill on defense, but as I saw it there wasn't a team in the nation without some question marks.


My opinion of Wisconsin wasn't as high, but it was close.  I had the Badgers at No. 4 after Week 1.


After week one's upset at the hands of Appalachian State, Michigan was completely out of my poll.  How could I keep them in the Top 25 when so many more deserving teams were on the outside looking in?  Following the home loss to Oregon, it's now obvious the Wolverines aren't worthy of a spot.


Ditto for Wisconsin.  I dropped Wisconsin out of my Top 5 after their nail biting win in Vegas late Saturday night.  I'm sure some Badger fans left the Strip with a couple of extra bills in their pocket, but the team looked dead broke for most of the night.  UNLV is a program that is trying to learn how to win, and top teams shouldn't have a hard time winning in that environment.  Listen, even the best teams struggle in a game they're supposed to win.  It's impossible not to during the grind of a 12-game schedule.  The protection, however, comes from a strong schedule.  Wisconsin doesn't yet have a marquee win to balance that struggle in the desert.


I realize it wasn't a loss, but at this point in the season if you have to pull out a last ditch win against UNLV, you're taking another team's well earned spot among the elite.  So the Badgers fell, fell all the way down to No. 20.


That may seem a little extreme, but it goes with my basic tenet that preseason polls mean nothing.  And I'm not Phil Steele, so what I think a team MIGHT do down the road also means nothing.  I'm only here to judge teams on what they've accomplished.  As a result, over the first few weeks my poll may be more confusing than Britney's opening number at the VMA's.  I figure by the last week in September everyone has settled down.


Which brings me to No. 1.  LSU has absolutely dominated its first two games.  USC picked the wrong week to be idle, and while it may look on the surface like I'm penalizing the Trojans for taking a Saturday off, that's not the case.  I choose to view it as a reward for the Bayou Bengals.  It's easy to look like the best when you hammer a team like Virginia Tech, it's considerably more difficult to impress when you're sitting on the couch. 


It was easy then to put Oklahoma at No. 4.  We won't know for a while how good Miami is, but it seems early on like Sam Bradford is the real deal.


I admit that Florida at No. 7 might be low, but they'll have an opportunity to impress this weekend when the Vols venture into The Swamp.  That's what's great about the SEC.  It's not only the toughest conference to win in, but it can be the most rewarding WHEN you win.  So don't sweat Gator fans, you can earn a jump with a win on Saturday.


On the downside of that theory lie conferences like the Mountain West, C-USA and the WAC.  If you lose a game it can be tough to bounce back into national prominence immediately.  Teams like Southern Miss, BYU, and Boise State may be Top 25 teams, but they each missed great opportunities this past weekend to state their case.  Instead of one big win on their resume, they'll have to string together a few weeks of consistent play to show that they belong.


I dropped Texas a couple of spots after Week  1 for their uninspiring performance in the opener.  Taking care of TCU certainly helped.  Which brings me to another poll point.  I put Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs at No. 23.  That may not seem like much of a drop to the naked eye.  However, don't compare my poll to last week's AP poll, compare it to MY POLL from last week.  I had TCU at No. 10 after their shutout of Baylor, so a 13 spot drop after a road loss to my former No. 10 team is only fair.


I'm getting a bit ahead of myself though, because basing moves on wins or loss versus other ranked teams will become truly significant only once teams have three or four games under their belt.


South Carolina jumped from No. 25 to No. 13 in my poll after their defensive masterpiece against Mark Richt's Bulldogs.  Their SEC schedule will soon let us know if they deserve to be that high.


Georgia Tech and Boston College follow, and we'll learn more about each of these squads Saturday night on the Flats.  The same can be said about Nebraska and Arkansas this weekend. 


Missouri made a lot of mistakes in the opener in St. Louis against Illinois (perhaps they should print the 2-point chart in 18 point Arial Black), but backed it up with a win on the road in the SEC.  Both of those are contests Gary Pinkel's team would have slept walk through in years past.


Washington earned their way into the Top 25 with a road dismantling of the `Cuse and doing what Oklahoma couldn't last January - ending Boise State's winning streak.


Finally, when I put together my poll I leave a few teams on the outside looking in and promise to keep a close eye on them.  Texas A&M is right there, so are Kentucky and Wyoming.


If you're a one loss team at this point in the season it doesn't mean you can't make it back in, so I'm waiting for teams like BYU, Auburn and Boise to earn a spot in the coming weeks.


I can't promise you I'll place your team exactly where you think they belong, but I can promise you this:  like other voters, I take this seriously and spend a lot of time researching teams and watching games.  Hopefully I'll see a good chunk of Top 25 teams first hand this season. 


When my travel ends, my game watching begins, and I attempt to watch as many games as possible from the weekend prior.  As far as I'm concerned, TIVO was made for football.


I won't ever pretend to know every detail about every program in the FBS and FCS (those guys are eligible too).  But, unlike my high school Spanish teacher, I promise you I'll do my homework.


I welcome your comments - you can send it here - but  try to be responsible.  Remember it's like a see saw at the playground, if you want your team to move up, that means another has to move down. 


Tom Hart's Sept. 9th AP Poll

1.       LSU

2.       USC

3.       West Virginia

4.       Oklahoma

5.       California

6.       Louisville

7.       Florida

8.       Rutgers

9.       Penn St.

10.    Texas

11.    UCLA

12.    Ohio St.

13.    South Carolina

14.    Georgia Tech

15.    Boston College

16.    Nebraska

17.    Virginia Tech

18.    Arkansas

19.    USF

20.    Wisconsin

21.    Missouri

22.    Clemson

23.    TCU

24.    Alabama

25.    Washington