Preseason Polls Purportedly Possess Purpose

Apologies to everyone for the title, it seemed like a good idea at the time, I swear.

Any hoo, yesterday (August 21) the second major poll in college football was released for public consumption. Sure, there was nothing in the way of surprises (defending champion Alabama #1? Really? How daring!), but the release of these polls always creates some consternation among the college football community. Before I begin spouting inane bile, allow me to state that I see nothing egregiously wrong with the first AP poll. I agree with the positioning of just about every team in the poll, and any quibbles I have with the current AP rankings involve stuff like tweaking the team at #15 and moving them up a spot or two, moving #20 down a spot, bumping #24 to #23, etc. So…yeah, petty stuff.

No, the issue I have here is the existence of the preseason poll at all. First off, the AP Poll doesn’t factor into the BCS system at all, which makes one wonder why it even exists as it matters quite literally as much as the opinions any given random blogger can espouse at any given second. So unless it exists as a form of subtle protest to the BCS system (in which case, applause to the AP), the AP Poll is the college football equivalent to the Queen of England.

Do not attempt to refute this point. Ever since the debacle in 2003-4 where the AP voted Southern California as the national champs, while the BCS (with the Coaches Poll attached) said that LSU had won the title, the AP poll has been excluded (at its members’ behest) from the BCS equation. Yes, the AP still gives out its trophy, but that isn’t the one that people focus on anymore. Unless the AP made a bold statement like naming Utah its 2008 national champion, there’s no reason to care about the trophy given by pollsters who don’t even decide who plays in the biggest 5 games of the postseason. And ever since 2004 the AP has given its national championship trophy to the same team the BCS has crowned champion, so basically any argument that the AP Poll is anything more than a barometer of sportswriters’ opinions is fallacious.

Furthermore, preseason polls are often laughably inaccurate. Indeed, the only thing good about the BCS is that they don’t release any polls until week 8, allowing time and games to sort out contenders from pretenders. Not so with the AP and Coaches polls, they try and predict the outcome of arguably the least predictable major sport before the season even starts. Allow me to make something clear: I DO NOT FAULT PRESEASON POLLS FOR BEING WRONG! That would be, for lack of a better term, stupid. The preseason AP Top 25 for 2009 had Oklahoma ranked 3rd. The AP could not have foreseen BYU’s week 1 upset, nor the injury Sam Bradford suffered in said upset. Nor should they have been expected to. Just because someone is an “expert” does not mean that they can predict the injuries and upsets that make college football interesting. There are dozens of examples of ludicrously wrong preseason predictions, and not one of them deserves to be mocked, because predicting the outcome of any given season is an impossible task for anyone without a real, working crystal ball, and I imagine that particular band of gypsies has better things to do than predict the outcome of games.

“But Bones,” you ask, “the Coaches Poll came out a few weeks ago, and it’s a key component in determining the BCS champion.” Yes, that is true, which brings us to an even more troubling point. While the preseason polls are frequently inaccurate, it’s actually worse for college football fans when they’re right. The fact of the matter is that preseason polls often determine the contents of a championship game months in advance of the actual game. Texas and Alabama were 2 of the 5 teams that went undefeated in college football last season, yet they made the national title game because they had the advantage of being #2 and #5 in the initial coaches poll instead of #16, #17, and unranked (TCU, Boise State, and Cincinnati respectively). Look, I’m aware of the fact that Texas and Alabama play in much tougher conferences than the other teams in question here, but a team must be given a chance to prove itself among the elite! Otherwise, college football is nothing more than an elitist club that won’t allow teams to play in big games unless they were good in the 1960’s and are still good today (or are mediocre today, but were good in the 1960’s. I am looking at you, Notre Dame).

Let’s use this coming season as an example: Given the way this season is scheduled, the following scenario is a reality: Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Texas, and TCU could all run the table. They’re all in different conferences, and none of them play one another. So, keeping it simple, let’s assume that just these 5 teams go undefeated. Who gets the chance to win the ugly crystal football? Alabama, obviously. They play in the murderous SEC. Who else do you send? Don’t dwell on it too much. It doesn’t matter, because 3 other teams which started the season in the Top 10 get screwed.

The bottom line is this, the existence of preseason polls is really not good for anyone. It’s not good for writers or coaches who get lampooned when their predictions are wrong, it’s not good for schools whose fates are often decided before the first snap of the season, and it’s not good for fans of teams outside the Top 25, who know that they don’t have a chance at getting a national title barring about 25 separate miracles occurring in a 12 week span. The only groups that this current poll benefits are people attached to Alabama and Ohio State, because no one else controls their own destiny. If you disagree with that statement, find yourself a Boise State, TCU, or Cincinnati fan and ask them. Yet, within our grasp, their lies a solution to this problem: it’s called a playoff. If you’re a member of the BCS Committee, look it up.