All the polls are finally out, and it gives everyone something to talk and write about. It shouldn’t. My wife who doesn’t know what a first down is even asks, “You actually care about that? Nobody’s done anything yet.” My answer, gloriously, is “NO.” It wasn’t always the case.
I used to wait with anticipation for the preseason AP and Coaches (formerly UPI) polls every year. I’d curse the voters if OU was lower than I preferred and gloat when the Sooners were tops. Silly kid. It means absolutely nothing in reality. Now, in our bizarro BCS society, the preseason polls can have a real effect. Being ranked higher allows you to withstand early losses. If you’re ranked outside the top 15 and you lose early, you’re guarantee not to be playing for the crystal ball. What a farce.
Teams should start on a clean slate. The previous season and even a program’s tradition play a heavy role in how a team is ranked in the first week. The defending AP national champion has been ranked No. 1 in the following season’s AP preseason poll 21 times. It’s the most common ranking for a defending AP No. 1.
It’s impossible to know how a team will perform until it gets on the field and – get this – plays. Whether you have fancy formulas or computer algorithms, it’s all just guessing, plain and simple. Only 10 preseason AP No. 1 teams out of the previous 61 have finished there at the end of the season. Twelve times the preseason AP No. 1 has finished outside the top 10. It’s more common that the preseason AP poll gets it really wrong than right. In the BCS era, only two out of 13 times has the preseason AP No. 1 been the BCS champion. More teams have started outside the preseason top 10 and won the BCS championship (four).
So, it’s obvious that preseason rankings are worthless. That’s why I will never have my own personal preseason poll. If college football must imitate figure skating and have rankings according to judges, then performance on the field in the current year is what should be judged. So, if you have to have a poll, when should you have one? This is one thing the BCS gets right. Its first poll is not until Week 8. My answer is after three games, minimum. Most teams have gone through their out-of-conference schedules and are starting to firm up their performance by then. Teams usually have to perform against three teams with varying styles from different conferences. So I’ll jump on the bandwagon and start ranking teams after Week 3. I’ll call them my “Reality Rankings.” They will rule, and I should get a vote in the AP poll as a result.
If that ever happens, I’ll vote everyone No. 1 until Week 3. I expect the AP to come knocking on my door any minute.
(Hit up Native State via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)