The college football polls are as storied as college football itself. Nothing infuses excitement for a game faster than a number in front of the teams in a match-up. It often doesn’t even matter which teams are playing. As long as its #6 vs. #10 or something like that, the game becomes a big one. The polls have so much reverence in college football that they’re, at least for the most part, taken as gospel by most (not all) fans. Unfortunately, the polls are as biased as they are old.
Newer polls have started up in an attempt to eradicate polls of their silly tendencies. Most notable has been the Blogpoll created by college football bloggers. The Blogpoll’s goal is to offer a new, idiot-less perspective on the top 25. I’m all for a challenge to the old-guard that systematically drops teams even if it’s to the number one team on the road. If the Blogpoll can fix everything that’s wrong about the standard polling system--or even just signficantly improve it--then more power to them. I remain someone skeptical that a large group of voters can completely rip themselves away from the biases that the national polls have rammed down our throats for years. The polls have trained us to think in a certain way. That might be too much to overcome to get rid of all inconsistencies. I have been impressed with the Blogpoll's ability to "think", though.
In the meantime, I’ll be looking at the two “national” polls (the AP and USA Today polls) each week to analyze and mostly criticize their rankings of the top 25 teams in college football. Had I started this last week, I would have spent many words discussing how ridiculous it was that Arkansas fell from #16 in both polls all the way out of the top 25 in both polls for losing in the waning seconds at Alabama. Alabama was rewarded by being moved out of the top 25 in both polls all the way to 16th in the AP and 20th in the USA Today. There have been illogical rankings in the past but this one has to go in the top five worst collective-decisions in poll history. If Alabama was really the #16 team as the AP claimed it was after the win, then Arkansas losing the lead with seconds to go at Alabama would make Arkansas at the very least a spot or two behind Alabama. Instead, the polls went with the “if you lose, regardless of who it was against, you drop x amount of spots” logic.
That was last week, though. Let’s look at some of the moronic things the polls did this week…
South Carolina and Georgia
The most glaring miscalculation made by both polls this week is how they handled the respective rankings of South Carolina and Georgia. Just to refresh your memory, South Carolina won at Georgia 16-12. Both teams have one loss. South Carolina lost to the consensus #2 team in the country (LSU) 28-16 at LSU. Georgia’s loss—as I mentioned—was to South Carolina. So, S. Carolina has, by far, the better loss, and it beat Georgia on the road. How, by any sensible logic, can S. Carolina be rated below Georgia?
After week one, Hawaii was ranked 20th and 22nd respectively by the AP and USA Today polls. In week two, Hawaii narrowly beat Louisiana Tech, 45-44. After almost losing a game in which they were 27.5 favorites, Hawaii dropped four spots to #24 in the AP and stayed at 22 in the USA Today poll. In the next two weeks, Hawaii hammered a bad UNLV team and destroyed its second I-AA opponent of the season, 66-10. Of Hawaii’s four wins, two were again I-AA powerhouses (apply sarcasm please) N. Colorado and Charleston Southern, the third was a narrow escape against a 27.5 underdog and the fourth was a shellacking of a bad, UNLV team. That resume now has Hawaii good enough for 19th in the AP, and 17th in the USA Today poll. Hawaii has the worst resume of any remaining undefeated team. In fact, Arkansas has a better resume at 1-2. The polls might as well start ranking Colt Brennan instead of Hawaii.
Virginia Tech, Penn St, and South Carolina
The AP and USA Today polls do not always share a brain. In this instance, only one of the polls is guilty of incompetence. The USA Today has Virginia Tech—a team which lost 48-7 at LSU—ranked #14. Meanwhile, it has S. Carolina—a team which lost 28-16 at LSU—ranked #21. Oh yeah, Virginia Tech’s best win was against 1-3 East Carolina. S. Carolina’s best win? It was at #16 Georgia. Penn St. has no business being ranked ahead of South Carolina, either.
Boise State and Washington
The AP is off the hook on this one too because neither team received a single vote. However, the USA Today poll shows 18 votes for Boise State and zero votes for Washington. Washington beat Boise State 24-10 while losing to Ohio State and UCLA both of which are better than any team that Boise State will play this year.
I’m not necessarily pissed that Tennessee isn’t ranked. They haven’t really beaten anyone. However, Tennessee provides a perfect example of one of the “tried and true” methods of the polls. Tennessee has lost at #3 Florida and at #6 California. Tennessee started the season ranked #15 in both polls. So, Tennessee loses on the road to two teams ranked considerably higher—teams that Tennessee is supposed to lose to—and gets one vote in the AP poll and four votes in the USA Today poll? Never mind that Tennessee only trailed 38-31 in the fourth quarter at Cal and only trailed 28-20 in the third quarter at Florida. Tennessee couldn’t be ranked by the polls even if it were a top 25 team. The polls do not have the ability to qualify losses based on who the losses were to and where the losses occurred. If the #2 team loses to the #1 team on the road by one point, it will drop even though everyone expected the #2 to lose (thus the ranking).
The AP poll is also exempt from this one. Louisville received 18 votes in the USA Today poll despite losing to a 36.5 underdog. Louisville’s loss to Syracuse goes down as the biggest upset in college football history in terms of margin of victory compared to the point spread. Syracuse had only scored 32 points in three games yet managed to put 38 on a terrible Louisville defense. Even worse, Louisville lost at home. I hope that the people who voted for Louisville just didn’t know that Louisville lost. That should be grounds for losing the privilege to vote but it wouldn’t be as bad as ranking Louisville with the knowledge that it lost to Syracuse.
Alabama dropped six spots in the AP poll and four spots in the USA Today poll for losing in overtime to Georgia. Georgia is ranked 15th and 16th respectively. If Alabama were judged purely on the merits of its wins and losses, and not by a polling system that follows the “lose and drop” code as if it were gospel, then Alabama wouldn’t have dropped at all. Because everyone has come to “expect” teams to drop, Alabama’s drop doesn’t appear to be that bad at four and six spots. However, Alabama had no business being dropped at all.
Michigan and Penn St.
I realize this presents a dilemma that most people don’t feel comfortable tackling. Most people do not feel comfortable ranking Michigan at this point for obvious reasons. Most people also don’t feel comfortable not ranking Penn St. at all because of a non-blow out loss. However, one of the two has to give. Penn St. hasn’t beaten anyone of note. It beat Notre Dame by 21. Michigan beat Notre Dame by 38 and beat Penn St. If all traditional poll-biases are removed, Michigan should be ranked ahead of Penn St. or at least receive more votes. For those of you who disagree, then maybe you’ll be happy with Michigan climbing into the top 15 over the next eight weeks as it gets to 8-2 by beating Eastern Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota and the like.
I’m certain that there are other “injustices” in the polls that I missed. Feel free to let me know if I left any out. Keep an eye on the Blogpoll each week to see how it differs from the “national polls”. I was very disappointed to see Arkansas fall out of the top 25 in the Blogpoll last week. Hopefully, that’ll be one of the few times the Blogpoll mimics the national polls.