10 August 2008

NCAA football preseason rankings

Preseason rankings in any sport are pointless. They exist to give the sports media something to talk about during the offseason, but can anyone really say for sure how well Brett Favre will do with the Jets or if Derrick Rose will be able to succeed at the professional level?

Nope. And even when there aren't major trades or draft picks involved, teams change way too much from season to season for anyone to accurately predict anything about them for the upcoming year.

But in general, preseason polls are harmless. It doesn't matter if San Francisco is picked as the best team in the NFL in August, because their performance on the field in September and October dictates where they finish in the end and what opportunities for glory they get.

But in college football, preseason polls matter, and they matter a lot. A team that starts the season ranked 56th in the nation has a zero percent chance of making it to a BCS bowl that year. Zero. They can go undefeated and clobber their opponents by 20 points per game, but in the end, they'll probably be ranked in the top 20 somewhere and go to the same type of bowl game a 6-6 team gets invited to.

Meanwhile, a team that starts the season ranked #1 can lose as many as two games and still make it to a BCS bowl. It's ridiculous.

A team like BYU or Utah has to have at least two consecutive dominant years to earn an outside shot at going to the Orange or Sugar Bowl. In a world where non-BCS teams have a tough time recruiting high-caliber athletes, that's tough to do.

I'd like to see preseason polling begin after week four. By that point we at least know who's looking good and who's looking terrible. We'll have seen Michigan get beat by Appalachian State. We'll notice that California is 4-0. We'll have tons of game film on running backs, quarterbacks, offensive lines, linebackers... the better to judge who should be #10 and who should be #11.

Of course, I've heard that coaches don't bother putting any time into their rankings, anyway, and journalists aren't much better, so maybe there wouldn't even be a difference.

The BCS poll doesn't come out until the fourth week, but is mostly influenced by human polling, so again, not much of a difference.

If there was a playoff in college football, the preseason poll would become meaningless as it is in the other major U.S. sports. An undefeated Troy could win the Sun Belt Conference championship and be given a shot at a national title. Would they beat an Ohio State or USC? Probably not. But at least we'd have it proven on the field instead of in the minds of voters.

Take each of the 11 conference champions at the end of the regular season, throw in a wild car slot, and make a 12-team playoff. It'll bring in gazillions of dollars to TV stations, the NCAA, each of the schools involved, etc. etc. It wouldn't affect the student athlete's studies any more than March Madness does. It would be awesome.

But of course, the current BCS members are obsessed with retaining as much money for themselves as they can, never mind the chance that they could make even more in a playoff. Until they suddenly get a clue, we're stuck with the imperfect system of all-powerful voting that rules the beautiful game of college football with an iron fist.


Josh said...

I agree. Preseason is lame. You get all hyped up, then teams get cocky and lose, so really, there's no point

MooKoo Joe said...

It's great for the media and all, but in the end, it really isn't anything.

The plan for a twelve team play-off, great! The only thing I could suggest is a few more wildcards. Say, make it a 16 team play-off. The wildcards, would be just that, wildcards. Like names drawn from a hat, then you'd probably get in some weaker teams who would never have a chance like this to be in the playoffs for the championship. Plus, those teams most likely won't win, and it'll be a morale boost for the better teams. This may sound evil, 'stomp on the little guy to feel better', but they'll be given the chance to play, learn, and perhaps make it to the semi's or the final showdown even!

Steve-O said...

I love it when you verbalize all of my thoughts. Thanks.

LaPaube said...

I will never get on the playoff football bandwagon. Sure, it's the only way to figure out who the real #1 is. But then I realized, does it matter who the real #1 is? Nope. There has never been an undisputed #1 college football team, and college football has always been awesome. And it will continue to be. Besides, BYU would never be able to claim a national championship if there would have been playoffs.

Brandon said...

Matty G, I don't know if we can be friends anymore. Yes, college football is awesome, but the question is: can it be MORE awesome?

I submit that yes, yes it can. How, you ask? Playoff, I say. You love March Madness, right? What if college basketball did away with that aspect of the game? I can't imagine you'd be cool with it.

And who says BYU 1984 wouldn't have won a national championship in a playoff? I can't say for sure they would have, but you can't say for sure they wouldn't. It's the beauty of sport.

LaPaube said...

Eh, I used to like March Madness, but I haven't watched it in a few years. I don't watch college hoop any more. Besides, I'm just not convinced that national tournaments are for college kids. You can have conference championships and stuff, and just have fun with your regular season and bowl game. Do bowl games instead of a tourney for basketball, I don't care.

Besides, people are thinking that a four-, eight-, or sixteen-team playoff will produce an undisputed champion. But how will they be chosen? Either by straight opinion ranking, or by taking each conference champion and a few wildcards. It's ridiculous to think that either of those methods will result in an undisputed tournament field.

How would a playoff avoid those problems? By including about 64 teams. But then you'd have to shorten the regular season, which would suck for teams that don't make it. So play on, young men, and look forward to the Western Family Idaho Bowl vs. the 6th-place PAC-10 team.

Also, I'm waiting for an explanation of how a 12-team tournament would break down. A subsequent post should explain that, B. 12 to 6 to...?

Brandon said...

If you can't win your own conference, you don't deserve a shot at the national championship.

We can push it to 16 teams if you'd rather the math be all pretty. :)

Look, we're coming from two different sides here... either you think a playoff would be good for college football or you're a fan of everyone and their dog quailifing for mediocre bowls and there being one "national championship" game where Ohio State gets smacked around. Booooring.

LaPaube said...

Guaranteed the Big 10 and SEC, and other conferences, would still make noise about having more than one team that should make it into the tournament. And until the tourney includes at least 32 teams, you will always have fringe teams that didn't quite make it whining that nobody knows if they could have won, because they didn't let them in. You know a field of 16 wouldn't be big enough.

Filbert Karo said...

Ok, so Lapaube is Matty Gibb..hmmm now i know hehe jk

Brandon said...

Don't care, G. If you can't win your conference, you don't deserve a shot at a national championship. That's as fair as it's going to get, and it's a far cry better than what we have now.

LaPaube said...

Sample argument that would be used by the teams that didn't get in: "You're judging us on the one conference loss we had, but just because we lost a game in September doesn't mean we couldn't win this tournament now." Lots of teams improve quite a bit during the season, and if you want to have a true national championship you have to find out who's the best in December. Your system of getting all conference champs together just rewards teams for their entire season's performance, instead of testing who can win the tournament. That's pretty much like the current system in principle. But I thought the calls for a playoff were justified by people wanting to see it played out on the field.

Brandon said...

That argument exists with March Madness. Shoot, a team could make that point about the NBA or NFL playoffs.

Fact of the matter is, playoff berths are earned over the course of the year. Not who is hot right this second.