The Absurdity of Preseason College Football Rankings

ap logoIt is an understatement to say that Americans love football, especially collegiate football.  As a society, we are infatuated by the sport, craving it morning, noon, and night year round.

To suggest that anything could possibly be wrong with the sport seems like the most severe form of blasphemy there is.  After all, most of us swear allegiance to a team (or in the case of some fans an entire conference) and will defend our program (again or conference) to the bitter end.

Yet, nothing is perfect. Not even in the realm of college football.

The fact that there are preseason rankings is one of the most bizarre aspects not just in college football, but in all of sports.

How do you rate teams that you have never seen play?

Sure you saw the team that was fielded last season and seasons before, but you have not seen this version of the team perform ever.  Things change, coaches leave, players matriculate, former five star high school recruits fail to develop, while former two star recruits blossom into fixtures in the lineup so how can anybody accurately rank the top 25 out of the 125 FBS schools?

It is less of an issue now that there is a selection committee, but still come on, why should fans even pay these rankings attention for the first four or five weeks of the year?

Voters are doing their best to judge these teams, but they have no relevant information to go on and it shows by season’s end.

About half of the time the pollsters just vote last year’s champion No. 1 to start the year.   In the 65 year history of the AP Poll the defending National Champion started the year off in the top spot  23 times to be exact.  Only three times did said National Champion end the year at No. 1 (USC in 2004 and Oklahoma in 1975 and 1956).

The only things voters can use to gauge how good these teams are at the start of the year are rough predictions about recruits and last season’s results, not actual football games played this particular year.

Seriously ask yourself why does matter if in week 2 of the season Wossamatta U, led by Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle Moose, beat the Mud City Manglers who just so happen to be the No. 16 team in the AP Poll (shout out to all you Rocky and Bullwinkle fans out there)?

It honestly should not matter until the regular season ends and we get to compare wins and losses.  If the Mud City Manglers go on to regroup and lose maybe one or two more games then that is a noteworthy win for Wossamatta U.  However, if Mud City implodes on itself the rest of the season then that win losses some luster, but we will not know the implications until the later in the season.

There are several real life examples of preseason top 25 teams winning games over top 25 opponents. Texas A&M, UGA, and LSU all won their week one games against preseason top 25 teams.

The Gamecocks hardly looked like a Top 25 team against the Aggies, let alone a team that should start the year off at No. 9 in the AP Poll.  Why were they even there, after all they lost Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw, and a host of other key players?

South Carolina fell all the way to No. 21 after their opening night loss and if that does not show you how asinine preseason polls are nothing will.  It might seem harsh, but since the only game we have seen South Carolina play this year was that debacle then they should not be ranked.

On the other hand, Texas A&M came in ranked No. 21 in the preseason AP Poll and after crushing South Carolina jumped all the way to No. 9.  That is a 12 spot jump based off of one game against a team that appears to be severely overrated.

Nobody knows how good either team is yet, so pollsters should not waste time ranking them.

To truly see the damage preseason rankings cause take a look at the 2010 college football season.  A season that saw Ohio State start off at No. 2, Wisconsin start the year at No. 12, and Michigan State start the year off unranked.

The Spartans avoided playing the Buckeyes but beat Wisconsin that year.  All three teams finished the season with just one loss, tied for the Big Ten Championship, and ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll.

However, because the Badgers and Buckeyes started off ranked in the preseason poll, they had a proverbial head start on the Spartans in the rankings.  Michigan State did not have enough to jump either school despite being No. 9 in the nation and beating Wisconsin.   Thus, Sparty missed out on a BCS game (they went on to get slaughtered by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl , but using Nick Saban logic the Spartans were just too disappointed to show up after being so close to the Rose Bowl).

There will always be teams that are overrated and others that are underrated, but pollsters should probably wait until actual games are played to start ranking them.

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him  @Conradicalness for live tweets from games.



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