Everything in college football is judged by polls. Teams are ranked from the preseason till after the national championship. We all want the four or eight best teams playing for the championship. Preseason polls make that nearly impossible to achieve because they distort the rankings and data for the rest of the season. Eleven of the top 25 teams in the 2018 preseason didn’t even finish ranked. In 2017, nine didn’t finish ranked. In 2016, 13 didn’t finish ranked. It is very common that those early season matchups that were so hyped up turned out to be nothing burgers, but they did affect the rankings.
What is the purpose of preseason polls if they are so incredibly wrong. The goal is to find the four best teams in the nation and let them fight it out for the national championship. However, that is nearly impossible to get right because the preseason polls give miss information that only further convolutes the process of determining who the best four teams are for the College Football Playoff. If you are not convinced yet, I have proof.
This will be a journey down the rabbit hole so please hang on tight and keep and an open mind. The polls regularly reflect the voters desire to be right about their preseason selections rather than looking at the data objectively. Here are a few glaring examples of the head-scratchers:
1. Wisconsin came into the season ranked #4. In the week four poll, Wisconsin was 2-1 and ranked #18 with wins over New Mexico and Western Kentucky. The team they lost to, BYU (2-1) was ranked #24. And the team that beat BYU was Cal (3-0), who was unranked. How on earth does that make sense?
2. Texas trashed Georgia in their bowl game yet Georgia finished above Texas in the final AP poll. Georgia is talented and was a sexy pick for the College Football Playoff after started #3 in the preseason? They both finished the season with the exact same amount of wins (2) over top 25 teams, and they have a head to head matchup.
3. Northwestern finished 8-1 in the Big Ten and only got 13 votes in the preseason poll.
4. Stanford came into the season ranked #13. They won their bowl game to finish the season 9-4. So how did the Cardinal finish unranked while seven other teams with at least four losses were ranked? Stanford’s only losses were to top 25 teams: Notre Dame, Utah, Washington, and Washington State. Three of those teams finished in the top 14.
SEC Preseason Poll Magic
5. Early in the season that LSU had two top 10 wins (Miami, Auburn). Those wins propelled LSU from #25 in the AP Poll to #5. Neither Miami or Auburn finished ranked. So, those two wins weren’t nearly as good as they were portrayed publicly. That eventually set up an “epic top 5 showdown” between Alabama and LSU. Alabama won the game 29-0, and LSU got a quality loss. The Football Playoff Committee then still had the Tigers ranked #7.
6. Now let us look at Florida. They came into the season unranked. At the end of the regular season, the Gators finished #10 in the country but only beat one team that finished in the top 25. In week six they beat the “#5 team” in the nation LSU which we just learned about. The next week they beat 3-4 Vanderbilt and were ranked #9. That set up a top 10 showdown with #7 Georgia. Georgia won, so adding that to their preseason hype only magnifies the SEC table thumping.
7. Kentucky finished the regular season at #10 in the nation despite only beating one team (Florida) that finished the season in the top 25
There were so many more examples, but you get the point. This is not a knock on LSU, Georgia, Kentucky, or Florida. All are talented teams that had a great season. However, they are just prime examples in 2018 of how preseason polls manipulate the rankings and end up leaving the SEC overhyped. They ultimately only ended up judged from games they played against themselves.
Fans Deserve Better
Imagine a world where there are no preseason rankings, and polls start after week four. There would have been information on teams that came into the season with so much hype. We would have already known Miami, FSU, USC, TCU, Auburn, and Wisconsin weren’t as good as advertised. Teams that beat them would get credit, but wouldn’t falsely rise so far in the polls. Starting the rankings after four weeks would create a much more accurate representation of schedule strength and conference strength. Right now we rank teams before they have played a down of football. We have seen time and time again that a top 5 talented team doesn’t make them a top 5 team.
In addition, if the preseason polls were eliminated college football fans would get much more of what they really want and deserve; great games. Teams would no longer have the luxury of preseason top 5 rankings while playing a cupcake non-conference schedule. You would see many more teams trying to put big names on their schedules early in the season to propel them to the playoffs. Fans would respond to that by eliminating the attendance problems many schools are facing. And viewership who certainly increase. All of which leads to more money for everyone except the student-athletes who are actually generating the money, but I digress.
Get rid of preseason polls and Make College Football Greater.