Random thought on a Saturday morning

That West Virginia-Louisville matchup has sure lost some of its preseason allure, hasn’t it?

Last night provided another excellent reason why college polls shouldn’t get underway until the season has a few weeks under its belt.  Schools like WVU and Louisville achieve lofty ratings, primarily because they play in conferences that lack depth, and routinely get exposed.  That was not a #5 team we saw play last night.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Random thought on a Saturday morning

  1. kckd

    And show me one season it would’ve made any difference in terms of tempering controversy.

    Haven’t seen anyone do that yet.

    As far as that goes, why even have a poll at all. Rank ‘em at the end of the regular season and go from there. Two polls, one pre bowl and one post bowl.

    So what,? WVU wasn’t the no. 5 ranked team. Now they won’t be.

    This one has always intrigued me. Exactly what difference does it all make?

  2. Solon

    Senator:

    I love your work, but with regard to this topic, I do not think starting the polls later would make a difference.

    The problem is that for the most part, media opinion is uniform, i.e., after a couple of weeks this season, everyone was talking about how USC, LSU, and Oklahoma had separated themselves from everyone else, and after Florida beat UT handily they were added to the mix as well.

    Nevermind that USC’s big win over Nebraska–diminished by Ball State’s effort against them–or Florida’s close call against Ole Miss should have, in an ideal world, caused a reassessment of these teams–once the media has settled on something, they aren’t likely to change their opinion.

    The point being, if all the media does week after week is talk about how great USC, LSU, Oklahoma and Florida are, whenever people eventually rank the teams they will be at the top.

    Do you think, for example, if a particular poll debuted this week, that Arizona State, South Florida, or Mizzou would be ranked ahead of Wisconsin?

  3. Brian

    My main issue is when media members will rank a previous season winner #1 (or really high) because “they are the champion until someone knocks them off”. Though that apparently doesn’t apply to SEC teams.

  4. Penguin

    WVU may not be a truly elite team based on their performance. But after yesterday I don’t know that there are 10 elite teams in the country.

    There is a lot less difference between 5 and 25 than there used to me.

    Will

  5. Solon, I agree that the media as a whole are sheep. Lazy sheep.

    But even though that’s the case, there are still changes that creep into the national picture, rational or otherwise. For example, the media has decided in the past couple of seasons, no doubt in the wake of Georgia’s humiliating loss in the Sugar Bowl, that the top of the Big East matches up with any other power conference in the country. Two top 10 teams in the ’07 preseason polls, with a third in the top 20, illustrated that.

    Now the reality is that, if you’ve watched much Big East football, no school in that conference plays the kind of defense you see from teams in the ACC, Big 10, Pac-10 or SEC. And the bottom of the Big East is very weak.

    Sure, there are schools like Louisville and WVU that are offensive powerhouses, but still have little on their resumes to justify being ranked in the top 10. They’ve gotten there based on flash and the perceptions that their records will be gaudy at season’s end (largely because the conference is so weak at the bottom).

    But back to my original point, the rise of the Big East is a recent development. So the media’s perception of which schools deserved to be ranked and where can and does change over time.

    Granted, I had no idea what kind of an earthquake would hit the top 25 this past weekend, but don’t you think that many voters would, all things being equal, just as soon avoid the embarrassment of being shown up by some of their absurd preseason rankings?

    And if you’re asking what difference this all makes, here’s my response to that. Now, if you’re only going to allow conference champs into the tourney, whatever form that may take, then I don’t have much of a concern. But otherwise, I feel that the system is gamed to some extent by the preseason order.

    And one more thing to ponder here: if, as you assert, it doesn’t make any difference when you start the polls, what harm is there in delaying the initial voting until we’re five weeks into the season?

  6. Solon

    Shit. I just typed the most thorough, well-thought-out response to your post, and my POS computer decided to crap out right before I submitted.

    Truth is, this will probably be better. In summary:
    On polls:
    (1) No problem with starting the polls later.
    (2) The only thing that would really have a tangible effect, though, would be at the very top, and this will have little effect on who plays in a title game.
    (3) Teams like Zona State in 1996, LSU in 2003, and Auburn in 2004 are still jobbed if the polls start later. They’d have higher rankings in a poll that started in mid-October than if you started the polls in August, but their rankings in mid-October are probably not that much different than would happen with the normal attrition in the polls that run all season.

    On the Big East:
    (1) The Big East is worse than the SEC or the Pac 10, but not worse than the other conferences.
    (2) At the bottom, Syracuse boasts a win over what will be a bowl team on the road. Duke, NW, Baylor, and Stanford won’t do that; I doubt Ole Miss will, either. And Pitt, the 7th best team, played MSU even on the road. And MSU played Wisconsin even on the road.
    (3) In the middle, Cincy, Rut, Lou, and UConn are comparable to the middle of the Big 10, ACC, and Big 12. Not that they’d come out ahead against them all, but they’d hold their own.
    (4) Confused regarding the statement on Big East defenses. USF, Cincy, and Rutgers are all better than any D in the Big 10 outside of Penn State. And, hell, that’s almost 1/2 of the conference.
    (5) Also confused as to why you are worried about Big East teams running the table, given last year’s results. First WVU, then Louisville, then Rutgers all stood as a BCS contender, before knocked off by a conference opponent–in the case of WVU and Rutgers, twice.

    Meanwhile, the situation you describe is a very real fear with regard to the Big 10, where whoever emerges from Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue will likely be in the title game unless USC/Cal or LSU run the table.

    This was also the case last season, where Michigan and OSU did very little all season, ran through a weak conference, and were consensus #1 and #2 at the end of the season primarily due to early wins over ND and Texas–both of whom, as it turned out, were fabulously overrated.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more cheated if Wisconsin–with their close non-conference wins over UNLV and The Citadel, and their presence in a conference with no especially good teams–made it to the title game over USF, who at least has beaten Auburn on the road, and faces a couple of challenges in-conference at least as tough as anything Wisconsin will face.

  7. Solon, some thoughts in response to your thoughts:

    … Teams like Zona State in 1996, LSU in 2003, and Auburn in 2004 are still jobbed if the polls start later. They’d have higher rankings in a poll that started in mid-October than if you started the polls in August, but their rankings in mid-October are probably not that much different than would happen with the normal attrition in the polls that run all season.

    I blogged about this before with regard to Auburn in 2004. At least with regard to that example, I don’t necessarily buy your argument. Check out the polls in Week 12 – Auburn and Oklahoma were in a virtual tie, and that’s with the Tigers having to claw their way up from the preseason.

    On the Big East:
    (1) The Big East is worse than the SEC or the Pac 10, but not worse than the other conferences.
    (2) At the bottom, Syracuse boasts a win over what will be a bowl team on the road. Duke, NW, Baylor, and Stanford won’t do that; I doubt Ole Miss will, either. And Pitt, the 7th best team, played MSU even on the road. And MSU played Wisconsin even on the road.
    (3) In the middle, Cincy, Rut, Lou, and UConn are comparable to the middle of the Big 10, ACC, and Big 12. Not that they’d come out ahead against them all, but they’d hold their own.
    (4) Confused regarding the statement on Big East defenses. USF, Cincy, and Rutgers are all better than any D in the Big 10 outside of Penn State. And, hell, that’s almost 1/2 of the conference.
    (5) Also confused as to why you are worried about Big East teams running the table, given last year’s results. First WVU, then Louisville, then Rutgers all stood as a BCS contender, before knocked off by a conference opponent–in the case of WVU and Rutgers, twice.

    As to the Big East, some of your arguments are good, some not as strong. Syracuse caught lightning in a bottle against Louisville, but returned to their rightful place last weekend. Yes, it has a fluky win that other bottom dwellers don’t, but I’m not sure at the end of the season that the Orangemen’s body of work will be as strong, as, say Ole Miss’. We’ll see.

    You’re right to correct me on my statement about Big East defense. What I should have said was that the top teams in that conference don’t play defense as well as the top teams in other conferences. But, even so, what, for example, do we really know about Cincy’s defense, given its schedule to date?

    I’m hesitant with these bottom vs. bottom, middle vs. middle comparisons between conferences, because of the difference in sample sizes. That being said, you’re right about Pitt playing a competitive game against MSU. It’s just that I have a hard time giving any team credit that gets smoked by an Al Groh-coached team (I say that as a disgruntled UVA alum). ;)

    And I’ve never been worried about Big East teams running the table (although before the season started, I did think Louisville had an outside shot this year of making that kind of run). Quite the opposite. I object to the media (and coaches) overrating those teams in the early polls and distorting the rankings as a result because they believe – mistakenly – that that’s what will happen because of weak scheduling (going into the USF game, I think ESPN disclosed WVU’s strength of schedule as #114).

    Meanwhile, the situation you describe is a very real fear with regard to the Big 10, where whoever emerges from Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue will likely be in the title game unless USC/Cal or LSU run the table.

    I agree. But I’m willing to entertain the possibility that OSU may wind up being a top five team.

    This was also the case last season, where Michigan and OSU did very little all season, ran through a weak conference, and were consensus #1 and #2 at the end of the season primarily due to early wins over ND and Texas–both of whom, as it turned out, were fabulously overrated.

    In hindsight, yes. But I don’t remember many people claiming that OSU was overrated until after the BCS title game. And don’t forget that Florida had its share of close calls and breaks to get to that game.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a lot more cheated if Wisconsin–with their close non-conference wins over UNLV and The Citadel, and their presence in a conference with no especially good teams–made it to the title game over USF, who at least has beaten Auburn on the road, and faces a couple of challenges in-conference at least as tough as anything Wisconsin will face.

    Based on results to date, so would I. But who knows where we’ll be five weeks from now? And, more on point with my main argument, how much of USF’s bounce in the polls this week is due to the perception that it beat the #5 team in the country?

  8. kckd

    Senator,

    I agree that you can delay them for all I care. But why the hell is this such a big thing for you. Again, show one season in the past 25, with the advent of virtually every game of minimal to real importance being televised, that this would make one shred of difference.

    This is like calling an emergency city council meeting to change the city limit signs from green to yellow.

    It’s a complete waste of time when there are far better things for the college thinking heads to be addressing.

  9. kckd

    And boys, regarding that Wisconsin run through a weakass conference to the MNC game.

    We’ve seen this happen in college football numerous times. WVU didn’t belong on the same field with ND in 1988. For all the Vick hype and his incredible quarter, VTech was not even close to being the second best team in college football in 1999 and they both made the game the same way.

    Senator don’t want to talk about it and wants to blame it on preseason polls, but that wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans. Neither one of those schools started anywhere near the top five at the beginning of the year. This preseason poll stuff is simply one large cow turd that has nothing to do with the problem of the college football national championship.

  10. …This preseason poll stuff is simply one large cow turd that has nothing to do with the problem of the college football national championship.

    Well, if you disagree with me about Auburn ’04 (which you do), you might be right. However, I think reasonable minds can differ on this. How could you prove it, anyway?

    Anyway, I think it becomes a much bigger issue when you enlarge the playoff pool.

  11. kckd

    That’s my point, you can’t prove it. The only thing you ever pull out is 2004 and the only way, the only way it would’ve been proven is if OU were beaten in another bowl game while AU played SC. No matter the outcome of the AU/SC game. We’re still left to ponder OU.

    You continue to argue from hindsight, knowing full well that AU was better than Oklahoma because of the bowl result. That poll junk doesn’t give you hindsight. It only fixes things if you have hindsight.

  12. Now that’s not entirely true.

    As I pointed out to Solon, go back to my post that I linked and then, in turn, track back to ESPN’s archives of the 2004 polls. People forget, but Auburn caught Oklahoma in the polls in Week 12. How different might things have been by that point in the season if Auburn hadn’t had to claw its way up from its lowly preseason start?

  13. kckd

    Senator, damn.

    It’s not about Auburn being no. 2. It’s about three teams being undefeated. You can start a poll in February, March, or Dec. 20th if you want. It’s not gonna change that.

    I’m not arguing that starting it later wouldn’t have put Auburn at no. 2. I’m saying the controversy would still be the same had OU done what AU did and won their bowl game.

    I’m saying that hindsight gives you the insight to know for certain that OU was not as good as Auburn. Auburn being in front of an undefeated OU is no different than OU being in front of an undefeated AU.

    Do you honestly think if AU and SC had played a one point NC game (doesn’t even matter who the winner is) and OU had won whatever bowl they went to, that their wouldn’t have been articles written galore, all over the country that maybe the wrong team got the trophy?

    And if either had blown the other out, certainly many would’ve said OU would have been a better opponent.

  14. I’m saying that hindsight gives you the insight to know for certain that OU was not as good as Auburn. Auburn being in front of an undefeated OU is no different than OU being in front of an undefeated AU.

    How do you know OU would have played the same undefeated season chasing Auburn in the polls if they’d have started in week six or seven? What if they couldn’t have handled the pressure?

    You simply don’t know how much of an effect it had – none of us can. But why even have the appearance of an unbalanced playing field in the mix?

    And you haven’t addressed the issue of whether it becomes a larger problem in the context of a formal four or eight team playoff…

  15. kckd

    I’ve addressed it many times.

    I could be wrong, but I doubt there would be a huge outcry for a one loss to two loss team ranked fifth not getting in. Maybe from their school, AD or HC. But it would simply be a blip on the radar nationally. It’d get some press time, but that’d be it.

    You couldn’t even mention the nc game in 2003 or 2004 without mentioning the third team.

    How do you know OU wouldn’t have? If I were betting my life on it because I had to, I think I’d go with OU winning out. They pretty much went into most weekends knowing that if they didn’t continue winning the majority of their games in convincing fashion, they’d slip anyways.

    An unbalanced playing field?

    Take away your hindsight for a sec. Senator. Make an argument only based on what we’d seen up until the bowl games started. And show me that OU deserved the MNC any less than AU did. They had to vote someone second and it was OU. Would you be making this argument had AU been voted no. 2 for OU? I’m sure a Big 12 fan probably would who thought preseason polls were the ruination of college football. But you have about as much evidence to prove your case here as OJ’s defense attorneys had of conspiracies. But hey they sold it to 12 suckers on a jury. I’m sure you’ll have some buying it.

  16. Solon

    Well, I’m not sure what to say now.

    Bottom line–good point with regard to Aub clawing its way up in 2004. I actually stand by OU being in the title game; their schedule was tougher than Auburn’s (the Big 12 was better than the SEC that season–in fact, the SEC was as bad as I remember it ever being–and OU’s OOC schedule was markedly better), and, in addition, they were more impressive against it. The only legitimate reason against keeping OU out of the title game was their collapse at the end of the season previous–which, maybe, should have been considered.

    Although please note with your scenario, when the polls eventually came out Auburn wouldn’t have beaten the #4 and #9 teams in the nation–they would have need a miracle at home to beat a team that got annihilated by Georgia the following week (LSU), and beaten a team that (ultimately) would lose to ND and win only one SEC game by more than 7 points (Tenn). OU’s win over Texas, rightly or wrongly, would have probably counted for more than either of these.

    With regard to the Big 10, I thought last season that maybe OSU and Michigan would both be exposed–I didn’t really buy Wisconsin as legit, and other than PSU, who had no offense whatsoever, there was no one else worth anything in the conference (and, note that PSU lost to Mich by 7, and was within 8 of OSU with 2 minutes left). And, as it turned out, USC played half a game and beat Mich, and Florida had won their game by half against OSU.

    Recently, there hasn’t been such a stark gap between the best and the rest of any conference, but it was in full evidence last season in the Big 10. And, perhaps this season as well. We shall see.

    On a semi-related note, I was always stunned by the seeming amazement of the announcers (5-10 years ago) that the winner of the FSU-Miami game was always in the title game every year (or, in the case of 2000, the loser of the FSU-Miami game). It wasn’t too hard to figure out why–no one in their respective conferences challenged either one–so the winner of their OOC game had a massive leg up in the title race (FSU had to beat UF, and Miami had to beat either VT or WV–rarely were each legitimate the same season–but that was really it).

    To be fair, those Miami and FSU teams in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s were pretty good teams, but there’s a reason that FSU lost as a double-digit ‘dog to OU, and Miami lost as a double-digit ‘dog to OSU.

    I think, to a much smaller extent, we saw that dynamic with the Pac 10 the last couple seasons–some Pac 10 teams have been legit, but no one has been anywhere near USC’s class–and I think we are seeing it with the Big 10 now.

  17. Solon

    Sorry, I typed that wrong–FSU and Miami were both favorites, not underdogs. Obviously.

  18. Solon, good points in rebuttal.

    I guess where I’m at on this could be summarized as follows:

    1. As the Schlabach article shows, there is a residual amount of prejudice in voters’ minds, most likely due to a combination of program reputation and the previous season’s results, that consistently skews the rankings in the preseason polls.

    2. Because of that, teams that are ranked outside the top 10 in the preseason polls are unlikely to compete for a national championship in the absence of an undefeated season.

    3. Also because of that, teams that are initially ranked in the top 8 stand a much better chance of surviving a loss and staying in the MNC hunt when a loss occurs.

    4. While the AP poll no longer is a factor in BCS calculations, the coaches’ poll, which begins before the start of the season, is (at least the Harris Poll waits a few weeks before getting started).

    5. There is a likelihood that the postseason pool for the BCS title game will be expanded in the near future, either by means of a “plus one” or straight four team playoff. In either event, such an expansion would increase the significance of being a preseason top 8 school (although that significance would begin to decrease should the powers that be decide to expand the D-1 playoffs even further), in the absence of a requirement that only conference champs could qualify for the BCS title game.

    6. Given the above, and since there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it would cause any harm to do so, I believe that postponing the voting for the initial polls until there is at least a six week body of work to evaluate is a prudent move.

    Ditching the polls entirely as a means of determining an MNC would be an even better solution, most likely, but that’s a different can of worms it’s probably best to open another time.