Preseason polls are baseless, but they shape our perception of the college football season. This would be fine if the polls were merely debate fodder, but in football they matter. The coaches poll is factored into the BCS formula and influences which teams will play for the national title. Instead of placing teams into an arbitrary framework before the season, why not wait until we have seen everyone play?
Alabama is number one. Ohio State is number two. If both teams are undefeated, they almost assuredly will play in the title game. Let’s say Texas is the most dominant team in the country. They could run the table, but would have to hope Alabama or Ohio State lost or they won emphatically enough to justify knocking Alabama or Ohio State off the perch. Those teams did nothing to be placed there initially.
Even beyond the national title picture, the preseason poll affects how teams are fare. Let’s say Florida and Auburn end up being equally good teams. Both go 10-3 with virtually identical statistics. Florida is a disappointment. Auburn is a success, solely because of the preseason ranking. Florida would be ranked higher, because Auburn did not “prove” they were better.
What if the official polls began after Week Four? We would still have a vague perception of where teams fit in before that and discuss it, but nothing would be calcified. Teams would be rated on what they accomplished rather than their recruiting class and returning starters. If Texas looked better than Alabama after four games, they would be ahead of Alabama in the initial poll. If Notre Dame plowed through Purdue, Michigan, MSU and Stanford, that would justify a high ranking.
Starting the official polls at midseason would make them more fair and more accurate. They would reflect a team’s performance this season, rather than how teams performed relative to what we first thought.
Beginning the polls later also would incentivize teams to justify themselves with a competitive non-conference schedule. Alabama would be jockeying for a number one ranking rather than maintaining it. They don’t schedule both San Jose St. and Duke and play off national television two of the first three weeks.
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