Explaining 9 Key Differences Between the Preseason AP Poll & Coaches Poll
photo from examiner.com
With the AP Preseason Top 25 poll due to be released this weekend, it’s interesting to discuss the differences between the AP’s rankings and those of the Coaches Poll, which was released on Aug. 2.
The existence of both major polls and their association or disassociation with the current BCS model is one of the primary reasons college football is so unnecessarily complex and why its championship determinant is challenged so vehemently.
How can you have a poll that contributes to the BCS formula and determines the title game participants and then a separate poll that could plausibly vote its own separate champion?
The following slideshow pinpoints nine key differences between the two major polls that so affect the current climate of college football.
Though many folks like to argue that preseason polls have no real bearing on the actual season, it’s difficult to completely dismiss the idea that the voting has at least some minimal impact on the campaign that lies ahead.
photo from en.wikipedia.org
The age difference between the two polls that underscores the modern edition of college football is not as substantial as you might think.
The AP first started ranking college football teams in 1934 and then, after a two-year pause, it has been operating its poll continuously since 1936.
The Coaches Poll, on the other hand, has been ranking institutional gridiron squads since 1950.
What’s a little misleading about the age of the Coaches Poll is its name, which was changed in 1991 to facilitate USA Today and CNN’s takeover of the poll from the UP/UPI (United Press International), who ran the poll and was its namesake from 1950-91. ESPN replaced CNN as the “co-sponsor” from 1997-2005 but was eventually dropped due to an obvious conflict of interest. USA Today is currently the sole benefactor of the current Coaches poll.
Both polls haven’t always used the 25-team limit as their format; the AP began its service with 20 teams, went to 10 in the mid 1960s, returned to a 20-team format for a couple of decades and finally reached the current 25-team cutoff in 1989.
The Coaches Poll (again, formerly the UP/UPI Poll) format began as a 15-team sweepstakes and then expanded to 25 in 1990.
Generally speaking, the preseason edition of the Coaches Poll is released in early August while the AP version is given to the public approximately two weeks later in mid-August.
What’s interesting about the timing difference is that coaches vote in and release their poll before the annual rash of player suspensions, due to any violations of team policies, arrests, altercations, etc. that have occurred during the offseason, are handed down.
Though it’s not always true in every specific instance, the AP poll is normally released after this string of press releases.
How this affects the actual voting is hard to determine, but it will be interesting to see if LSU, who earned a No. 1 ranking in the 2012 preseason Coaches poll, will lose any ground in the AP poll due to the announcement of the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu.
The news regarding Mathieu came about a week after the Coaches Poll was released and therefore approximately a week before the AP poll comes out.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
The issue of who casts a ballot in each poll is obviously the major difference between the two services, and this is the case regardless of what time of year it is.
Yes, do you think a group of college football coaches (guys who cannot be completely unbiased…ummm…Lane Kiffin) should decide the best 25 teams in college football, or instead should it be left to a panel of media types who cover the sport but are not actually involved in the playing of it?
There certainly are conflict of interests inherent to the underlying ideals of the Coaches poll and then you have the fact that college football head coaches are really busy guys who might not have time to cover every single team’s progress through a season.
On the other hand, how can we assured that the AP voters are unbiased when they cast their votes, and truly what qualifications do they possess to wield such power?
As far as who is voting in 2012 in each poll, following is a breakdown.
USA Today Coaches Poll: the 59 FBS coaches voting in 2012 are David Bailiff, Rice; Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Tim Beckman, Illinois; Bret Bielema, Wisconsin; Terry Bowden, Akron; Art Briles, Baylor; Troy Calhoun, Air Force; Matt Campbell, Toledo; Gene Chizik, Auburn; Dave Christensen, Wyoming; Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State; Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Jimbo Fisher, Florida State; Kyle Flood, Rutgers; James Franklin, Vanderbilt; Al Golden, Miami (Fla.); Jim Grobe, Wake Forest; Darrell Hazell, Kent State; Brady Hoke, Michigan; Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia; Skip Holtz, South Florida; Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette; Curtis Johnson, Tulane; Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss; Butch Jones, Cincinnati; Brian Kelly, Notre Dame; Lane Kiffin, Southern California (who has since relinquished his vote); Mike Leach, Washington State; Pete Lembo, Ball State; Tony Levine, Houston; Mike London, Virginia; Rocky Long, San Diego State; Dan McCarney, North Texas; Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State; Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina; Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State; Bronco Mendenhall, BYU; Les Miles, LSU; George O'Leary, Central Florida; Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut; Bo Pelini, Nebraska; Chris Petersen, Boise State; Joker Phillips, Kentucky; Paul Rhoads, Iowa State; Mark Richt, Georgia; Mike Riley, Oregon State; Rich Rodriguez, Arizona; Nick Saban, Alabama; Steve Sarkisian, Washington; Frank Solich, Ohio; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina; Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma; Dabo Swinney, Clemson; Jeff Tedford, California; Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech; Kevin Wilson, Indiana.
Breaking it down further, by conference the voting breaks out thus: The SEC tops the charts with seven voters, in a five-way tie for second with six voters each are the ACC, the Big Ten, C-USA, the MAC and the Pac-12, next with five voters each are the Big 12 and the MWC, tied for No. 4 with four voters each are the Big East and the Sun Belt and finally, in last place, with two voters each are the WAC and the Independents.
The AP Poll: The AP Poll is conducted by soliciting the votes of 65 sportswriters and broadcasters. If you are interested in reviewing the entire list (though this specific list may be a bit outdated, you’ll get an idea of how it works). Follow the link provided here, AP voters.
It is interesting to note that of the 41 states that have an FBS member, all 41 are represented on the AP voter committee.
Treatment of Teams Suffering Sanctions
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
The issue of how each poll handles teams that are currently under NCAA sanctions (that include a postseason ban) is crucial in understanding the difference between the two, especially given the current climate of college football.
The USA Today Coaches Poll, by rule, does not allow teams that are under “major NCAA or conference sanctions" to receive votes.” It is important to note that this is an American Football Coaches of America policy, not a USA Today rule, and since the coaches who vote are AFCA members, you won’t see a sanctioned team in the Coaches Poll.
For 2012 you WILL NOT see North Carolina, Ohio State or Penn State in the Coaches Poll, regardless of how well they play or how many games they win. The question of UCF (Central Florida) is still up in the air and will be decided once the NCAA rules on the school’s pending appeal.
The flip side of this is that you WILL see North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State and UCF in the AP Poll for 2012, as it does not abide by the AFCA policy.
Even though the banned teams will not participate in the postseason this year, the AP poll seems to have an edge in fairness and accuracy in this specific area because it rates all teams that are actually playing football, as opposed to just those who can play past the beginning of December.
Simply put, just because you can’t play in a bowl game does not mean that you are not one of the 25 best teams in college football.
Impact Later in the Season
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Another interesting distinction between the AP and the Coaches Poll is the issue of their very different impacts on the actual outcome of the college football season.
While the Coaches Poll voting will, in mid October, become a key element in the BCS formula, the AP poll no longer has a bearing on the BCS standings that ultimately will decide who plays for a national title in January.
The AP was ousted from the formula after the 2004 season (by its own choice) and was replaced by the Harris Interactive Poll, which does not release a preseason ranking and which won’t publish any results until mid October.
Though it would be difficult to argue that the preseason Coaches Poll has an overwhelming impact on the BCS standings, it’s impossible to deny that the foundation of the poll is set the first time that it’s published.
To be clear, the first votes do matter because teams must then move up or down based on where they started from.
To illustrate, LSU (the 2012 preseason Coaches Poll No. 1) is going to have to lose to move down—meaning if they win every game they’ll be ranked higher in the Coaches Poll in October, November and December (when the final BCS standings are calculated) than USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, Georgia or Florida State, if they similarly go undefeated.
This becomes an even bigger deal if you have more than two undefeated teams when the final standings are calculated and every little half point counts.
This gives LSU a huge advantage over every other team in the rankings.
The AP, even though it could technically declare its own No. 1 and own national champion at the end of the season, simply does not have the same impact as the Coaches because the votes have nothing to do with who plays in the title game.
The Forced Result
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
It would be prudent to add one more facet to the discussion of the difference in impact that each preseason poll has later in the season.
For the final poll of the season, which is released after the last bowl game is played, AP voters have the freedom to select whichever team they feel is the best team in the land and award them a No. 1 ranking.
In the case of the Coaches Poll, it is required that voters validate the BCS formula by awarding the winner of the BCS title game with the No. 1 ranking in the final poll of the season.
So, basically, regardless of how Coaches Poll voters voted all year long (including in the preseason) and despite who they really deem, in their professional opinion (which is supposed to be the reason we’re asking them), the best team in the land, we already know who they’re voting for.
Because they have no choice.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
If you look back over the last five seasons (2007-11) and try to get a feel for how accurate each of the preseason poll offerings have been, really it’s a neck and neck race.
Overall, the Coaches Poll has been more accurate in terms of teams that finish closer to their original preseason ranking than that of the AP, but the difference is virtually paper thin.
The Coaches Poll also holds a five-year accuracy advantage in categories such as fewer preseason top 10 ranked teams falling completely out of the rankings by the end of the season and fewer teams making a top 10 finish who did not make an appearance in the preseason Top 25.
Additionally, the teams that the Coaches Poll has ranked in its preseason top two have finished higher (and therefore closer to their early ranking) than those of the AP.
In the plus column in terms of accuracy, the AP has also outperformed the Coaches Poll (marginally) since 2007 in having the fewest number of teams that have made the postseason Top 25 without starting the preseason there, which means it also wins the battle for the least number of preseason Top 25 squads dropping completely out of the rankings by season’s end.
While most of these precision ratings demonstrate a marginal difference between the two polls, the AP Poll’s No. 3 preseason ranked team has managed to finish substantially more successfully than the Coaches No. 3 team.
To illustrate, take a look at the Coaches Poll No. 3 preseason picks over the last five years vs. their actual finish: In 2007 No. 3 ranked Florida finished No. 16; in 2008 No. 3 ranked Ohio State finished No. 11; in 2009 No. 3 ranked Oklahoma finished the season unranked; in 2010 No. 3 ranked Florida finished unranked and finally in 2011 No. 3 ranked Oregon actually finished No. 4.
The AP version of this same scenario is far and away different: In 2007 No. 3 ranked West Virgina finished the season No. 6; in 2008 No. 3 ranked USC finished No. 3; in 2009 No.3 ranked Oklahoma finished unranked; in 2010 No. 3 ranked Boise State finished No. 9 and finally in 2011 No. 3 ranked Oregon finished No. 4.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Really, it’s impossible to make a solid argument that either the AP or the Coaches Poll operates under any type of bias in the preseason polls, but despite this, the following is a cold hard fact that can’t be disputed.
Only twice since 2007 has either of the two polls put a non-BCS team in its preseason polls that was not mirrored by the other poll.
In both cases, it was the Coaches Poll that elected a unique non-BCS team to their early Top 25—first in 2008 when it ranked Fresno State No. 25 (the Bulldogs finished 7-6 that season and got beat by Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl) and secondly in 2010 when it gave Utah (not yet in the Pac-12) a nod at No. 24 (it finished 10-3, lost to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowls and was ranked No. 23 in the final poll).
photo from gov.cbia.com
Really, the issue of transparency is one of the most intriguing differences between the AP and the Coaches polls.
The AP votes are made public and can be accessed via the AP's website, www.ap.org. If you want to see an example of how it works, check out this link which allows you to click on “poll votes” for each voter.
The Coaches voting, on the other hand, is made private until the final poll of the season and is then made public by USA Today in December of each year.
The reason that Lane Kiffin’s vote was made public in this season’s preseason Coaches Poll is due to a provision that allows USA Today, according to a recent article on Yahoo Sports, to disclose votes that are lied about or openly misrepresented.
Though it would be a stretch to say that transparency and accountability are directly linked in the world of college football polls, the AP being public and the Coaches Poll being private gives us yet another reason to wonder what the heck is going on with our beloved sport.
Yes friend, who is driving our bus and where are they taking us?