Will the 2014 CFB Playoff De-Emphasize the Importance of Polls?
Every August—and sometimes sooner—major media outlets put out their preseason college football polls. And every year, these polls either fire up fans or become kindling fodder for other fans' fireplaces.
Preseason polls enjoy a love-hate relationship with fans, don't they?
Why these preseason polls are usually taken with a grain of salt is fairly obvious: They're subjective and pure speculation. They're guesses.
The so-called experts are rarely right in the preseason polls. Since 2000, only USC's 2004 team started and finished as the No. 1 team—that feat has since then been reduced to an asterisk. An eight percent batting average isn't very impressive, yet the polls keep pumping out their annual rankings.
Notre Dame was not included in the AP's 2012 preseason poll, was ranked No. 24 in the USAToday poll and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in both polls. USC was the AP's preseason No. 1 ranked team but failed to finish in its Top 25 at the end of the season.
Despite these official guesses (and failures), football fans realize their importance. A team that doesn't make the AP Top 25 has a tougher climb to the top—it has to rely on other teams above its ranking to lose in order to make up some ground.
Should we get rid of preseason polls? I'm all for it—ranking a team that hasn't even snapped a ball is ridiculous. The BCS—a consortium of folks that has drawn ire from most football fans—at least gets it right by waiting until after seven weeks of football have been played before issuing its first rankings. Go figure.
But with the college football playoffs coming in 2014, one may conclude that both the preseason and regular-season polls will carry less weight than they have had in previous seasons.
This will be the final year in which polls and computer rankings determine which two teams go on to the BCS Championship. Starting in 2014, a selection committee will determine which four teams go to the college football tournament. ESPN's Brett McMurphy expanded on this in a February report.
The selection committee will receive a "jury charge" from the commissioners. In ranking the teams, the committee will consider strength of schedule, where the games were played, conference championships and whether teams lost games because of injuries to key players [emphasis added].
In the playoff, the top four ranked teams -- as determined by the selection committee -- will meet in the semifinals. After those four teams are selected, the league champion or top available team from the Pac-12 and Big Ten will play in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio, SEC and Big 12 teams in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and ACC in the Discover Orange Bowl.
I'm not wild about the inclusion of losses due to injuries as a consideration by the committee. Why should the winning team get penalized because it was healthy and the other team was not? How can one assume that a team would have won a game if it hadn't lost a key starter?
Case in point: When West Virginia was on a roll last season behind the arm of quarterback Geno Smith, it had a 5-0 record. If the Mountaineers had lost to Texas Tech with Smith on the sidelines due to a concussion, would the committee have minimized West Virginia's loss because its star wasn't in the game?
For what's it's worth, the Heisman front-runner Smith was in the game, and West Virginia still lost to Texas Tech, 49-14. See the problem here? While that scenario didn't play out, it could play out, and that's something that pollsters don't include as a factor in their rankings—at least not officially.
As biased as some polls can be toward certain conferences, can we expect commissioners and athletic directors to remain unbiased when selecting teams to go on in the playoffs?
Any debate over a team's final destination by the selection committee might include conversation about its rankings in the polls—at the very least, it may linger in the back of some minds. Polls that originated from guesses. Stabs in the dark.
Maybe the best way to deal with this whole mess is to look at the NFL model. There are no polls. Some teams play rematches, and some teams have easier schedules than others, but so what? In the end, weaker teams get weeded out.
The best team in the NFL could also play in the weakest division, but that doesn't matter either. And that's the way it should be.
Nobody complains, because the path to the Super Bowl is clear: Win or go home.
Preseason polls should be used for one reason and one reason only: to elicit debate and make the conversation around the office water cooler a little more fun. Regular-season polls are purely subjective, and while they aren't perfect, they do serve as a foundation for the AP's annual championship trophy. That trophy has been around a lot longer than the BCS trophy, and despite critics pointing to its antiquated status, all schools still proudly include that AP championship in their totals of national championships won.
But for the BCS playoffs, let's leave the polls out of it.
It's time to start a new era of college football, where a team gets rewarded for its body of work instead of how well the school panders for votes. Or debating over whether or not an overtime loss really should be counted as a non-loss in regulation. Or deciding that a team's perfect record isn't as good as another's team's perfect record because its schedule didn't appear to be as strong as the other team's schedule.
2014 may be the year where we no longer have the pollsters to burden the unfairness of it all. The system will probably de-emphasize the polls, and on paper, this looks like a good idea.
Let the BCS, not the human and non-human pollsters, take the heat.
The BCS has earned it.
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