Virgina Tech: What Do Preseason Rankings Have to Do with It?

Tobye DavidContributor IJuly 2, 2009

MIAMI - JANUARY 01:  Kam Chancellar #17 intercepts the ball against Ben Guidugli #19 of the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Virginia Tech Hokies Cincinnati Bearcats during the FedEx Orange Bowl at Dolphin Stadium on January 1, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

There are plenty of reasons for preseason rankings, right? They give an accurate analysis of what's going to happen during the season, don't they? They help predict national champions, right? They are a precursor to the final rankings, aren't they?

Well, maybe. Or, maybe preseason rankings serve an entirely different purpose. A purpose that has little to do with potential national champions or final rankings.

I make the bold suggestion that preseason rankings serve only one real purpose: to keep fans, like me, pacified until the season begins.

Let's face it. It's a long, hot drought until September (or August if your team starts early). Hardcore fans spend that time doing two things: searching You Tube for tribute videos and scouring preseason rankings while dreaming of what could be. 

I know Hokies do. They watch Eddie Royal's questionable pass interference call against USC in 2004 and ask, "What if it had gone the other way?"

They watch Eric Green intercept the pass against Miami in 2003 and revel in the redemption that game gave. 

They wax nostalgic about when the Vick brothers were heroes, not punchlines, and dream about what could/should have been. 

And sometimes, they look at preseason rankings and get their hopes up for a championship.  What logically follows is that the higher the ranking, the higher the hopes. To see what happens when the stakes are high, I went back seven years to find out how preseason expectations affected actual season performance.

What I found is this: Although pollsters usually get the top right (every year since 2002, with the exception of last year when Georgia was inexplicably ranked No. 1, the team ranked first in the preseason AP ended up in the final top three) after that it's just sort of a free-for-all. 

I found it interesting to see that Iowa was ranked in the top 10 final polls for three straight years, 2002-2004, while never cracking the top 10 of a preseason poll.  In 2008, six of the top 10 preseason schools failed to show up in the top 10 of the final poll. 

For the Hokies, the best preseason ranking almost seems to be no preseason ranking.  After a late season collapse in 2003, the Hokies started 2004 not ranked in the top 25.  By the end of the season, they were ACC champions, played a close game with Auburn in a BCS bowl, and ended the season ranked 10th.  Last year, after winning the ACC and the Orange Bowl, VT ended up ranked only 15th. 

But, the hype machine is in overdrive this year, and the Hokies are being bandied around potentially high as fifth in preseason polls.  I hope this doesn't mean they are this year's "sexy" pick, like Clemson and Georgia seemed to be last year. 

Reading your good press is one thing.  Believing it is another, a lesson the Tigers found out early against Alabama.  Hopefully, the Hokies will use that as an example of what NOT to do with preseason hype.