Fox Sports and College Football News have posted their preseason "CFB Power Rankings" for 2009 with one curious omission; no non-BCS.
Insightful journalism or wishful thinking?
Even the most BCS-leaning publications have at least three non-BCS teams in their Top 25. Most have four (Boise St., TCU, Utah and BYU).
Boise State, ranked #43 in the new Fox/CFN ranking, averages a #13 ranking across all other publications. Including the Coaches poll.
That's an astonishing disparity. So what gives? Clearly this blatant disrespect for objectivity destroys any validity to the poll, so why even bother?
Is CFN this naive or just desperate for a news story? Maybe it's just plain pandering to a base of myopic SEC and BCS fans?
Strangely enough, it's none of the above.
There are plenty of Tebow virginity stories, Lane Kiffin vs. Urban Meyer cat fights and whodunit coaches' voting sagas to keep the SEC base happy.
The rationale for such mutated rankings boils down to plain stupidity. Ignorance instead of the usual BCS arrogance.
And it's nothing new for Fox and CFN. They made these same ill-informed errors last year. Blatantly ignoring teams like BYU, Utah, Boise State and TCU. All of which finished the season ranked and even cracked the top 10 at some point.
While high-caliber non-BCS teams got the shaft, CFN filled last year's preseason rankings with the likes of LSU, Wisconsin, Clemson and Missouri - in their top 10! Even Tennessee and Auburn made their top 15.
Yet after all was said and done, only one of these celebrated underachievers (Missouri) managed to finish the season ranked. While BYU, TCU, Boise State, and Utah all finished in the top 25. Utah finished #2 in the AP and #5 in the Coaches poll. TCU in the top 10.
Nice work guys. How could a proclaimed CFB insider news source be so off-base? Two years in a row.
I'll explain later, but let's first evaluate the merits of some of CFN's rankings.
In: Pitt (CFN #23) Out: Boise State (CFN #43)
I am not a Boise State fan, but even I can recognize that a 12-1 team, returning several key starters including star QB Kellen Moore, is not worse than 42 other teams.
In 2008, Moore threw for 3,486 yards, 25 TD's and 10 INT's. As a freshman! I'm not sure how this team falls from #11 in the AP last year to #43.
Yet somehow Pitt gets a top 25 ranking. This seems miraculous coming off their embarrassing 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. Isn't Pitt primarily a running team who just lost a superstar RB in LeSean McCoy to the NFL? Isn't Dave Wannstedt still the coach? So exactly how did they improve?
On the same vine, CFN also ranked Georgia at #5. Which is intriguing because the 'Dawgs weren't even a top 10 team last year with Knowshon Moreno carrying and Matthew Stafford under center.
Look, Joe Cox is a nice guy but he's no #1 draft pick.
In: Clemson (#24) Out: TCU (#27)
According to CFN, as Pitt and Georgia have improved despite losing Hall of Fame talent, teams like TCU have rapidly digressed, despite returning top talent.
All the Frogs did last year was finish #7 in both polls and led the nation in total defense. TCU returns plenty of talent including:
- QB Andy Dalton - 2,242 passing yards
- RB's Ryan Christian, Joseph Turner - 1,124 combined rushing yards
- WR Jimmy Young - 988 receiving yards
- The best pass rusher in the country, DE Jerry Hughes - 15 sacks
Compare TCU to Clemson, for example. The Tigers barely finished over .500 last season, start a freshman at QB, and haven't posted double digit victories since George Bush Sr. was in office. Yet they came in at #24. Ahead of TCU.
I guess we'll find out soon enough when TCU plays at Clemson on September 26th.
In: Missouri (CFN #20) Out: BYU (CFN #37)
The Cougars are well out of the top 25 despite returning a star-studded offense and nearly every defender from last year's 10-3 season. Here's a glimpse of what opposing defenses have to face coming back:
- QB Max Hall - 3,957 yards passing
- TE Dennis Pitta - 83 receptions, 1083 yards receiving
- RB Harvey Unga - 1132 yards rushing, 4.7 yards per carry
Okay, maybe returning the BYU defense doesn't say much, but very few teams come close to returning this offensive productivity. A tried and true offense with an improving defense is way better than Missouri, who has neither.
Tennessee #31, Auburn #35. Utah #40?
The last time we saw Utah they were making Alabama looking 1-AA while on their way to a #2 AP ranking. Utah returns most of its formidable defense and a stockpile of talent on offense.
Yet CFN believes there are 39 teams better, including Auburn who lost to the same Alabama team 36-0, and Tennessee, who lost to Wyoming (1-7 in the MWC) in Knoxville.
I know it's a new season, but to rank two 5-7 teams over a Utah squad that just completed a 13-0 season seems a tad extreme.
2008-09 Sugar Bowl Prediction
So to get a good barometer of CFN's non-BCS street cred aside from last year's preseason bombshell, I looked up their bowl predictions from last December. The CFN "experts" rated Alabama over Utah in the Sugar Bowl, above all other bowl games, as their surest bet to cover the spread.
Alabama was an 11 point favorite.
I hope they weren't spending New Year's in Vegas. That would be an uncomfortable hitchhike home.
The Rationale Behind it All
Amazingly, there is rhyme and reason to how CFN can produce such logic-defying rankings. It's a familiar reason. One that has helped define and justify the BCS's superiority for years.
For simplicity, we'll call it the "Barry Switzer Effect".
This effect stems from last year's Sugar Bowl preview where Barry opined that Alabama would be too much for Utah to handle based solely on the fact that "not one Utah player would've been recruited by Nick Saban".
Therefore, according to Switzer, the outcome was already determined.
As if somehow forty times, vertical leaps, and star ratings have a greater impact on the field than game plan, execution, player development, heart, etc.
Crazy. That's the myopia of the Barry Switzer Effect. Star ratings trump tried and true, proven-on-the-field performance.
This recruiting first mentality would take Jimmy Clausen over QB Kellen Moore or QB Max Hall any day of the week.
Not because he's even remotely the better player, but because three or four years ago, he was their #1 recruit. Which must mean that he must be bursting with so much untapped potential, and so much ability, that it will surely show up at any moment.
(Which reminds me, what is Ron Powlus up to these days anyway?)
To these folks, recruiting is the end all be all. It's part why analysts have to come up with new ways to describe how non-BCS teams are still inferior despite clear, on-the-field evidence to the contrary. It's because recruiting numbers tell them the non-BCS schools don't belong.
And guess who is right in the middle of the argument?
It all makes sense. CFN is part of Scout, The mega recruiting publisher.
Not surprisingly, these new CFN Power Rankings happen to correlate almost in lock-step with Scout's recruiting rankings over the last few years.
For example, the 2006 Scout.com recruiting rankings:
Georgia #4, Auburn #9, Pitt #11, Clemson #22, Tennessee #24, BYU #46, Utah #60, TCU #73, Boise State #78.
The 2007 rankings read very similar.
Do these gurus actually believe the cumulative number of stars next to some teenager's name 2 or 3 years ago can be used to evaluate the merits of an entire team today?
(That's not to say recruiting isn't important. Many great programs sustain success on the field year after year because of the talent they recruit. But it's just one component, one variable that constitutes a top program.)
For CFN to exclude non-BCS schools due to something as irrelevant as recruiting rankings is elementary.
It's grossly inaccurate and it's poor journalism. Ultimately, it denigrates CFN's credibility and diminishes the credence of Scout's competence in its core business. All while insulting the intelligence of CFN's readers - even if they are all SEC fans.