Pulling Rank: How the College FB Polls Should Work
The problem is a foundational one—it's incredibly difficult to judge teams when you don't have a clear basis for doing so.
Consider the following questions...
What exactly are we ranking?
The polls are supposed to rank the top 25 teams in college football.
That sounds fair enough, but it's not really how it works.
When a team loses, they inevitably drop in the rankings—even though they don't necessarily get any worse. Just because USC lost to Stanford, for example, doesn't make the Trojans the sixth-best team in college football.
If you believe USC is still the top team in the country despite their loss, should you keep them as No. 1? In theory, the answer is yes...but we all know it doesn't work that way.
LSU lost on the road in triple OT to a team that I believe is Top-10 material. Ohio State will likely be the new No. 1—but I happen to think LSU would beat Ohio State on a neutral field.
If the poll is based strictly on the "best team" criteria, then, I should keep LSU ahead of Ohio State. That isn't what happens.
I also believe that, on a neutral field, LSU would beat Kentucky—despite Saturday's outcome. Along those lines, LSU will probably be ranked ahead of Kentucky in the polls, which inevitably begs the question...
If Team X beats Team Y, how can Team Y be ranked ahead of Team X?
In theory, it's easy.
We're supposed to rank the best team. While a victory certainly means a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean that one team is a better team—especially in a close game.
To what extent should we base the polls on record?
If we went solely based on team record, every undefeated team would be top-ranked, then every one loss team, and so on.
I think we can largely agree that this shouldn't be the case, and for the most part it's not.
Boise State was the second undefeated team last year, but went to the Fiesta Bowl because the voters decided that several one-loss teams were better.
That said, record seems to matter a lot in the argument over where South Florida and Boston College should be ranked relative to USC or Oklahoma.
If all four teams had the same record, it's safe to say that USC and Oklahoma would be ranked ahead of South Florida and Boston College. Even as it stands, many voters will have the one-loss Trojans and Sooners ahead of the unbeaten Bulls and Eagles.
Some people think a 7-0 Hawaii team shouldn't be ranked because the Warriors have played a relatively weak schedule and have struggled to win a couple games. Undefeated teams like Kansas and Arizona State still find themselves behind a host of one-loss teams because of perception.
So to what extent are the polls based on record? Well, that depends on which part of the polls we're talking about.
To be No. 1 at this point in a season, a team needs to be undefeated...but you can be a one loss team in the Top Five, while an undefeated team can sit around 15.
These, of course, aren't the only sticking points in the poll debate. Given the uncertainty, it isn't hard to see why we constantly end up with end-of-season controversies in college football.
Without a definitive answer on how people should vote, we shouldn't be surprised when the poll system produces an unsatisfying result. I may not agree with another person's version of the rankings—but my only grounds for argument is my own opinion, rather than a set of rules supplied by the NCAA.
The BCS is flawed, there's no doubt about that. But instead of blaming the system or the voters, maybe we should direct our energies toward establishing some kind of workable consensus.
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