Which Teams are Over- and Underrated?

Bert HancockCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2008

[Brief intro/hello: I've been soaking up the stuff on this wonderful site now for several months. My main regret is not finding it sooner! To that end, though, I've been reading the likes of Baby Tate, Lisa Horne, and David Wunderlich (who's been so kind as to exchange emails). This short list barely touches the overall scope of this site, and, again, it seems like a treasure trove for college football fanatics. If interested in my background, you can check my bio, but suffice now to say I've written on college football awhile and followed it forever!]

Now that we've had a few weeks of college football to muse over, what do you think about the latest polls (AP and USA Today/Coaches) that have come out? 


First, I should express a personal preference regarding these often very subjective team rankings. It seems that much of the time, the pollsters are going by at least as much what they expect to happen compared to what the teams have actually done.

It's a fine line in that you need some kind of basis for believing how meaningful a team's victory or defeat is.

Even so, I believe our biases tend to tilt the rankings too far at times in favor of preconceived positions. Here's an example currently going on.

Ohio State, after getting rocked by USC and defeating a moribund Ohio squad by the narrowest of margins, still ranks in the top 15. Is that accurate as of right now?

I think the answer is a resounding "no," based on what the Buckeyes have actually done on the field. I don't think the right approach is going with what you expect Ohio State to end up doing. But Jim Tressel's group's current ranking has to be based at least a good part on future expectations and past successes, not as much on current production.

In my opinion, the polls should be based on what a team has actually done, period. If it means putting a no-name program in the Top 10 early in the year despite doubting its ability to sustain such success, so be it.

Do you agree? If you disagree, why? I very much look forward to your responses.

Besides Ohio State being ranked too high right now (it's debatable the Bucks should even be in the top 20-25), I find a few other teams that don't seem to belong in the top 25 at all at this point.

In reviewing the AP poll, all three from #21 through 23 are ranked because of expectations or past performances, not on this season's shining moments.

No. 21 West Virginia (pictured above in the loss to East Carolina): The BCS-bludgeoning (of Oklahoma) Mountaineers have started on a bad note following Rich Rodriguez's departure to Michigan. Despite downing Villanova, 48-21, you'll see trouble lurked by reviewing that 'Nova outgained WV 399-354. Following that, WV was pounded by East Carolina, 24-3.

No. 22 Illinois: The Fighting Illini waited way too long to take that fight to Missouri in the opener, falling behind 45-20 late in the third quarter before quarterback Juice Williams' frantic attempt to make the score respectable. A TD pass on the game's last play brought the final tally to 52-42. Besides a less-than crushing win over I-AA Eastern Illinois, the Illini needed a touchdown on a fumble recovery to survive none other than Louisiana-Lafayette this past weekend, 20-17.

No. 23 Clemson: The second darling to Georgia according to some pundits this pre-season, Tommy Bowden's Tigers have been pussycats for the most part thus far. After getting clobbered by underdog Alabama in the opener, 34-10, the rebound over the likes of The Citadel and a mediocre NC State squad has fatigued those looking to see real strength.

All of these teams could end up justifying earlier predictions; they just have little business being anywhere in the top 25 right now.

Regarding the more essential Top 10 teams, I think arguments are hard to make that substantially changes the top eight. For what it's worth, the polls are in complete harmony on all of those.

The ninth spot is where they differ, and they differ considerably. The AP puts Alabama at No. 9, while the coaches poll gives them only the No. 13 spot. Which is more justifiable at this point?

You already know, probably, what I think. I see this as another great example of pre-season bias filtering into the voters' decision. Alabama wasn't expected to be great (pre-season No. 24 in AP, unranked in Coaches), so some are suspicious of Nick Saban's squad at this point.

Again, though, let's check out the results. What gives the Crimson Tide its rise is the resounding thumping of Clemson, a team expected to contend for the national title in some experts' minds. Had Alabama narrowly triumphed, then maybe No. 13 is alright. But, as we know, the Tide rolled from the outset and kept the pressure on, 34-10.

Since then, Alabama has defeated Tulane (a tough opponent this year) and, as expected, Western Kentucky. Whether Saban is working his magic yet again or not remains to be seen, but Tide faithful have to be encouraged following his seesaw first season.

Though we can make cases for more teams possibly being ranked too low (Utah at No. 20, for example), I'd like to focus on East Carolina.

The Pirates, at 3-0 now, sit at a modest No. #15 (AP) and No. 17 (USA Today). Once again, I believe it's a case of super-suspicion based on their past, not what they've earned to date. They can, in fact, make a case as good as virtually anyone in the top ten for that higher ranking.

College football fans may rationalize East Carolina's Week One upset of Virginia Tech due to scoring the game-winning touchdown on a late blocked punt (ironic, considering VT's Frank Beamer program excels at this stuff). What should be pointed out as well, though, is that the Pirates moved the ball up and down the field that day, assembling a hefty 369-243 yardage edge on the Hokies. The score justified the tone of the game.

Yet another win over a ranked team, West Virginia, followed. And, once more, East Carolina ruled the tone, outgaining the Mountaineers 386-251. The Pirates next went to 3-0 on the strength of a hard-fought win at stubborn Tulane. That people were calling for a possible upset watch against the Pirates shows some are noticing!

Here, I've not tried to be micro-precise in estimating exactly where these teams should be ranked. There's little football played and, thankfully, much remaining. Still, it's intriguing to this fanatic to see the mind set of pollsters in determining college football's pecking order.

Whether some will inevitably show they belong around their current spots, you have plenty of room to argue contrary to those at this stage.