College Football Polls Need Serious Overhaul

Scott MilesSenior Analyst ISeptember 22, 2008

Do you want reason No. 597 why Division I-A --- err, sorry NCAA, I meant to say the “Football Bowl Subdivision” --- needs a playoff system?

It’s pretty simple, and I know I’m not the first to say it and I certainly won’t be the last.

The polls are stupid. They don’t work.

(And yes, I say this as a voter of Bleacher Report’s Top 25 poll, which thankfully waited until the season was three weeks old to begin voting. I also think a lot of the voters on here have more common sense than the voters in the AP and USA Today polls, too.)

I bring this up after receiving a message from my friend Greg, who pointed out that teams, such as Minnesota and Northwestern, are receiving votes in the latest polls. The AP considers Northwestern the 37th best team in the nation, USA Today 34th. Minnesota is a few spots behind them in both polls.

The mighty Wildcats of Northwestern have scored wins over mighty Syracuse (0-4 in 2008); a 24-20 win over Duke (1-3); Southern Illinois (1-1 I-AA team); and a 16-8 victory against Ohio (0-4).

Minnesota, for its part, was all over Northern Illinois, 31-27 (1-2, with a win over a I-AA team) and 35-23 over fierce Montana State (1-2, win over Adams State); not to mention MAC power Bowling Green and 1-3 Florida Atlantic.

Stunning resumes, I know. But they can’t top another team who has somehow crept ahead of them in the polls: Oklahoma State.

The Sooners – umm, Cowboys – are 27th in the AP poll and 28th in the USA Today rankings. They escaped, unscathed, from a daunting schedule that includes: Houston (1-3, only victory is against Southern University, whoever that is); Washington State (1-3, only victory is against mighty Portland State); and Missouri State (1-2, with a win over SE Missouri State and with a loss to some school named Washburn whose nickname is the "Ichabods").

And if that doesn’t scream “Top 25 material” at you, I’ve got something that does. In fact, so much so that they are a Top 25 team in both the AP and USA Today polls.

Texas Christian University. Good ol’ TCU. Yup, they’re ranked, and deservedly so, after beating up on 1-3 New Mexico, 1-2 Stephen F. Austin (defeated, uhh, Langston College), 2-2 Stanford and the Holy War with 1-3 Southern Methodist (beat Texas State).

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is these voters that still have a pretty solid hand in determining who will play for the national championship game each and every year!

These are the voters who a little over a month ago thought Michigan and Rutgers deserved national recognition. Not to mention Arkansas and Hawaii and countless others.

So here’s what I propose - – change it from a Top 25 to a Top 20 poll. That eliminates a lot of riff-raff from picking up undeserved credit. Theoretically, this should help narrow the voters’ focus and you don’t have to worry about things like, I don’t know, putting Oklahoma State anywhere near your top 20 teams.

And there’s no reason why a poll like this should come out until every team has played at least three games. And any victory by 14 or fewer points against a team from a lower division should be treated as a loss.

Of course, the real answer is a having a playoff. You know, like what Divisions I-AA, or the “Football Championship Subdivision, II and III all have. After all, if all the smaller schools, and many non-scholarship athletes, can somehow survive a 15-game schedule, then why can’t the big boys?

In Division III, you have 32 playoff participants – 22 automatic qualifiers for conference champs,  three bids for independents or teams without conference championships, and seven at-large spots. Basically, at large spots are determined by strength of schedule, opponents’ strength of schedule, regional rankings, etc.  

Most importantly, you eliminate any national polls in factoring who will play at the end of the year.

Yes, you’ll still end up with teams that are upset by not making it in, but these are generally the 33rd to 37th best teams in the regular season, as opposed to the 3rd through 7th best teams in I-A that have a more legitimate case for playing in the national championship game.

So those are my suggestions. Because as much as I’d love to see Oklahoma State sneak into the Top 25 after knocking off Troy, I’d much prefer to see the mid-majors who are challenging good major programs, or the major programs that put together a somewhat difficult schedule, get the credit they deserve.