Who Asked the Coaches? USA Today Poll Snubs Alabama

Mike DockeryCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2008

With all the chaos in college football this weekend, voters inevitably faced some tough choices.

How much credit do you give to Oklahoma, a team that has looked great in rolling over a slate of weak opponents?

What do you make of LSU, who’s undefeated in the SEC but struggled to hold on in a closer-than-expected match-up with Mississippi State?

Picking between the schools at the top was no doubt difficult, and so it would be easy to cut the voters a bit of slack. Nevertheless, the coaches voting in the USA Today Poll still managed to make themselves look ridiculous.

Consider this absurdity:

   1. Oklahoma
   2. LSU
   3. Missouri
   4. Alabama
   5. Texas

Are you kidding me? Missouri gets to sit at home and watch the Crimson Tide walk into Athens and take the No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs behind the woodshed, and still wake up to find themselves atop the Tide?

Let's not forget, Missouri's signature win so far was a 10-point victory in a shootout with Illinois, a team that would later escape with a three-point victory against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Alabama, in the meantime, has blown out two Top 10 opponents, one on a neutral field in Atlanta, another between the hedges in Athens. It's almost inexplicable.

Almost. But remember who's doing the voting here. It's not hard to imagine why the seven voting coaches from the Big 12 would put Mizzou above the Tide; base self-interest would dictate wanting your future opponents ranked as high as possible.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Nick Saban's Tide getting much love from the rest of the SEC.  

Sure, Georgia’s Mark Richt probably made up one of the Tide’s two No. 1 votes; it’s much easier to make the BCS case for a one-loss team if that loss came against the best team in the country.

But for teams no longer in contention, playing a highly-ranked 'Bama probably doesn't help much. Which leaves room for those coaches to stick it to the Tide for, ahem, “other reasons.”

(It would probably be wrong for me to mention at this point that Philip Fulmer, one of the SEC’s seven voting coaches this year, was served a summons upon arrival at the SEC Media Days in Birmingham. He’s being sued in connection with his testimony against Alabama to the NCAA.)

Even ignoring the general malice between Alabama and several of their closest neighbors, or the vitriol that has been directed at Saban since he came to Tuscaloosa, it’s not hard to imagine that a No. 1 or No. 2 ranking could convince a few recruits to jump on the ‘Bama bandwagon early. 

Out of the seven voting coaches in the SEC, only one (South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier) rarely competes directly with Alabama for recruits. The rest of the bunch (Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee, Les Miles at LSU, Mark Richt at Georgia, Tommy Tuberville at Auburn and Urban Meyer at Florida) are in the same high schools as Nick Saban on the recruiting trail.

Is it ridiculous to think that perhaps some coaches dinged the Tide in an attempt to slow down the Saban recruiting juggernaut?

With Alabama’s recruiting base becoming more and more national, this could hurt the Tide outside the SEC as well.

As an example, Alabama’s highly-touted freshman RB Mark Ingram was plucked out of Michigan, a state where Alabama has never been able to recruit before Saban was hired.

Is it inconceivable that Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (both voting coaches this year) may have had this in mind when they filled out their polls?

Sure, all of this is speculation, but it points to one of the many problems with the BCS. How credible can a system be when it bases a large chunk of its final rankings on a poll filled out by hardly-disinterested parties?

Who knows what the coaches have in mind when they fill out their polls? It’s not like they have the time to watch all the games.

What is absolutely clear is that the USA Poll hardly seeks to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Basic common sense should tell us that the most untrustworthy opinions come from those with a dog in the fight.