Why Is Alabama Only No. 4 in the Coaches/USA Today Poll?

Bert HancockCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2008

While the AP poll is obviously not flawless, many of us still tend to lean to it more than the Coaches/USA Today poll. I’ve often wondered if the voters (Coaches, SIDs?) in the latter truly pay as much attention as the writers would be inclined to. When we see Alabama ranked two places lower than its already debatable No. 2 AP ranking, that viability question comes up again.

It’s not as if only a few wayward voters recklessly placed the Crimson Tide far too low that caused them to be No. 4. ‘Bama’s actually closer in voter points to fifth-ranked Texas than third-rated LSU.

I personally think, despite an off day against Kentucky this last week, Nick Saban’s squad can easily be considered No. 1, but No. 2 should be a minimum. The USA Today instead ranks Missouri No. 2. Sure, it’s probably an understatement to call its offense "awesome," but Mizzou’s list of wins doesn’t match up with Alabama’s at this point.

The coaches also voted LSU ahead of ‘Bama; but isn’t that more the carryover effect of last year rather than what’s happened this year?

LSU’s "signature" victory is over Auburn, a team that has no offense and dropped its second game this past Saturday. LSU’s other wins are over Appalachian State, North Texas, and Mississippi State. Contrast this to Alabama’s wins over Georgia, Clemson, and Kentucky, with the former two decisive.

It seems to come down to the preseason polls still affecting what’s happened a full six weeks into the season. Ask yourself this: If Alabama had been ranked above Oklahoma, Missouri, and LSU before the season started, would it be No. 1 right now? You bet. It might well be on top even if it had been ranked merely slightly behind those two, rather than significantly.

Instead, Saban’s team began deep in the well, receiving August rankings of No. 24 in the AP and the equivalent of No. 26 in the Coaches/USA Today (most points of any team not ranked).

Is it any surprise that the Coaches have had ‘Bama ranked the same two places behind their AP counterpart the last few weeks?

In sharp contrast, Oklahoma and Missouri were allotted preseason rankings of No. 4 and No. 6 in the AP and No. 4 and No. 7 in the Coaches poll, with LSU trading places with Missouri in each. Those are big head starts over the Crimson Tide.

Credit to the AP for at least bumping ‘Bama above Mizzou after its wallop of Georgia between the hedges in week five.

Beyond the built-in bias of placing teams in slots prior to any season-opening kickoffs, do you wonder if there’s some kind of angst toward Nick Saban factoring into this? His reputation around the country—fair or not—isn’t exactly stellar.

It’s probably still too early to make a mountain of this, as there’s a lot of ball to play. Plus, Oklahoma has a legitimate chance to justify its top billing when it faces Texas this Saturday.

Even so, you’d hate to see crucial poll positions determined in any fashion by crystal ball efforts at predicting how the season will play out. Only the teams’ actual performances have a right to make that case, not anyone’s August assumptions.

Alabama, at minimum, has earned the No. 2 spot, and arguably the top. There is no argument (at least to me) that its Coaches poll spot of No. 4 is based on criteria beyond the field. It’s yet another reminder of the system’s shortcomings.