It Is Time To End Preseason Rankings for College Football

Mark E. SmithCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  The Oklahoma Sooner Schooner at Cowboys Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

College football has the most passionate fans of all American sports.  The game and the system in which the championship is decided is constantly the biggest debate in all our great land.  With over 100 teams and only 12 games in a season, it's easy to see where things can get complicated.  

The crazy thing is that this sport adds madness and complication before the games even start.  We have this wacky notion called preseason rankings.  Coaches and writers are chosen to be forecasters for the upcoming season.  These wise people are surely worthy of giving us an early gauge for the season. 

It's always fun for fans to see where their favorite teams are ranked.  It gives us an idea of how good our teams may be.  It also gives early bragging rights, gives some teams a chip on their shoulders, and possibly targets on the backs of others. 

The dangerous and crazy part of this is that these educated guesses count.  Sure, votes are not carried over weekly and tallied at the end of the season.  But you can argue that voting patterns do carry over week to week, and that preseason rankings have a huge impact on the final rankings. 

This has been widely acknowledged by writers and coaches alike.  Coaches know that starting out the season with a good ranking makes it easier to finish the season highly ranked.  The watch for BCS busters has become an annual event because of hype brought along with early rankings. 

Getting a ranking in those preseason polls can even have an impact on the national championship.  All you have to do is look at Cincinnati to see just how true that is.  The Bearcats started the season unranked in either poll and went on to finish undefeated but missed out on the National Championship game.  They finished third in the final BCS standings behind Texas, who started the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll.

Now, if you look at the schedule of these two teams, they look fairly similar.  Both played schedules that are considered by many pundits as "soft."  Texas did win at the road against Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati won at Pittsburgh.  Two road wins against ranked conference opponents would have to classify as impressive wins. 

Beyond that, Cincinnati won on the road against Oregon State, a team from the Pac-10, who finished No. 18 in the BCS standings.  Texas had no other significant win outside of their conference.

It was merely because Texas started the season ranked ahead of Cincinnati that they would go on to finish ahead as well.  Had they been ranked equally in the preseason polls, Cincinnati would most likely be ranked ahead and therefore, heading to the national championship. 

Perhaps TCU, which also began ranked in the preseason and went on to finish ranked ahead of Cincinnati in the human polls may have been the team to make it in.  But I decided to use Cincinnati to illustrate my argument.

For an even more blatant example of what's wrong with preseason and early polling in general, we need to look at Oklahoma.  They were a great team last year, no question.  They returned the 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford and were an early National Championship contender.  Preseason polls put the Oklahoma Sooners as the third best team in the country before anyone had played a game.

Then came BYU in Week One.  Down went Bradford and Oklahoma lost at home by one point to a ranked team.  Not a bad loss by any means, but a loss nonetheless.  After the loss, the Sooners dropped to No. 13 in the AP.  Week Two brought in FCS opponent Idaho State and a blowout win.  Oklahoma went up to No. 12. 

They beat Tulsa the next week and went to No. 10.  After an off week, they moved up to No. 8 with a 2-1 record with no impressive wins to back up such a high ranking.  

Meanwhile, after Week Four, Cincinnati was 4-0 and ranked No. 10.  TCU was 3-0, ranked No. 11 after starting out the season ranked No. 17.  After falling to 3-3, Oklahoma remained at No. 25 in the AP.  Two consecutive wins and they were back to No. 20.  It wouldn't be until Week 10 and their fourth loss that Oklahoma would finally be knocked from the rankings.  

It took four losses, albeit two were by one point, for voters to no longer justify voting for the preseason favorite.  Clearly, losing Sam Bradford in Week One drastically changed this team, yet voters were unable to drastically change their vote.  Had Oklahoma started the season unranked, they likely would have never made an appearance in any of these polls.

Oklahoma finished the season 7-5 and unranked, but they weren't the only team with a preseason ranking to fall from grace.  Eight teams ranked in the initial AP poll finished unranked.  Mississippi started out No. 8, finished 8-4 and out of the rankings. 

Preseason No. 4 USC is another good example, nearly as good as Oklahoma except that they still managed to finish ranked No. 24 in the BCS (although unranked in either human poll after 8-4 record).

On the flip side, seven teams in the final BCS standings started out unranked by either poll.  Cincinnati was the most notable, but Stanford is also noteworthy because they didn't even garner a single vote in either preseason poll.

These early rankings give you a better chance to be ranked in the initial BCS ranking that come out after six weeks of play.  The scary part of that is only three teams that finished in the BCS standings were not part of the initial BCS standings.  Boise State was ranked No. 4 in the initial BCS standings and would finish No. 6, behind a one-loss Florida.  TCU was ranked No. 8 in that first BCS ranking, even behind a 4-1 USC.  They were not able to overcome their preseason No. 17 ranking. 

This season ended with perhaps the greatest amount of debate of any college football season.  Nobody can agree if the two best teams are in the national championship game.  All we know is that the undefeated teams with the highest rankings at the beginning of the season finished with the highest rankings, except for Boise State, but if I have learned anything from college football fans, it is that the Broncos don't count.

Preseason rankings will always be a part of the game.  Previews are a great way to get an idea of the college football landscape.  Magazines and Web sites and even writers should be ranking teams just for the sake of fun. 

But it is just reckless for the BCS to allow these imaginary rankings to have such a huge impact on the end of the season. Coaches should not sending in votes before a single game has been played, knowing full well what may happen. 

Every team in America should have to play at least one game before a single vote has been cast.  How else do we really have any clue what we are getting to vote on?  BCS standings come out after Week Six.  Perhaps the national polls can take a lesson and put off voting until near midseason.  There is no rational reason for rankings to exist before then.   

Had Cincinnati, TCU, Texas, Alabama, and Boise State all started on equal ground we could perhaps have a more accurate ranking now.  The top six rankings could be changed any number of ways.  Instead since we had preseason rankings set in stone, this is what we are left with.  It is well beyond time that powers of college football did what is best for the game and put an end to preseason rankings.


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