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Preseason College Football Rankings: Can We Finally Abolish Preseason Polls?

August 21, 2014




by Lisa Horne



In 2009, Mississippi was ranked No. 8* when it opened its season at Memphis. Two weeks after beating the Tigers 45-14, the Rebels were ranked No. 6. A spanking of S.E. Louisiana—an FCS team, mind you—saw Ole Miss jump to No. 4.


The Rebels got a reality check when it lost to unranked South Carolina 16-10 a week-and-a-half later. They finished the season ranked No. 20.  


Was Ole Miss overrated? Technically, yes. But not in the negative way to which football fans normally attach the word "overrated."


A ranked team that is beaten by an underdog can be the subject of the underdog's fans' derisive "o-ver-ra-ted" chant. It's designed to be an insult. It has negative connotations. Ole Miss didn't deserve that moniker.


The Rebels played out of their collective Hotty Toddy minds. They went 9-4 in 2009. That No. 4 ranking was their highest since 1964.


But when Ole Miss crashed and burned at South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State, folks tended to forget about the good stuff. Instead, they clucked at how overrated Ole Miss was.


Shouldn't those who had ranked Ole Miss too high bear most of the criticism? After all, they are the ones who slapped that ranking on the Rebels to begin with.  


When Appalachian State upset No. 5 Michigan in 2007, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel wrote "it may well turn out that Michigan was grossly overrated." Mandel was correct. It was.


Michigan was hurt dearly by that preseason ranking.  The school and its fans were humiliated. Most teams suffer a five or six-spot drop after a loss. The Associated Press dropped Michigan 20 spots. The Wolverines' ceremonious exclusion from the Top 25 Club felt like a punishment.


It's akin to a child of average intellect being forced to take advanced-placement classes and then getting admonished for getting poor grades. He failed to meet expectations. Is he is a failure? Or were the expectations unrealistic?


Mandel is a highly regarded journalist with impeccable credentials. His quote appeared to be his taking partial ownership of a mistake—he and the rest of the media did not have Michigan accurately ranked. Good for Mandel for pointing this out. But why are he and his brethren being asked to rank teams in August in the first place?


Is there anything dumber than ranking something before it has done anything and then watching it pay the price when it didn’t measure up to opinions based on nothing it did? Think about that.


Teams don't ask to be ranked.


Rarely has a player opined about where his team should be ranked. Coaches have been known to voice their opinions but mostly as an attempt to pander to the BCS (R.I.P) Selection Committee.


All teams would love to be ranked first but they understand that it is logistically impossible. A fair ranking is a more reasonable expectation.  The media really does try to get it right. But it's an impossible task to undertake. 


Ole Miss was overrated not because Ole Miss did Ole Miss things in a few games. It was overrated because the media, through no fault of its own, was wrong.


The media's mistake in the preseason poll was exacerbated when the Rebels beat an FCS and mid-major team. Ole Miss had no direction to go but up in the polls, despite having a lousy resume.


Clearly, ranking teams isn't a science. It's an educated guessing game for the first half of the season—it's a stab in the dark in the preseason. But when the hype doesn't match the performance on the field, the team suffers the backlash, not the media.


It's time to have a serious discussion about ending preseason polls. Let's be honest, the only people who benefit from preseason polls are preseason magazines, websites and a bunch of fans whose team is ranked No. 1. Hang on to that good feeling, fan boy.


Since 1950, only 10 teams who have been ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll eventually finished with the No. 1 ranking. That's a 15 percent success rate.  As bad as that is, there's a compunding problem.


The media usually uses a team's preseason ranking as the jumping off point from which to base the following week's ranking. If the preseason ranking was inaccurate, aren't all ensuing rankings suspect?  


Remember the preseason-ranked No. 10 Florida Gators last year?


The Gators lost to Miami in week two and started a free fall, dropping to No. 20 after beating Tennessee (5-7). The pollsters weren't impressed in that victory but they were impressed with the next two. Florida beat Arkansas (3-9) and Kentucky (2-10) and rose to No. 17.


It took three losses in the first seven games before the Gators were finally dropped from the Top 25. If Florida had been ranked No. 20, one loss would have done the trick for eventual 4-8 team.


For many college football fans, preseason polls are ruining college football. The polls are also forcing the media to form an opinion on a team without any data to support that opinion. If the College Football Playoff Committee can wait until October before putting out its first poll, why can't everyone else?


We'll never hear a chant of "un-real-lis-tic" at a football stadium.


But seeing the demise of preseason polls would be a great compromise.  




*all rankings were taken from Associated Press

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