To add to an early column with a litany of what I find wrong with college football at the moment, I want to add one more: the weekly rankings, better known as the polls.
Feel free to flag me for piling on, or maybe a late hit, but the truth is I’ve been saying that polls are stupid for a really long time.
This year’s rankings featured something new: one of the teams to make the four-team playoff at the end of the season, Michigan, wasn’t even ranked in the preseason polls. When all was said and done, 46 different teams were ranked in the Top 25; 23 different teams in the Top 10. Parity – or stupid polls? I’ll go with the latter, only I don’t call them stupid polls; rather, that polls are stupid.
How else to account for the fact that of the 25 teams ranked in the preseason poll, there were only 12 remaining at the end of the season. In other words, there was a 50/50 chance when the season began that the polls were accurate – roughly the same odds of winning a coin toss. That being said, why bother with a preseason poll in the first place?
Looking at the Big 10, they had six teams in the Top 25 in the preseason poll: Penn State, Iowa State, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana. In the final poll, they only had four – and two of them weren’t included in the preseason poll, Michigan and Michigan State. That meant the polls missed the boat on not only both teams from Michigan, but also on Penn State, Iowa State, Wisconsin, and Indiana as well.
At the moment, the only value of the polls appears to be in determining which four teams will participate in the playoffs at the end of the season. When the playoffs expand – whether it be to eight, 12, or 16 teams – the polls will become even more irrelevant than they are now.
This year the major debate was whether or not Cincinnati would be given the coveted fourth and final spot in the playoffs – the spot usually reserved for sacrificial lambs like Notre Dame or any team from the Pac 12. Once the final polls were released after the conference championships held over the first weekend in December, Cincinnati was ranked as the #4 team in the country – and deemed worthy of a spot in the playoffs. They weren’t. Neither was #2 Michigan – but the polls said otherwise. The Bearcats and the Wolverines were blown out in the semifinals by much worthier opponents - by 21 and 23 points, respectively.
Suggestion: teams selected for the college football players should also have to pass
‘the eyeball test,’ whereby the selection committee takes a step back
and just looks at teams to determine if they pass muster regardless of the metrics.
Had that been the case,
Michigan and Cincinnati might have been watching the playoffs from home.
To further illustrate how stupid the polls can be, here are two recent examples – both involving my beloved Florida Gators.
- In 2008, the Georgia Bulldogs were ranked #1 in the preseason, while the Gators were ranked 13th. Despite winning their first three games, Georgia dropped to #3 in the polls. At the end of the season, Florida won their second National Championship in two years. Georgia, with three losses - including one by 39 points to the Gators (headline in a Jacksonville, Florida newspaper: ‘Dogs Pounded’) – finished where Florida began: ranked 13th. Incidentally, the 49 – 10 beatdown came exactly one year after the infamous ‘Gator Stomp,’ the ill-advised team celebration in the end zone orchestrated by Bulldog coach Mark Richt following Georgia’s first touchdown against Florida in their game the previous season. Payback can be hell.
- This season, Florida climbed to a #10 ranking after four wins against teams that can best be described in football vernacular as ‘patsies,’ and a hard-fought two-point loss to #1 Alabama. The Gators then went on to lose six of their next eight games, dropping completely out of the polls - as well as dropping their defensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and ultimately, their head coach. Florida fell out of the rankings completely – even before the season was halfway over.
One last example illustrating the utter insignificance of the polls: when the two teams for the National Championship game were decided, #1 Alabama and #3 Georgia, the oddsmakers installed the lower-seeded Bulldogs as 2 ½ point favorites – despite losing to the Crimson Tide by 17 points during the regular season.
What the committee got right, however, is this: regardless of who won the final game of the 2021 season, a team from the SEC was going to be crowned as the National Champion for the 12th time in 16 years.
That team, as well all know by now, is the Georgia Bulldogs.
The same Georgia Bulldogs who are already ranked third in the first poll for next season, two spots behind Alabama.
Another example that proves my point: polls are stupid.
Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia. His latest book, SOUTHERN COMFORT is his second collection of 101 columns. His first, SOUTHERN CHARM, and all of his other books can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org