As we approach the beginning of Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Hoover on Monday, it is time to prepare for some of the 14 head coaches to take a shot at the 500 or so journalists. The issue is an annual poll conducted by the SEC as a part of the event.
Well, the issue in the minds of the coaches is that the journalists have done a poor job of selecting the correct winner each year.
How bad has it been?
Since 1992, the poll has resulted in the selection of the eventual conference champion six times and had the incorrect result 19 times. Admittedly, a 24 per cent success rate in the 25 years of the poll since the advent of the SEC Championship Game is not great. There are, however, extenuating circumstances.
For one thing, the poll has an historically low turnout of voters, most of the journalists not bothering to participate. A few of those boycotting the poll do so because ballots have to be returned prior to the completion of all interviews of players and coaches. This high-minded position overlooks the facts that (a.) the interviews reveal almost nothing that will influence the judgment of the voters and (b.) almost everyone attending the event has done considerable research before arrival.
A second consideration regarding the poor performance by the voters is that it’s not their fault. Personally, I try to look at the SEC race without my admitted Alabama bias. Which team has the most talent, the most favorable schedule, etc.? Assuming the majority of the voters follow this clear-minded line, the fault, therefore, must lie with the coaches, who fail to measure up with the best talent and most favorable schedule, etc.
Finally, who can say that the Russians haven’t been messing with our college football polls?
One would expect Alabama to be a near-unanimous selection for this year’s championship. Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has won the past three titles, four of the last five. Since 1992, Alabama has won five championships when the Tide was not selected to win (1992, 1999, 2009, 2012, and 2015). Bama has been selected to win the championship and been successful in 2014 and 2016. Of course, just picking Alabama doesn’t guarantee success. Tide teams that were predicted to win the championship and came up short were in 1993, 2000, 2010, 2011, and 2013.
Much of the disdain for the poll followed the 2015 season. The story of SEC Media Days that year was that Auburn had the Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jeremy Johnson and Coach Gus Malzahn’s team would romp to the title. Instead, of course, Alabama won the championship and Auburn finished seventh in the seven-team SEC Western Division.
There’s a lot of similar talk among some this year, that Auburn’s new transfer quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, will take the Tigers to the title. No one expects Stidham to be the bust that Johnson was, but is his slim resume at Baylor from the defense-challenged Big 12 enough to get Auburn a preseason championship?
Probably not. Look for Alabama to be the favorite both in the West and for the overall championship.
Georgia and Florida are expected to battle it out in the East as there is more uncertainty in that division.
Just as a quick reminder of how the poll has gone before:
1992, Florida the pick, Alabama the winner.
1993, Alabama selected, Florida won.
1994, Florida was the correct pick.
1995, Florida again was the right selection.
1996, Tennessee picked, Florida won.
1997, Florida picked, Tennessee won.
1998, Florida selected, Tennessee the winner.
1999, Tennessee the selection, Alabama the winner.
2000, Alabama picked, Florida won.
2001, Florida selected, LSU the winner.
2002, Tennessee the pick, Georgia won.
2003, Auburn selected, LSU won.
2004, Georgia picked, Auburn the winner.
2005, Tennessee picked, Georgia won.
2006, Auburn selected, Florida the winner.
2007, LSU was the correct selection.
2008, Florida was slected and won.
2009, Florida the pick, Alabama the winner.
2010 Alabama selected, Auburn won.
2011, Alabama picked, LSU the winner.
2012, LSU picked, Alabama the winner.
2013, Alabama picked, Auburn won.
2014, Alabama selected and won.
2015, Auburn selected, Alabama won.
2016, Alabama was the correct selection.