College Football Polls Important

These are interesting times in college football, though not as dramatic as might have been. The Big XII is still 5/6 together, the Big 10 is still not 10 (up one to 12), Southern Cal didn't get off with a wrist slap, and there has been no national championship retroactive change because of NCAA sanctions, so Auburn gets to keep its 1957 AP title despite having been on probation for buying players.


Alabama has been only peripherally in college football news over the past couple of weeks. That will be changing soon.
Various pre-season college football polls have been emerging almost before the confetti had been swept up from the Rose Bowl following Alabama's 37-21 victory over Texas for the 2009 national championship. And those polls will continue in magazines, on internet sites, and finally from the Associated Press and Coaches Poll in August, ll before the first game is played.
Last year Florida was the darling of the pollsters, and for good reason. The Gators had won the 2008 national championship and had a team of outstanding players, including former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Florida didn't exactly fold up last year. The Gators didn't repeat as national champion, but the only loss for Florida was to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
This year, Alabama is at the head of the class, based in great part on the Crimson Tide having won the 2009 title and returning a number of top stars, including Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Thus far we've seen about a dozen pre-season polls, most as simple as one man's opinion on an internet site for for a pre-season magazine. All but two have had Alabama listed number one. Boise State is this year's national equivalent to Ole Miss in 2009 pre-Southeastern Conference polls. Everyone loves Boise, and at least one poll has the Broncos (thank goodness for Google so I could find that nickname) number one. Another has Oklahoma number one. Most, though, have Alabama number one and Ohio State number two.
Oregon is getting some mention, as are Florida, Texas, Virginia Tech, Iowa, TCU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Miami, USC, Penn State, and LSU.
One hates to sound too much like a coach. Football coaches claim they don't look at the polls during the season and that "the only one that matters is the last one."
That's not true, of course. Neither statement.
Coaches look at the polls. They are particularly interested in being able to say they are playing an opponent ranked second (or whatever) in the nation. Additionally, many of them are voters in the polls and have at least some input with the minion who is actually compiling the weekly vote.
As for polls during the season not meaning anything, you can bet the ranking is brought to the attention of prospects who are recruited during the season, even if the head coach doesn't bother to mention that his team is ranked number two (or whatever).
Alabama has won more than its share of national championships, but the Crimson Tide has also had a number of issues with the polls.
There is a legitimate question about pre-season polls, one that is raised again this year because of what happened half a decade ago. Auburn started out ranked down the poll from Number One Southern Cal and Number Two Oklahoma. All three teams went undefeated and a case can be made that Auburn played a more difficult schedule and was more dominant than USC of the Sooners.
Auburn never got a chance to prove it on the field, though, because USC and Oklahoma were quite rightly matched in the BCS Championship Game. It would have been a travesty had that not been the game. Southern Cal won handily, just as the Trojans had won handily a year earlier when USC played at Auburn. It is reasonable to assume that rout of the Tigers by Southern Cal also figured into the mentality of voters in 2004.
The first issue the 2004 season should have raised is the need for a Plus One game. It would have been better if USC had played whatever team was fourth in the nation that year and Oklahoma and Auburn played, then the winners of the two games played for the title.
The other legitimate issue is whether polls should begin in the pre-season, or even in the first month of so of the season. There is no doubt it is easier to make it up the poll ladder from inside the top five, or even top ten, than it is from further back.
Maybe by waiting until the first week in October to begin polling, two things would happen.
One, a team that was undefeated against good competition might be quite a bit higher in the first poll than in a pre-season poll.
And, two, the first poll would be infinitely more interesting as newspaper columnists and fans on internet sites made the case for how the first poll should shape up.
There are a few million issues more important in the world than the pre-season college football poll, but the delay is worth considering. And we say that coming from the top.

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