Marshall: Harris Poll Should Be Dead On Arrival

Columnist Phillip Marshall is not impressed with the Harris Interactive football poll and has opinions on a variety of other subjects.

Someone in a position of authority needs to stop this joke before it goes any further.

The first Harris Interactive poll was released Sunday. It either needs to be fixed immediately or it should the last Harris Interactive poll. For this mess to be part of deciding the national champion is beyond absurd.

To be honest, unless Southern California or Texas loses, none of the polls are going to matter. The Trojans and Longhorns will play for the national championship in the Rose Bowl and that will be that. If you are looking for "this year's Auburn," look no further than Virginia Tech. The Hokies might be the best team in the country, but if the other two win out, it isn't going to matter. But I digress.

At first glance, the Harris poll, with USC No. 1 and Texas No. 2, looks a lot like the Associated Press poll and the coaches' poll. But it's not.

Among the 113 voters who participated in the first poll are some who are frightfully clueless about college football or some who are treating the whole thing as a big joke. Either way, they need to be removed or the poll needs to be shut down.

You can agree or disagree with some in the Top 25, but you have to look in the "other teams receiving votes" section to understand the problem. I'm not talking about Auburn being No. 29. I'm not even talking about Michigan being No. 25 with two losses or Louisville staying in the Top 25 after being blown out 45-14 by South Florida. By my count, there are 34 teams to which I would give serious consideration if I were a voter.

Here's what I'm talking about:

Illinois got 13 votes. Bowling Green and Idaho got five votes apiece. You have to be kidding me.

Illinois is 2-2 and lost 61-14 to Michigan State last Saturday. Bowling Green is 1-2 and had to come from behind to beat Ball State in the fourth quarter. Idaho? Idaho is 0-4, but that's not the worst. The Vandals were shut out at home 24-0 last Saturday by Hawaii. It's not easy to be shut out by Hawaii.

Now, on the surface, it probably seems like it doesn't matter that those teams got a few votes. But it does matter, because the same voters who considered those teams among the 25 best teams in the country will have input into who plays for the national championship.

That's an intolerable situation, or at least it should be. Of course, the BCS has pretty much proved to be intolerable itself, so why should we be surprised?

Moving on...

A lot of people have asked about the process of voting in polls. The truth is, there really is no set process. Different people look at it different ways. The only way I can answer is to describe how I did it in my five seasons as a voter in the Associated Press poll.

I had one hard and fast rule. If two teams had identical records and played each other, I voted for the team that won. That would mean, at this point, I would vote Georgia Tech ahead of Auburn. In 1978, I voted for USC over Alabama because both had one loss and USC won when they played in Birmingham. That doesn't always work, though. For instance, in 1983, Auburn lost to Texas and beat Georgia. In the Cotton Bowl, Georgia beat Texas. The three teams had one loss apiece. Head-to-head results wouldn't solve that one.

In preseason polls, I relied heavily on the season before because there really is nothing legitimate to go on until teams start playing. In making choices, I would ask myself who would be favored if two teams played on a neutral field.

Beyond that, it's just a matter of seeing who teams have played and how they have done. It's a subjective process that is a really bad way to pick any kind of champion...

The next few weeks will tell the story of whether or not Auburn will make a run at a second consecutive Southeastern Conference championship. The Tigers play South Carolina at home, then have back-to-back games at LSU and Arkansas. If they come through that stretch unscathed, they will be the favorite in the West. If they come through with one loss, they'll still be in the race. Two losses wouldn't mean the season was lost, but it would almost certainly mean there would be no championship.

In Auburn's seven-game finish against SEC opponents, the only thing that really matters is wins and losses. Style points aren't part of the equation, and anyone who believes any of those games are automatic Auburn wins isn't living in reality.

On Saturday, South Carolina, at 2-2 overall and 0-2 in the SEC, will view Auburn as its chance to turn around a season. It would be easy to look at the Gamecocks' 37-14 home loss to Alabama and expect a rout. But just a week before that, only a missed extra point and missed field goal kept those same Gamecocks from winning at Georgia.

Arkansas will view its game against Auburn the same way. And the Razorbacks will be playing at home. They salvaged some pride in playing tough at Alabama in wake of their 70-17 humiliation at USC. They have an open date Saturday and then play Louisiana-Monroe. That means they essentially have three weeks to get ready for Auburn's visit.

The truth of the SEC, as of today, is that there is no way to say which two teams will emerge to play for the championship in Atlanta. It could be any of the six teams that traditionally compete for championships--Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU. Tennessee is tottering on the brink. If the Vols lose at LSU tonight, their championship hopes will be virtually gone...

Redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Field talks to offensive coordinator Al Borges on Saturday.

Blake Field will certainly never forget Sept. 24, 2005. The story is well-known now. Field found out 45 minutes before gametime that he would start at quarterback. He did an admirable job as the Tigers beat Western Kentucky 37-14.

Western Kentucky was clearly overmatched, but the Hilltoppers are one of the more impressive Division I-AA teams I have seen. They certainly appeared to be significantly better than Ball State, a 63-3 loser at Jordan-Hare Stadium the week before

This might be the quote of the year from SEC Media Days:

"I don't think the quarterback position is that important for winning or losing."

Who made that insightful observation? First-year Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron, of course. Orgeron came in talking loudly and boldly. Now he's looking at a 1-2 record that is sure to get worse. It would be 0-3 had Memphis not lost its starting quarterback in the first quarter of the opener.

A couple more Orgeron gems from Media Days:

"I will tell you this. I'm really pleased with the talent level that was at Ole Miss when I got there."

He didn't sound so pleased with it after last Saturday?s 24-14 loss to Wyoming.

"I feel that every young man that was born in the state of Mississippi wants to play for Ole Miss."


Until next time...

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