Some things just aren’t important — like a pair of snow boots in Florida or a beach towel in Arizona. Rankings during the first five weeks of the college football season can be placed in that category.
For many avid fans, the preseason rankings serve as a judgmental launching pad for how their team may do in the upcoming season. In that sense, the rankings are relevant. They allow us to get excited for the non-conference matchups, such as the “Game of the Season” between then-No. 1 USC and then-No. 5 Ohio State that took place just a few weeks ago.
Did you watch that game?
If you’d call it a game, that is. It was more like the Trojans going Achilles on the Buckeyes, 35-3. It had many USC fans saying “Fight on Trojans, fight on,” and punching their tickets to Miami — the site of this year’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship.
Whoops! Too bad Oregon State struck the Trojans’ heels — just two weeks later —upsetting their chance at the title and knocking them off the No. 1 spot.
The point lies with the consistently inconsistent nature of the rankings in the first five weeks.
Let’s take this year’s Associated Press preseason rankings, and compare them to this week’s. In the preseason, Ohio State, Florida, West Virginia, Clemson and Auburn were all ranked in the top 10.
Ohio State is gone. Florida is gone. West Virginia — gone. Do you see the pattern?
Brigham Young is ranked eighth in this week’s poll, while South Florida is ranked 10th. BYU plays in the Western Athletic Conference — a non-BCS conference. BYU hasn’t beaten a team this year with a .500 record or better. USF plays in the Big East — a BCS conference. USF beat Kansas this year, a team then-ranked 13th in the country and are defending Orange Bowl Champions.
So, why does the AP rank BYU above USF?
That’s easy. It’s because BYU was ranked higher in the AP preseason rankings. Before the cleats were laced up, the helmets were strapped and the games were played, it was decided that the Cougars were a better football team than the Bulls.
Imagine that there were no preseason rankings this year. Imagine AP had waited to issue the first set of rankings until this week, right before major conference play begins. Imagine they were based on the game resume. USF would certainly be ranked higher than BYU.
So, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the AP poll and USA Today/Coaches Poll have the most influence in deciding who is placed where in the BCS computer rankings.
In 2001, the Nebraska Cornhuskers snuck into the BCS championship — despite not even playing in their conference championship game. I was there in Pasadena when the Huskers got rolled 37-14 by the Miami Hurricanes.
It wasn’t pretty, and Nebraska did not deserve to be in that game.
The governing BCS committee came under scrutiny for the way the system was set up. Fans, media and coaches said there was too much power invested in a computer. They said the human polls should have a majority of the power to shape the BCS rankings.
So, the committee gave them that power in 2002.
But the ranking system is still wrong.
Six of the top 10 teams in this year’s preseason AP poll are no longer there. And, from our BYU-USF example, there are undeserving teams ahead of deserving ones.
The solution is waiting to release the human rankings until week six of the season, just like the BCS rankings. That way they are based on the games — not on the preseason hype.
However, we shouldn’t blame the computers for the debacle — this time.
Instead it’s the major media markets, such as ESPN, that made millions and millions of dollars for airing No. 1 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State. That game was a non-conference, inflated matchup that was deflated just five weeks into the season. One thing we do know from that game, however, is that Ohio State is not the fifth best team in the country, and USC is not the best.
Is it more important for ESPN to make millions airing these non-conference games that are fueled by the preseason rankings? Or is it more important to get it right, and rank the teams accurately, based on how they play?
I’d choose the latter.