Friday, August 03, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies, & Preseason Rankings

I've spent the large part of the previous three weeks incommunicado romping around Scandinavia. It was an amazing time with some concrete results.
  • 1. I'm a new fan of Carlsberg beer, if only for their ballsy slogan.
  • 2. If the numbers work out, I hope to commute from Sweden.
  • 3. After being away from American media, I'm quite looking forward to this football season, college and NFL.

Needless to say, I've been trying to catch up for my three-week absence which included many football season previews and predictions. Then it happened. One my least favorite days in the sports year is upon on.

They've released the college football preseason rankings.

Here's my beef: The preseason rankings include too many teams, they don't hold water as far as accurately predicting success, they're prone to the idiocy of Steve Spurrier, and occur too early to be anything but a nuisance.

Let's take a look at last season's rankings, and for the sake of space I'll just be dealing with the USA Today poll. In the 2006 preseason rankings there were 53 teams receiving votes resulting in near 45% of teams gaining consideration. This point actually makes sense. These teams are almost without fail different teams from the season before. It's quite rare for a school to return 100% of starters and coaching staff from one season to the next. Therefore, when dealing with over 100 new-ish teams, one might expect rankings to trickle down to a large number of squads, especially since they haven't played a game yet.

By week 3 of last season only 41 teams were receiving votes. And the final rankings only showed votes for 34 teams. "No duh," you're saying. As more games are played, more facts are known and the rankings become more accurate. This just underlines the foolishness and ignorance of preseason rankings being tabulated before teams have begun fall practice let alone played a game!

Next comes the issue of accuracy. By week 3 of last season, 8 teams of the preseason top 25 had fallen in the poll by an average of 6 positions with two teams falling 10 and 11 spots respectively. An additional 4 teams had fallen from the top 25 all together. Those 13 teams holding steady or moving up only did so by about 4 positions. The polls couldn't even accurately pick the top 5 as only Ohio State held steady while Texas, Notre Dame & Oklahoma fell and USC climbed. This is after a mere three weeks.

By the end of the season, the preseason rankings were a distant mistake. The top 7 preseason teams had all fallen an average near 6 positions, and 9 of the preseason 25 were not to be found in the final rankings.

The most laughable complaint in the presason rankings is Steve Spurrier's insistence on giving Duke a recipricating vote in honor of Duke giving Spurrier a job. That's right, Duke, who went 0-12 last season, is again mentioned in the latest preseason rankings.

Lastly, these rankings have been issued on August 3, weeks ahead of most teams opening games. What does that mean? Boise State gets 27 days (first game August 30 against Weber St.) to talk about how last season's 13-0, Fiesta Bowl winning, ESPY garnering, No.6 ranking season earned them a paltry spot at No. 23. June Jones and Hawaii get to prattle on again how their getting zero love when ranked 24th. LSU, Florida, and Michigan - all No. 1 vote getters - will have to play themselves into the top spot while the overall No. 1 USC only has to not screw it up.

The BCS rankings wait for a few games to be played, and I still believe waiting at least until all teams have played one game to rank them could result in more accurate BCS results.

In the end these preseason rankings are actually good at what they end up doing - getting people hyped for football. Look at me. However, I don't think this hype is remotely necessary especially when it brings along false expectations, hollow storylines, and more Steve Spurrier.


Anonymous said...

Are you sure that it's such a big deal that Spurrier casts a vote for Duke at the beginning of each year? We can agree that the rankings put out before games are even played are inaccurate, and in my opinion, virtually pointless. At least Spurrier casts a vote himself, while many other coaches pass the job off to someone else in the athletic department.
-Nate in St. Louis

Ross McLochness said...

I think it's a big deal to Duke, but for the wrong reasons. They get to start each season with an ironic reminder of how sickeningly awful they are.

You bring up another great point about how the voting job can become quite suspect, especially when assistants and even student managers are handling the voting reins.

Yet again we're reminded of the rankings' foolishness.

Touchdown Timmy said...

I think it is a big deal that Spurrier tosses away a vote - and here's why: