For the first time, I’m participating the BlogPoll. Below is my preseason Top 25. During the season, I should post this weekly. (Technically you’re supposed to post it by Monday for commentary and then revise it on Wednesday, but we’ll see. I am happy to hear all commentary about my selections thought.) Below is my preseason ballot:
Now, some words on methodology:
This will be my thought process through most of the season.The BlogPoll makers (i.e. Brian Cook of mgoblog), tells us:
The poll’s goals are clearly stated. The AP poll is full of voters who vote team X super high in the preseason because of its schedule; this is strongly discouraged by the BlogPoll. Preseason polls are supposed to be exclusively about how good a team is thought to be, and postseason polls are supposed to be exclusively about how much a team has accomplished on the field.Â
Now… it is impossible to separate the former from the latter in late-season polls because college football provides such a sparse data set, but at the very least BlogPoll voters know they shouldn’t vote a 9-2 USC team #1 even if they think they’re the best team unless that 9-2 includes three killer nonconference matchups.
I agree for the most part, but I don’t know if it is that cut and dried. College football polls suffers from the intractable problem of ranking over a hundred teams that do not all play each other. Everyone has done the elementary problem where, for example, you ask how we might rank the 2008 football teams. Florida was the number one team, but wait: they lost to Ol’ Miss. Ol’ Miss in turn lost to South Carolina, which itself lost to Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt lost to Duke, and, well, let’s just stop. It gets even crazier when you start adding up scores: Florida beat Kentucky by X, which beat so-and-so by ten so Florida would beat them by 70 or whatever.
Compounding this problem is the fact that college football ends its season in a rather ambiguous manner, with a series of bowl games and then re-rankings. In the NFL, you can pretty easily do “power rankings,” because you know there will be a playoff at the end. This is not to say that the playoff will ultimately crown the “best” team, but if a team has three losses and another two, but you think the first is better, it’s fair to rank the first higher because you are sure they are more likely to win the rematch.
In college, however, it is, as I said, ambiguous. Texas beats Oklahoma; you happen to think Oklahoma is the better team; you rank Oklahoma higher. Or, alternatively, you say it was decided on the field and rank Texas higher. The Oklahoma guy says that Texas Tech beat Texas and OU beat TTech by about a thousand, and so on, and around we go.
Compounding this is the fact that the BCS, although I don’t think it is as bad as some of its detractors say, is not entirely fair. Or at least it doesn’t provide the same opportunity for a championship to all teams, based on money but also the not completely farcical fact that the non-BCS schools can pad their records against inferior teams, and a matchup between SEC #2 or #3 is still one they would be overmatched for (i.e. Georgia vs. Hawai’i, but then again there’s Utah vs. Alabama and Boise St. vs. OU). (Incidentally, didn’t LSU win a title with two losses recently? Including one to Kentucky?)
So what to do? This is the long way of saying that my poll will be a kind of “gestalt” approach, and therefore I will try to reflect the following “mix” of considerations:
- What teams do I think are the best? Who is playing the best? Generally, do I think team A would beat team B if they played.
- Who has the best chance of converting their season into a championship? The point of a poll is, in some respects, meant to reflect my perceived odds of a team winning it all. This will hurt non-BCS schools and will benefit teams with favorable schedules (contra possibly to Brian’s diktat above), but that is counterbalanced by …
- What teams have had the best “season,” and should be rewarded for winning the games they need to win and playing well? I may think a one or two loss USC is “better” than, say, an undefeated Utah, in the sense that if they played I’d be pretty sure USC would win, but maybe Utah deserves to be “rewarded” for its better season.
I take it that the BlogPoll seems aimed primarily at the last factor, but I can’t get around the fact that I think it is relevant that I think a team is flat better than another, or for that reason or another that team A is more likely to take home the BCS title than team B.
Thus, for this preseason poll I focused primarily on the first two factors, since the third is not yet relevant. (I was not interested in “rewarding” anyone for how they finished last year except insofar as it portends positive things for 2009.) It might be considered cheating, but I consulted Vegas’s odds of winning the BCS, because I do believe in the wisdom of crowds, though with limits. From there I applied my own gut feelings on teams. Some very basic specifics:
- Florida ought to win the title again unless something happens. That said, if you offered me Florida vs. The Field at even money, I’d obviously take it.
- The next two most likely contenders are Texas and OU, who of course will play each other and (theoretically, didn’t happen last year) settle who is the Big 12 delegate. I think OU loses more than people think, though McCoy still needs some runningbacks, secondary receivers to help Jordan Shipley and replace Quan Cosby, and for the D-Line to step up.
- Southern Cal I’m sure will be great, but they did lose a lot, and they are replacing their quarterback without any of the three offensive guys present throughout their big run (Chow, Sarkisian, Kiffin). Corp is hurt, so there’s Barkley? And yet, I still couldn’t rank USC behind a Big 10 team, hence their lead over Penn State (who I like more than the Pryor show from OSU).
- 11-13, Ol’ Miss, Oklahoma State, and Georgia Tech wound up being my “upstart” part of the poll. I actually think Georgia Tech is the most likely to fall back down. I’m a huge Paul Johnson fan, obviously, but in 2008 the Jackets were hit or miss and it would still be a solid move for Coach Johnson to finish in only the Top 25, and not this high. Ol’ Miss is harder to read. I like them and all, but the SEC is a buzzsaw from which I’m unsure they will escape.
- I could have had some of the non-BCS schools like TCU, Utah, and Boise ranked higher, but their stock was hurt by the fact that it is unrealistic for them to get to the BCS game. This is also why BYU didn’t get ranked: if they win their games, including one against Oklahoma, they could go to the highest heights, but I anticipate them taking some big losses. (Incidentally the same goes for Miami, who I think could be both improved this year and start 0-4 with a really tough schedule.)
- No Big East school was ranked in the USA Today Coaches poll, but that conference does get a spot in the BCS and I think they should be alright. People have Pittsburgh highly ranked, but that team has never put up much offense and they lost LeSean McCoy. As a result I think South Florida could finally burst through. Tough to call though. (Rutgers is the dark horse in that conference.) As a side note, Notre Dame benefited from the easy schedule/road-to-BCS position they are in. But seriously: who knows about that team? They could finish top 10 or out of the top 25; I wouldn’t be shocked either way.