For years, one of the biggest debates surrounding college football has been the validity and value placed on polls used to evaluate and rank teams throughout the season. We have coaches' polls, media polls, fan polls, human polls vs. computer polls, a combination of all of these called the BCS standings, and who knows what others were missing.
We even have polls predicting the future order of finish of teams nationally as well as within their conferences as early as six months before a game is even played. They're called pre-preseason and preseason polls, and if you ask me, the only real purpose they serve is to create media copy for newspapers, magazines and the new social media (i.e., sports blogs) and get fans excited and texting, tweeting and talking about the forthcoming season and who's better or worse than whom.
There is absolutely no correlation, scientifically or otherwise, between being ranked No. 1 to start the season and being in the top spot when it counts for real, at the end of the season. None. Nada. Yet all of us like to see our favorite college teams included in the preseason top 25 polls, and preferably at the higher end of the rankings, if for no other reason than it boosts our pride and team spirit and makes us feel good going into the season.
There's really no means of objective measurement until the teams start playing games for real, and even then, without a head-to-head comparison, it isn't truly an objective basis for ranking one team with a 4-0 record eighth, for example, and another team with the exact same won-lost mark against equivalent competition, twelfth. And then you've got all the debate and disagreement about undefeated teams and one-loss teams, strength of schedule and all of that. What it all boils down to, though, is there is never going to be a fair and simple way of comparing and ranking teams until they play each other straight up.
Regarding whether a playoff system should replace the current BCS formula for identifying which two teams are best qualified to meet to determine the ultimate best team in college football, that's a subject all to its own that I'm more than willing to address, but not here and not now.
AP and USA Today/ESPN publish preseason national polls and weekly college football rankings once the season officially starts. There has been quite a bit of discussion in recent years about holding off on the weekly rankings until several weeks into the season, or through much of the fluff nonconference games that always are a part of the early-season schedule, so a truer measure of a team's performance will be used as the basis of measurement.
This is something that the BCS does do right. As most everyone who closely follows college football knows, the first BCS standings do not come out until typically after the fifth game of the season, around six weeks into the season, or the second week in October. By this time, the country's top teams will have played one or two conference games against opponents more at their level of play and capable of posing a tough enough challenge from which to get a more realistic evaluation of how good a given team really is. Not perfect by any means, but better than suggesting how team will do this or any year before that team has played even a single down of football and before it has gone up against an opponent that has at least a 40/60 chance of beating them.
Having said all of this, I really doubt we will see any real changes, at least not anytime soon, to the current way of doing things. Rankings, at any time of the year, feed and fuel team spirit, stir huge competitive controversies and serve as fodder for sports talk-show chatter and print and social media copy and commentary. More than anything, though, it helps sell tickets. It always manages to come down to money, doesn't it?
It may have limited if any value, but I do have to admit it is fun to project out who the big winners are going to be and in what order of so-called performance superiority they would rank if the college football season were to be a one-day start-and-stop affair. It's really sort of like picking NCAA college basketball brackets during March Madness. You pick all the brackets through to the end of the tournament and follow your picks to see how well they do, looking forward at the end to seeing how well you did against all the other casual and bona fide experts.
That's the same rush and emotional uplift that comes with picking the top 25 teams in the preseason of college football, or the order of finish within a given conference. It may mean absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things, but it's fun and easy to do, and it's self-validating to match outcomes with the burgeoning community of professional and pseudo experts who actually do this for a living. And as long as everyone else is doing it, why not?
So here goes:
2011 Preseason College Football Top 25 Predictions
(2010 season record in parentheses)
1. Oklahoma (12-2) - Big 12 Conference
2. Alabama (10-3) - Southeastern Conference
3. Oregon (12-1) - Pac-12 Conference
4. LSU (11-2) - Southeastern Conference
5. Stanford (12-1) - Pac-12 Conference
6. Florida State (10-4) - Atlantic Coast Conference
7. Texas A&M (9-4) - Big 12 Conference
8. Boise State (12-1) - Mountain West Conference
9. Oklahoma State (11-2) - Big 12 conference
10. Wisconsin (11-2) - Big Ten Conference
11. Arkansas (10-3) - Southeastern Conference
12. Nebraska (10-4) - Big Ten Conference
13. South Carolina (9-5) - Southeastern Conference
14. TCU (13-0) - Mountain West Conference
15. Virginia Tech (11-3) - Big East Conference
16. Michigan State (11-2) - Big Ten Conference
17. Mississippi State (9-4) - Southeastern Conference
18. Arizona State (6-6) - Pac-12 Conference
19. Auburn (14-0) - Southeastern Conference
20. Missouri (10-3) - Big 12 Conference
21. Ohio State (12-1) - Big Ten Conference
22. Notre Dame (8-5) - Independent
23. Georgia (6-7) - Southeastern Conference
24. Florida (8-5) - Southeastern Conference
25. West Virginia (9-4) - Big East Conference
2011 Predicted Order of Finish - Big 12 Conference
2. Texas A&M
3. Oklahoma State
6. Texas Tech
7. Kansas State
9. Iowa State