6 Reasons Why Pre-Season College Football Rankings Need to Stop

Every year in August, the Associated Press votes on the pre-season rankings for Football Bowl Subdivision teams. I’m not quite sure what they’re based on, other than these factors: teams’ performance from the previous season; how many players are returning to the roster (which is know by draft picks and prior roster reporting); and new recruits (which are publicly available).

There is a specific problem with each of these criteria:

Past Performance – College football pollsters should take a quote from investment companies caveat to selling mutual funds: “past performance does not guarantee future results.” The thing about past performance is that no schedule is ever the same. Most teams change at least three teams on each subsequent schedule and play their rivals and other in-conference games in different locations. Those factors alone should play a huge role in determining the future success of a team.

Returning players – While having the majority of your players return should be a good indication of future results, it’s often not. Injuries can occur at any time (think of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller injuring his shoulder one week before the season started in 2014) and coaching staffs may turn over and/or change offensive and defensive schemes.

New recruits – No high school recruit is ever guaranteed to perform well in college. It’s a completely different level of competition and gives no guarantee of future performance.

In taking a look at these criteria as a whole, let’s take a further look at just how off the mark the Associated Press, so far, is with their rankings (and first place votes) by taking a look at the pre-season rankings for the 2016 season:

  1. Alabama (33)
  2. Clemson (16)
  3. Oklahoma (4)
  4. Florida State (5)
  5. LSU (1)
  6. Ohio State (1)
  7. Michigan (1)
  8. Standford
  9. Tennessee
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Ole Miss
  12. Michigan State
  13. TCU
  14. Washington
  15. Houston
  16. UCLA
  17. Iowa
  18. Georgia
  19. Louisville
  20. USC
  21. Oklahoma State
  22. North Carolina
  23. Baylor
  24. Oregon
  25. Florida

At the start of a season, it seems like a worthy list, but take a look at the same list with a few things highlighted:

  1. Alabama (33)
  2. Clemson (16)
  3. Oklahoma (4)
  4. Florida State (5)
  5. LSU (1)
  6. Ohio State (1)
  7. Michigan (1)
  8. Standford
  9. Tennessee
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Ole Miss
  12. Michigan State
  13. TCU
  14. Washington
  15. Houston
  16. UCLA
  17. Iowa
  18. Georgia
  19. Louisville
  20. USC
  21. Oklahoma State
  22. North Carolina
  23. Baylor
  24. Oregon
  25. Florida

You’ll notice the 10 teams highlighted in red. Those are teams that are no longer ranked in the AP Top 25 (one of them, LSU, even received one first place vote at the beginning of the season).

Then take a look at the Week 6 ranks from the AP Top 25 poll (retrieved 8 October, 2016):

  1. Alabama (53)
  2. Ohio State (6)
  3. Clemson (1)
  4. Michigan (1)
  5. Washington
  6. Houston
  7. Louisville
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Tennessee
  10. Miami
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Nebraska
  13. Baylor
  14. Ole Miss
  15. Stanford
  16. Arkansas
  17. North Carolina
  18. Florida
  19. Boise State
  20. Oklahoma
  21. Colorado
  22. West Virginia
  23. Florida State
  24. Utah
  25. Virginia Tech

You’ll notice the 10 teams highlighted in orange. Those are the teams that are now in the rankings that were not at the beginning of the year.

Then take a deeper look:

Of the current Top 10:

  • 3 were unranked at the beginning of the season (8-10);
  • 3 were ranked, but have moved up by at least 9 spots (Washington, Houston, Louisville); and
  • 4 were ranked there and have remained.

Of the 10 teams that have fallen from the Top 25 since the pre-season:

Team  Current Record
LSU 3-2
Notre Dame 2-4
Michigan State 2-3
TCU 4-2
UCLA 3-2
Iowa 4-2
Georgia 3-2
USC 3-3
Oklahoma State 4-2
Oregon 2-4
Combined 30-26

Here are the six reasons why pre-season rankings are nothing but a bunch of baloney and should cease. They are, perhaps, the same reasons that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee waits until Week 8 to release its first rankings.

  1. Of the current Top 10, compared to the pre-season rankings: 3 were unranked, 3 were ranked but by jumped by 9, 9, and 12 spots, and only 4 remain in the top 10.
  2. Teams ranked 8-12 were all unranked at the beginning of the year.
  3. 6 of the teams ranked 16-25 were unranked at the beginning of the year.
  4. Of the 10 teams that dropped out of the pre-season Top 25, they are a combined 30-26 (barely bowl eligible if it was one team).
  5. Alabama is the only team that remains ranked in the same position in Week 6 as it was in the pre-season rankings (#1).
  6. The AP Top 25 poll plays no role in determining playoff teams or anything else of value.

It’s clear that the AP Poll pre-season rankings are pointless and are just TV fodder for ESPN and other pundits. Of course, if we had no pre-season rankings, ESPN couldn’t boast the “greatest weekend of college football ever” campaign that it launched earlier this year. Was it good? Yeah. Was it amazing? No.

Here were the games between ranked teams:

  • Oklahoma vs. Houston
  • Georgia vs. North Carolina
  • Alabama vs. USC
  • Florida State vs. Ole Miss

So, again, let’s look further:

  • Georgia and USC are no longer ranked.
  • Houston just lost to Navy.
  • Florida State has already lost two games

But, again, with out the drama of the pre-season rankings, ESPN couldn’t fool you into thinking those games mattered and that those teams are relevant this year.

My suggestion next year is to look at which teams play each other in the first week, rank all of them, then boast about how it’s the greatest weekend of college football ever. Because, why not? It doesn’t seem to matter anyway.

 

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