When Should The Preseason Polls Come Out?

Posted May 20, 2009

When should the preseason polls come out? Do you have a problem with them? In our new feature, the CFN Daily Roundtable Discussion, we discuss the debate that'll be what everyone is talking about in a few short weeks from now.

CFN Daily Roundtables

May 20

The Preseason Polls - When Should They Come Out?

- May 18 No BCS, No Weis?
- May 19 Does 2008 Utah have a beef?

Over the next several weeks, as part of the CFN 2009 Preview, we'll examine some of the key questions going into the year with a daily discussion of the big topics.

Pete Fiutak, CFN     

Q: Do you have a problem with the preseason polls, and when do you think they should come out?

A: Preseason polls don't kill college football teams; people kill college football teams.

I have absolutely no problem with the polls coming out before the season. Heck, have them come out five minutes after the previous season ends. Timing isn't the issue.

Florida is going to be the No. 1 team in the one preseason poll that matters, the Coaches' Poll. Texas will almost certainly be No. 2. Fine, no big deal. When the time comes, the Harris Poll will fall in line and mirror whatever the Coaches' Poll is doing. The problem isn't that the polls create the expectations and set the tone for the season, the problem is that 1) the people voting in the polls don't watch enough or know enough about the entire college football landscape to make an informed decision, and 2) the voters don't stray from their initial beliefs and they only go by what they see.

For example, Oklahoma, along with Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State, were so amazing, the the Big 12 South became the weekly story as last year went on. Everyone saw the Sooner offense get hot and get rolling at a historic level, and because of it, Sam Bradford won the Heisman and the voters went with OU over Texas. The pollsters stopped paying attention to the Longhorns, and how they dominated every bit as much as Oklahoma did late in the year, but they saw the loss to Texas Tech. They also saw how the Sooners drilled the Red Raiders.

But I digress. My problem is that if Florida and Texas go unbeaten (assuming they really are one and two to start the season), they will play for the national title no matter what happens. Let's say, for example Michigan State wipes up everyone by three touchdowns. There won't be any chance for the Spartans to break through the top two because no one will vote down the Gators and Longhorns as long as they keep winning. A better example might be USC, who could beat Ohio State by two scores, roll through the Pac 10, and not have any chance of playing for the national title if the preseason top two teams go unscathed.

I'm going to beat a dead horse here, but the answer to the poll problem continues to be simple. Put the six BCS league winners in an eight-team playoff and you take the debate out of the hands of the pollsters. They'd still have some say with the highest ranked non-BCS champion getting in along with the highest ranked team still remaining.

Since that's not going to happen, then do something easier and more practical and make the voters in the Coaches' and Harris polls prove they know something by forcing them to write why they voted the way they did and make it public. Also make them show they at least know who the starting quarterback is for each team they vote for.

Richard Cirminiello, CFN

Q: Do you have a problem with the preseason polls, and when do you think they should come out?

A: I generally have no issues with preseason polls because I recognize that they’re basically for entertainment purposes only. Nothing more. Nothing less. Most are standard fare, rarely deviating from the obvious and always putting too much emphasis on what happened the year before. If you want accuracy, you’re in the wrong place. Last year, for instance, 11 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll were outside the Top 25 when the season ended.

Now, I do have a beef with the coaches’ poll coming out before the season begins because it’s a component of the BCS rankings, and there’s an inherent advantage to starting No. 3 compared to, say, being No. 23. It’s a perception thing, forcing that 23rd ranked program to go above and beyond before being allowed to climb into the upper echelon of the poll. Of course, it’s possible but why should anyone be forced to play catch up when everyone begins the season 0-0? Oh, and the coaches are awful evaluators of the national landscape during the season, let alone before any games have been played. Does anyone really believe that Pete Carroll has a clue—or cares—how the quarterback situation at Clemson is unfolding?

The coaches’ poll ought to take a page out of the Harris Poll playbook and digest three or four weeks of action before even casting votes. In the name of fair play and equity, it just makes good common sense.

Matthew Zemek, CFN

Q: Do you have a problem with the preseason polls, and when do you think they should come out?

I have a huge problem with them. Coaches shouldn't have a poll, for starters--they can never watch everyone (or even half of everyone, or even a quarter of everyone) play. As for writers, how can beat writers assigned to individual teams or conferences survey enough national action to merit a ballot... and be monitored during the season? They can't. It's not their fault, but the point is that any poll voter must watch the full 14-16 (including the late game at Hawaii, if applicable) hours of games on every Saturday of every season, in addition to all the weeknight games. If any individual isn't watching the full assortment of games in all regions at all hours, that writer--no matter how wise or accomplished--is not seeing the whole picture. Even those of us who are generalists, not specialists, and who do take in the full range of action every week, are not seeing every snap of every game. The people who are best equipped to vote are not just the ones taking in the full scope of every Saturday; they're the ones who have the resources, the job-based mandate, the credentials, and the willpower needed to watch a lot of film and taped feeds on Sunday and Monday, which enables them to unfailingly see close to 100 percent of the top 20-30 teams every week. Until polls have only those kinds of voters, the system will be flawed.
Now, to fully address the question: If any poll is held, the rankings should not be released, in an ideal world, until after the first college football Saturday of November. Not until a season goes deep into the calendar--and at least the eighth or ninth game of a schedule--can teams be evaluated somewhat fairly... and even then, there can be problems. Texas Tech, for instance, didn't begin to play the heavyweights on its 2008 slate until the Nov. 1 classic against Texas. One could make the argument that poll rankings should be released even later than the first weekend of November, but in order to give teams a sense of what they might need to accomplish down the stretch, it appears necessary to give them some time to digest the initial rankings, and map a path to prominence over the final full month of the season.

Kevin Carden, Publisher, SCPlaybook.com

Q: Do you have a problem with the preseason polls, and when do you think they should come out?

A: While I appreciate the reason for having preseason polls as far as the marketing aspect of it and driving fan interest, my problem is that while they are nothing more than a projection of how good the media thinks a given team could be on paper, they can and do have a real impact on a team’s season. In a preseason poll, teams are being rewarded because someone thinks they are going to be good when they haven’t actually shown that to be the case. If you waited until the fourth week of the college football season to release the polls they would be based on what a team has actually achieved between the lines, instead of how good they were perceived to be heading into the season. We regularly see a team that enters the season in the Top 10 only to lose two of their first three or four games, and stay in the Top 25, while an “unknown” team goes 4-0 against quality opponents and is still on the outside looking in.

For a team that starts outside of the Top 25, it’s much more difficult to work your way up the polls and could cost a school the chance at a BCS bowl berth, which shouldn’t be the case.

The attraction of sports is you usually get to go head-to-head on the field to determine the best team and a preseason poll is just another example of college football judging teams like beauty contestants.

Jon Miller, Publisher, HawkeyeNation.com

Q: Do you have a problem with the preseason polls, and when do you think they should come out?

A: One of my jobs is hosting a daily sports talk radio show in a state without professional sports, so I LIVE for the preseason magazines and polls.  Give me a Fox Sports Intern's Top 25 poll in May, and I will give you two hours of talk and phone calls.  That being said, I am beginning to believe the first poll of the year should come out in mid-October, as far as the components of the BCS are concerned.  That would be the Coaches Poll and the computer polls.  The Harris Interactive Poll, another component of the BCS, already waits weeks into the season before releasing its first rankings.  That gives people a chance to actually see the teams on the field versus guessing what they are made of on paper before slotting them into a ranking.  That can have a great deal of impact on who winds up not only in the BCS bowls, but in the title game.  Teams that are ranked near the top of the poll in the preseason can afford to have an early loss; we've seen several examples of that.  Give everyone a chance to play at least four games, ideally six, before releasing a poll.  The first four games can still be mostly against non-conference patsies, but we will at least have an eye test to judge.  The Associated Press will not wait, so there is no way to get this accomplished, but a man can dream, right?