College Football: The Big Problem With Preseason Rankings

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Every season, fans and experts alike predict the college football season based on a poll that rates teams on the recruiting classes they compiled and the players they write down on a piece of paper. Sure, plenty of teams have returning talent to help assist in the ranking. These preseason rankings are notorious, however, for giving a false impression of the talent level of several teams each year.

The AP Poll is the main ranking system used in college sports (along with the coaches poll). It’s a system that has been around since at least the 1930s and has provided the most credible assessment of a teams potential success. The voters on this poll include some 65 sportswriters and broadcasters from across the nation; in other words, the people that are supposed to know the game and be able to evaluate a team.

In the past, the AP Poll has been used has the entire determining metric for which teams will play for a national championship. Then we went into the BCS era, of course, where the poll still played a role in that decision. Now, in the era of the College Football Playoff, the AP rankings are essentially just a comparison tool, as they have no say on who ultimately makes the 4-team tournament to decide a champion.

Seeing as the rankings have been diminished in value and all they do is create expectations for schools, it is due time that the preseason version of the AP Poll, Coaches Poll, and any other ranking system become completely and 100% abolished. With the help of some historical statistics, here is why you should agree with this sentiment:


Michael Chang/Getty Images
Michael Chang/Getty Images

In 2015 alone, we have seen several AP Top 25 teams from the preseason polls suffer devastating upsets. The Arkansas Razorbacks went from sleeper contender in the SEC West to a victim of a huge loss in just one week, losing to the Toledo Rockets in week 2. The Northwestern Wildcats beat a preseason ranked club in the Stanford Cardinal in week 1. Then the Auburn Tigers nearly lost to lowly Jacksonville State (an FCS team), causing them to take a big dip in the polls.

Historically, preseason top 25 teams have been exceptional at losing these “sure-fire win” games early in the year. We’ve seen teams like James Madison University take down the Virginia Tech Hokies, Carnegie Tech beat the Notre Dame Irish, and (infamously) Appalachian State crush the Michigan Wolverines hopes and dreams.

With all of these big time upsets in the past, it is clear that the AP Poll gets it wrong a lot of the time. Therefore, ridding of the preseason rankings would avoid proclaiming that a team is a contender when there is really nothing credible to base that proclamation off of.

Giving Teams “Big Wins”

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Michigan State defeated Oregon in a battle of top ten teams and Alabama earned a top 25 victory against Wisconsin. That was just in week 1. These sound like impressive victories, don’t they?

Sure, at the time, those were huge wins for those schools. Apart of the reason they were so huge is due to the fact that those teams they defeated were ranked highly in a preseason poll. This adds an extra element of “impressiveness” to the victory that wouldn’t be there without a number placed next to these schools.  Something’s not right here.

At the end of the season, when determining a tie-breaking situation for the playoff selection, a team’s resume is used to rate how deserving they are of the spot. If one team has more top 25 wins, that automatically makes them look better than the team they are being compared to. This measure of how good a team is unjust.

Maybe Oregon will fall off and only win, say 7 games this season, which is not good enough to be considered a top 25 school in college football. Wisconsin could lose 6 or more games in 2015. Who knows. The point is that giving teams these “big wins” based off of where a school was ranked before the season even began is astonishingly unfair.

Sure, Alabama and Michigan State are probably good enough to make it far without these proclaimed big victories. Still, if the preseason rankings became a thing of the past, it wouldn’t even be a concern. Saying that these wins against preseason top 25 teams are impressive often has very little credibility.

So, What’s the Alternative?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Instead of using preseason rankings, there should be no rankings until mid-October, if any at all in the AP Poll. For college football at least, the AP Poll has no value on the ultimate outcome of the champion for the season, seeing as the College Football Playoff ranks teams beginning in November. That’s the only ranking system we need and it is one that can asses the play and talent of schools throughout the season’s first couple of months before placing them in order.

In all likelihood, the AP Polls are here to stay, despite their lack of real importance. With that, we will continue to see “shocking” upsets and “big” early season victories that will assist in a school’s quest for a championship. It probably isn’t right, but that’s just the way it is.