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Every fall, it’s the same thing. The preseason AP Top 25 college football poll comes out, and some undeserving team is ranked way too high, then precipitously drops out of the rankings early in the season, while another team is not ranked at all and steadily climbs its way up into a respectable New Year’s Day bowl at season’s end. 

While those scenarios have repeated themselves for decades and caused many to question the validity of the early AP polls, the first college football poll of the 2020 season confirms it is an embarrassing joke in big, bold letters. 

Big Ten and Pac-12 postpone 2020 football season

On August 11, the Big Ten Conference was the first Power Five conference to pull the plug on its 2020 college football season despite several of the league’s coaches advocating to play the season. 

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Not surprisingly, the Pac-12 reached the same conclusion just hours later. After those two monumental decisions, all eyes shifted to the ACC, SEC, and Big 12, to see if those conferences would follow suit. They did not. 

Associated Press releases Top 25 college football poll

Today, for the 85th time, the Associated Press released its first college football poll of the season, which is voted on weekly by a panel of 62 sports writers and broadcasters. As has happened the previous 84 times, some college football teams were ranked too high while others were ranked too low or not ranked at all. 

But the 2020 version, in typical 2020 fashion, was beyond abnormal. And you didn’t have to look very hard to find the first abnormality. That’s because the voters placed the Ohio State Buckeyes at No. 2. Yes, the same Buckeyes team that plays in the Big Ten Conference that isn’t playing any games this fall. And they weren’t alone.

Also in the Top 10 was Penn State at No. 7 and the first entry for the non-playing Pac-12, Oregon at No. 9. There were six additional teams from either the Big Ten or Pac-12 included in the poll. All were identified by an asterisk. 

“The preseason poll has always been a speculative ranking of teams based on last year’s results and knowledge about the new makeup of teams,” said Michael Giarrusso, AP’s global sports editor. “This year, we think it is crucial to give all the teams and all their fans a snapshot look at what the Top 25 would have been to open the season.”

How to fix college football poll in future

college football poll
Ohio State Buckeyes families and fans protest outside of Big Ten Conference headquarters after league postpones season. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in AP Top 25 preseason college football poll. | Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Giarrusso acknowledges the polls are based on the previous season and knowledge of the team’s new makeup. While hypothetically that sounds good, it’s evident each season there’s bias. That’s because, without fail, some big-name teams are in the poll that should never make the list, or at least not be ranked as high, while other lesser schools are not ranked at all and have to claw and scratch their way to the top. 

What is the solution? Actually, the solution has been in place for several years since the introduction of the College Football Playoff in 2014. Every year since, the first College Football Playoff rankings have come out later in the season after the teams have developed a resume and proven their worthy of their rankings. In 2019, the rankings were released on November 5.

The 2020 preseason AP Top 25 college football poll featuring teams not even playing this season has proven once and for all the early poll’s complete irrelevance. As a result, the NCAA and AP should do all college football fans a favor and make the 85th version of the preseason AP college football poll its last and eighty-six the preseason poll going forward.