The once enormous importance of subjective college football polls has been deflated with the inception of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. There are those that say any poll before Halloween is pointless. Some go a step further and suggest they be done away with completely. But this is America, where we will fight to the death to preserve our ability to cast a ballot on important issues, like if Ohio State’s early-season struggles are in the rearview mirror or if Baylor’s lopsided victories are truly impressive.
Voter polls no longer decide a national champion. They no longer factor into a formula aimed at pitting the top teams to battle it out on the field. They are, however, still important. Preseason rankings — nothing more than slightly educated guesses — form a framework for viewing the season as it plays out. Highly rated teams tend be grandfathered into the top spots while others must operate in a meritocracy. Perhaps most importantly, the polls provide tangible evidence of the prevailing consensus. The Selection Committee isn’t required to show its work. The greatest barometer to judge their findings on is how it stacks up next to the groupthink of 61 media members earnestly attempting to solve the same equation.
Nine weeks into this season, clarity about the nation’s top team remains elusive. Five unbeatens (Ohio State, Baylor, Clemson, LSU and TCU) all earned first-place votes. Six more teams with unblemished records (Iowa, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Houston, Toledo and Temple) are in the Top 25. None of them received a nod for No. 1.
One-loss Alabama, sitting at No. 7 in the actual poll, did thanks to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. The writer also has Florida ahead of Ohio State and Baylor floundering way down at No. 9.
While you can applaud Wilner for his independent thinking, ballots like this make me wonder — in a moment of exasperation –why we’re even playing the games. If the ultimate goal isn’t winning, what is the point?
There’s a possibility Alabama is the best team in college football right now. At 7-1 and with quality wins over Wisconsin, Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Crimson Tide is rolling. I’d be hard-pressed to pick any of the unbeaten teams over them on a neutral field. But are we really supposed to say that a home loss to Ole Miss means nothing? Five turnovers and a few freakish bounces aside, isn’t winning the most important metric?
Perhaps this is being being simplistic. Ohio State and Michigan State have been underwhelming. Baylor and TCU haven’t played anyone. LSU hasn’t looked like world-beaters. Having said that, it seems like one has to really overthink it to put a one-loss team over 11 zero-loss teams.
Especially Clemson. What, prey tell, do the Tigers have to do to get the same credit as Alabama? Because obviously winning all their games — including one against Notre Dame — isn’t enough. Neither is publicly executing Miami in front of women and children. The only thing seemingly missing from Clemson’s resume is a six-point home loss to a two-loss opponent.
Maybe this is part of the reason polls exist. Voters are just like those of us at home, trying to make sense of things using unique methodology. Discussion breeds conflict which in turn breeds interest. Part of the reason college football thrives is due to passionate disagreement. It’s like a non-contrived version of First Take.
So in that spirit let me distill my argument into one digestible bite:
Winning isn’t everything, but when it comes to polls it should be damn good starting point.