Monday, June 09, 2008

On College Football Preseason Picks

SMQ drops two must-read posts about CFB preseason picks.

The first is philosophical, and I largely agree with it. You can't see Stanford-over-USC coming, but you can certainly stop with using the "on a neutral field" argument for creating your rankings in favor of SMQ's "resume"-based rankings.

The second dives right into a look at the preseason mags' picks at the top.

I spent my weekend immersed in Phil Steele's preview mag -- just so you all don't think I'm playing favorites here (um, more than usual), Steele himself picks Florida as his No. 1 team. (Athlon did the same thing, though Lindy's picked them 6, most presumably based on Lindy's belief that Florida will lose head-to-head to Georgia, who the mag tabs as their No. 1 team.)

Rather than the unexpected title of 2006, I actually had been eyeing 2008 as Florida's best shot to win it all: Tebow and Harvin as juniors, time for Meyer's blue-chip recruits to develop a little and, most of all, a very friendly schedule (as friendly as the SEC schedule can be).

That's one reason I can't buy Georgia -- hell, UGA might not make it through their first month, which includes at South Carolina, at Arizona State and Alabama in back-to-back-to-back weeks.

SMQ is right about one factor: There appear to be three virtual "play-off"/"play-in" games: USC-Ohio State, Georgia-Florida and, to a lesser degree, Oklahoma-Missouri. If the winners of those games also run the table, they are the clear-cut favorites, with the winner of the first two with an inside track -- precisely because of the inspiration for this post:

Preseason rankings matter. Even the ones that come out in the magazines in May and June. The reason is because perceptions matter, when the control of the national-title game is in the hands of "human" pollsters.

If you start the season near the top and just keep winning, you will stay at the top. Period. Even though the reasoning that put you there originally -- the Original Sin of Rankings, so to speak -- was based on virtually nothing.

Compare that to the fate of the teams that start the season unranked -- or near the back of the Top 25 -- and have to wait for things to happen in front of them (beyond their control) to move up. Not to get an early start on crapping on Ohio State, but look at Ohio State last year.

Preseason rankings matter, because of all of the factors that go into ranking teams in the various human polls -- and I'm talking about the ones that "matter" -- the greatest factor of all isn't W/L or strength of schedule...

It's inertia.

And make no mistake: The place where that battle is won -- and, remember, this is presuming that the team at the top simply keeps winning to maintain its place there -- is in the preseason.

So you can mock the preseason magazines or the preseason rankings; you can try to call them meaningless. But you do it at your own risk. In the absence of a playoff, they are as big of a factor as any -- at least until the wins and losses on the field set things right.

So I will gladly take that No. 1 ranking from Phil Steele or Athlon's, just as I'm sure that Ohio State will take its No. 1 ranking from a cumulative total.

Fortunately for everyone, both Florida and Ohio State face up-or-out games at least once this season. And even if they win those, there's always the black swan.

-- D.S.

1 comment:

the toddler said...

If we are going to do polls, I guess you have to start somewhere. Some have suggested that we wait a few weeks to do the first poll, essentially doing away with preseason rankings. There still would have to be some sense of who should be number one, etc., even if you wait a month. Preseason rankings do add to the buzz of the pending college football season, even though they are somewhat flawed. Add to that the complication of whether you do your poll based how you think teams will finish or based on how strong teams are now (ie. Phil Steele's power poll).