Friday, August 01, 2008

Coaches' Top 25 Poll: What Does It Mean?

The first/preseason Coaches' Top 25 poll was released, and it's important: The Coaches' poll is 1/3 of the BCS formula, and -- as we all know -- the No. 1 voting criteria is...


In other words: Where teams start is a built-in advantage.

If you keep winning, it's a hell of a lot easier to stay at the top than to start from the back. (Yes, ultimately, if you simply keep winning and never lose, you will probably get to the top spot. Probably. Maybe. You never know though.)

Georgia is No. 1, which presumably means that they are the favorite to win the national title. However, if you think that Florida will beat Georgia in Jacksonville on November 1 -- as I do -- then you can't have Georgia as your No. 1 team.

(Georgia would have been better off losing to Florida a year ago, then blitzing them this year with that everyone-celebrate-in-the-end-zone schtick; by pulling it out last year, all UGA did was motivate UF to beat them, which they will.)

The number seem to indicate that Georgia's run at No. 1 will end long before the Cocktail Party. As I noted in my SN column today, UGA's 22 first-place votes are less than the combined first-place votes of No. 2 USC and No.3 Ohio State.

It stands to reason that when USC and Ohio State play in September, the winner will immediately vault into the No. 1 spot, no matter how UGA has started (including what should be counted as an impressive win at Arizona State -- if the Bulldogs actually win).

Using inertia -- and baseless projection -- as your guide, you can see how this is going to play out:

The USC-Ohio State winner will have a damn-near-lock on one spot in the national championship. (There will be no subsequent Stanford or Illinois moment for the winner of that USC-tOSU game.)

The other spot appears to be reserved for the winner of the Georgia-Florida game, certainly if that winner stays unbeaten, running the table in the SEC. (LSU, ranked No. 6 by the coaches, could play the spoiler, but without a QB and with a road game in Gainesville -- another revenge game for the Gators -- I don't see it happening.) But going unbeaten via the SEC is still a hell of a thing: Would a 1-loss SEC champ trump an unbeaten champ of, say, the Big 12? I don't think so.

Oklahoma comes in at No. 4; Missouri comes in at No. 7. They don't play each other during the regular season, so each could get through the regular season unbeaten (OU has Texas in Dallas; MU has Texas in Austin), but something would have to give in the Big 12 title game.

West Virginia and Clemson are No. 8 and No. 9 and are the top-ranked teams from the less powerful BCS conferences -- neither is without problems, and I'm not sure that even if either/both go unbeaten, they don't lose the BCS selection battle to a one-loss SEC champ...

...Or even the loser of the USC-Ohio State. (You can shudder now.) I'll preview the talking points now:

*"Well, they got their only loss of the season out of the way in September," giving them plenty of time to go from the bottom of the Top 10 (as far as they'll fall) back up into the BCS mix, as teams ahead of them lose.

*"Well, their only loss was to the No. 1 ranked team in the country," which is complemented by this fallacy...

*"Well, give them credit for scheduling a title-killing game against a fellow heavyweight." If the game isn't going to be meaningful -- like, "Winner gets to play in the BCS title game, loser doesn't," then what's the point?

But count on this:

Provided the USC-tOSU winner runs the table and the loser sustains no other losses (racking up a conference title along the way) the hype for a USC-Ohio State rematch in BCS championship game will be the most powerful force in college football this year.

A perfect season out of the SEC champ will hold off that result. A perfect season out of the Big 12 champ will hold off that result. (If we get an unbeaten USC-tOSU winner, an unbeaten SEC champ and an unbeaten Big 12 champ, the Big 12 champ will be screwed, I am sure.)

The chances of perfection for any team are very low, even for the winner of the USC-tOSU game. However, simply (and, as always, baselessly) projecting from the preseason rankings, I think the other team that will play for the national title will come down to a debate between a 1-loss SEC champ versus the 1-loss USC-tOSU loser.

Who says preseason polls are meaningless? (By the way, mine won't be coming until way later in the month. But for now, the must-read among preseason polls is Sunday Morning QB's ballot. He is going 5 teams at a time, in reverse order, and through Friday morning, he's gone from 25-11.)

-- D.S.

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