Polls given too much credit

By Trevor Amicone

This weekend, the first BCS standings of the 2011 year were released. These standings will eventually determine who gets to play for a national championship at the end of the season. A messy conglomeration of computer calculations and votes from coaches and journalists is what will determine the best two teams in college football. It will have very little to do with what happens on the field.

That could lead to a completely different discussion about the BCS and why we need a playoff system, but I just want to talk about one aspect of the BCS formula: polls and the ridiculousness of the weight they are given in determining the best team in college football. There are two things that I hear college football analysts say all the time that make me want to pull my hair out. The first is “well, So-and-So didn’t make it into the national championship game because they didn’t start highly ranked enough.”

That’s the bogus BCS principle that kept Utah from getting a chance in 2008 and Auburn in 2004. Essentially what those analysts are saying is “well, we didn’t know they were that
good before the season started.”

That’s not a good reason to keep a team out of the national championship game. A bunch of computers and a bunch of journalists who think they are computers decided you weren’t good enough before you even took a snap. Good logic.

The second one I hear is “well, So-and-So lost early enough in the season that they can get themselves back into the national championship game.”

So because a team can work its way up a poll, a team that loses in its conference-title game to a better team will get passed up by a team that lost to a lesser opponent because it did so earlier in the season. Makes sense.

Maybe I can put it better. For this argument’s sake, let’s say a team like Oklahoma would have lost to Missouri (an unranked team) in the third game of the season this year, but then won the rest of the games it played this season. Meanwhile, let’s say a team like Alabama goes undefeated until the SEC championship game, where it gets beat by a top-10 team. If either of these two teams were to get a shot at the national title game, guess who it would be? That’s right, Oklahoma. Why? Because they lost earlier in the season. It matters not that the Sooners would have lost to an inferior opponent than the Crimson Tide. They lost earlier, so they would have climbed back into the conversation, while ‘Bama would have lost on the last game of the season, so it would drop out of the conversation with no time to climb back into it.

If I had every column inch of this newspaper, we could talk more about how ludicrous the poll system is as a means of determining a national champion, but I don’t. Maybe we need a playoff or a plus-one system. Who knows, but there has to be some other way to figure this all out other than a popularity contest.