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Preseason rankings create buzz.

In the two weeks leading up to the start of college football season, preseason rankings have given television pundits material to feed on. Who is overrated? Who was disrespected? These rankings make college football relevant weeks before games kick off.

For that reason, they serve a relatively good purpose. But in the long run, these rankings are a detriment to the game. They inject a bias into college football that remains throughout the season.

Whether they will openly admit it or not, writers and coaches that vote in the AP and USA Today polls use the preseason rankings as a basis for their Week 2 ballot. Similarly, they use their previous ballots as baselines for future ballots. The former is nonsensical, while the latter is logical.

When a voter casts a ballot with team A ahead of team B, they have to justify the following week why team B overtook team A or why team B fell farther away. It is fairly common practice for poll voters to engage with readers on the topic of their AP ballot and why they ranked the teams as they did, including rationale for their week-to-week changes.

That’s the important part: the rationale. Voters understand the need for an explanation behind week-to-week changes.

So when writers cast their votes after the first week of football, they do so with the mindset that they must explain the various places where they differ from “last week’s ballot” – the preseason rankings. Here lies the problem. Why do those purely speculative rankings become the baseline? Why should they?

Well, they shouldn’t.

Florida State, last year’s national champions, claimed the top spot in this season’s preseason rankings. They did well last year (see “National Champions”) and much of their team returned this year, so they were placed atop the preseason board.

If you’re speculating, that makes sense. But then Florida State came out Week 1 and barely squeaked by unranked Oklahoma State. They squandered leads and eked out a 6-point win late in the game. A large handful of teams, on the other hand, came out and looked dominant in the first week of the season. Texas A&M for example, went on the road to conference foe #9 South Carolina and won by over 20 points.

The rankings for Week 2 came out 48 hours later – #1: Florida State. The reasoning was pretty simple. They were number 1 starting the week and didn’t lose, so they shouldn’t drop. Ah, I understand. Thanks to blind, preseason speculation, Florida State should “remain” number 1 in the country.

But after #21 Texas A&M beat #9 South Carolina, they could only climb to #9 in the polls. They were 21 arbitrary places behind Florida State starting the week, and because of that, it was not possible for them to climb ahead. A 21-spot jump would be unheard of. But that’s the point; there shouldn’t be a need for a “jump” at all.

Preseason rankings set a constraint on how teams can be ranked in Week 2 and consequently, all succeeding weeks. Guesswork is setting the baseline. Do away with preseason rankings altogether and take speculation out of the equation. Start ranking in Week 2 so that judgments are actually based on what transpires in the field of play.

If that was the case this year, the rankings would look drastically different. As a result of off-season prognosticating, the rankings are constrained and the football season is altered.

I just hope the selection committee gets things right in December…

 

1003230_566849336701913_1038445809_nConnor Maytnier is a sophomore in the College. Living on the Sideline appears every other Monday at thehoya.com

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