Roundtable 2.1: Preseason Polling
It is official official roundtable time; the first one is up at House Rock Built for your edification.
1. What's the biggest ripoff in this preseason poll? Either pick a team that's offensively over or underrated, or you can rag on a particular voter's bad pick (hey, we're all adults here, we can handle it).
Well, I've already made my positions on OSU and ND clear, but I can at least see what the attractions of those teams are. I was hoping the poll be would virtually flat for the first eight or so spots and that OSU and ND would be somewhere in there.
One team stands out as particularly mindboggling: Miami. #9? This is a team with all of two scholarship quarterbacks that has question marks at running back and wide receiver and must replace four-fifths of its offensive line. Longtime OL coach Art Kehoe is gone along with most of the staff on that side of the ball. One hesitates to mock a Miami defense that will probably reload as per usual, but the cornerback situation looks pretty dodgy -- three sophomores and a junior who's missed the last two years with knee injures -- and Orien Harris is gone. This is partially my fault for dumping them in the low teens for no other reason than "it's Miami." No it isn't, not anymore.
2. What shold a preseason poll measure? Specifically, should it be a predictor of end-of-season standing (meaning that a team's schedule should be taken into account when determining a ranking), or should it merely be a barometer of talent/hype/expectations?
Ideally the answer to this question is "yes." In a platonically perfect poll these are the same thing -- minus "hype" -- but the information in college football is so incomplete that schedule strength inevitably distorts the poll.
Given harsh reality, I choose door number B: barometer of talent. This is a sort of schedule projection, too, but one that takes into account that even an undefeated West Virginia team is closer to Utah than USC. And if you're going to do that, where's Boise State in your top five? The Whitlocks of the world who place the Mountaineers #1 but don't have the projected WAC, Mountain West, and MAC champs in the top ten have created ballots with no internal consistency. Their ballots are all "ooh, shiny record" for certain teams that are hyped up but ignore it for other mid-majors because they didn't have a nice game last year. They're easy: show a man one nice game against Georgia and he'll give it up for you.
3. What is your biggest stretch in your preseason ballot? That is to say, which team has the best chance of making you look like an idiot for overrating them?
Nebraska. I mean, obviously. Even if Iowa flops I can still point to Tate and Ferentz and say "can you blame me?" If Nebraska does not justify its preseason placement at #10 on my ballot I have to tell the world that I put faith in Bill Callahan a year after his team set football back 80 years with that 6-3 game against Pittsburgh in which a victor is still undetermined because anyone who attempts to watch the game dies. It's The Ring of college football games.
4. What do you see as the biggest flaw in the polling system (both wire service and blogpolling)? Is polling an integral part of the great game of college football, or is it an outdated system that needs to be replaced? If you say the latter, enlighten us with your new plan.
They are myriad.
- As SMQB has noted, the artificial ranking of teams from 1-25 forces the voter to opine things he probably doesn't believe. I've proposed relaxing the restrictions by giving voters a set number of points with which to distribute amongst 25 teams however they please, allowing voters to express their opinions more accurately. Technical limitations ("I can't figure out a good interface") prevented its implementation this year but it's still on the table for future seasons.
- Polls have multiple personality disorder as they progress through a season. Clearly, preseason polls are all projection. Without any games to evaluate, they're (often hilariously inaccurate) guesses at the way the season will turn out. They remain excercises in projection as the season progresses -- otherwise a top ten team who had the misfortune of losing early would drop out of the poll entirely -- but take on an element of a season grade. By the end of the year, they still maintain a mix of both, which renders them somewhat incoherent.
The best example of this from last year was the Penn State and Ohio State. I, and probably most others, thought that Ohio State was the better team but ranked Penn State higher because of the niggling issue of that 17-10 PSU win early in the season. A number of voters went ahead and ranked OSU #3 anyway, September be damned, and I couldn't argue against it because... what exactly were we supposed to be voting for anyway, the best team or the best season? I'm the dictator of this here poll and even I couldn't tell you.
- Polls have their own momentum. Ideally, previous weeks and years would be totally irrelevant to voters entering a fresh one. Anyone who's seen West Virginia knows this is not the case.
- People, and by extension polls, tend to assume that the winner of a game deserved to win because of ineffable heart. As Statistically Speaking noted:
I still don't think voters understand just how much influence random chance has ove individual games. Because Team A beats Team B on a last second field goal, doesn't necessarily mean Team A is the superior squad. There is a lot of 'noise' that goes in to deterining who wins and loses a football game. I think its important to look at other factors besides the final score, such as yardage, penalties, location, previous schedule, turnover differential, etc. to determine if the game was accurate portrayal of both teams. I realize each of these aspects is highly subjective, but I think sometimes we put too much stock in the end result (final score) without considering the means with which that end was acheived.
This goes back to that season grade/best team dichotomy. If we're grading the season harsh drops for unfortunate losses are all right; if we're trying to figure who's the best team they aren't. Polls seem to be caught in the middle.
5. You're Scott Bakula, and you have the opportunity to "Quantum Leap" back in time and change any single moment in your team's history. It can be a play on the field, a hiring decision, or your school's founders deciding to build the campus in Northern Indiana, of all godforsaken places. What do you do?
There were multiple missed national championship opportunities in the 80s, but I was not yet maniacally invested in the Wolverines so an alteration there would only serve as ammunition in inane message board conversations I no longer participate in. (Much.)
So there are two candidates, one of which would only require Scott to move a body part two or three inches.
Scott, as either Prescott Burgess or Ernest Shazor, blocks Dusty Mangum's field goal in the Rose Bowl. A win in that game would have made the '04 season a satisfying one, the first for Michigan since the Orange Bowl win in Tom Brady's final season. Some of Michigan's lost luster would still be around if they had won that amazing game.
Scott, as John Navarre, throws a touchdown on the last play of the '02 Ohio State game. As detailed earlier, I ventured into the heart of darkness for tha
t game and experienced the carnage firsthand. Had Navarre thrown the ball to the other side of the field instead of a triple-covered Braylon Edwards he would have found a relatively open person who was either Jason Avant or Ron Bellamy, who would have reached up one hand to stop the ball's momentum before snatching it to his chest mere feet from my seat. The team would have rushed over to the tiny Michigan student section at the cusp of the endzone, told me that I was their inspiration, and everything outside of that stadium would have been well worth it.