USC’s Drop in Rankings a Positive Sign
Edited by Ramin Rezvani:
Following a media-heavy offseason that saw the welcomed return of Heisman favorite quarterback Matt Barkley, the transfer of elite running back Silas Redd from Penn State, and Lane Kiffin voting his team number one in the polls after pledging not to, USC started off week one of the college football season as the top ranked team in the country.
In an expected drubbing of their first opponent, no – victim – the Trojans beat the Warriors by 39 points, even though they could have won by more if they felt the need to help bet-makers and gamblers alike. However, USC was oh so disappointedly unable to cover the 40-point spread.
Elsewhere, Alabama, the number two-ranked team in the country, beat Michigan (#8 in the AP polls) 41-17 in a no-doubter. As a result, the Crimson Tide was rewarded for its performance and leapfrogged USC in the latest polls, which left a number of college football fans and analysts puzzled.
Was there anything that USC could have done to keep their number one ranking? Would a more embarrassing and brutal onslaught of the too-highly-ranked Wolverines have mattered? Likely not. Alabama’s jump in the polls was a result of the voters’ first chance to see the teams play on the field rather than on paper. Thus, it can be speculated that by allowing Alabama to hurdle USC, the pollsters have made the correct decision. History has showed us that there have been a small number of teams that dropped out of their number one position, even after a posting a win in their inaugural game, however, never following a blowout victory – such as USC’s.
Preseason polls are based off of what a team looks like on paper, therefore, the “eye test” must be taken into consideration in order to assess a correct ranking. Regardless, although the final rankings are obviously the most important, preseason rankings play a significant role in determining the final standings and bowl assignments. Teams initially ranked lower will be at a disadvantage throughout the entire season due to the difficulty of climbing the polls, especially if teams ranked higher lose little or no games. In 2008, from preseason to week two, there were only two teams that were able to jump over higher AP ranked teams without the aid of the aid of the other teams losing.
This season, there have been eleven.
This amount of movement in the polls is good for college football. But why, you ask? Football annually has the fewest games of any sport, and even less for college football, so there must be a defined gray area to prevent pollsters from having to wait for a team to lose in order slide them down in the rankings as is seen in other sports. By shifting teams around based off of observations, especially early on in the season, the unfair advantage given to higher preseason ranked team is subsequently diminished.
This uneven system has led to extensive discourse, and many opposing the system have called for a wait in ranking teams until later weeks due to the unleveled playing field it causes for the rest of the season.
Having said that, preseason rankings should not disappear from college football for they are still important in gauging where teams initially stand – before they take the field of play. Abandoning preseason rankings can be compared to a professor hiding grades from students until a quarter of the way through the semester. Are students in the 90th percentile of their class after two weeks going to finish there? Not necessarily, but at least they will know were they stand in the eyes of the professor and be better able to make adjustments.
Preseason polls are needed even though they may unfairly affect the final standings. As long as the pollsters continue to keep the rankings movement high early in the season they will create more transparency in the final rankings process, which is something that college football has and will continue to benefit from.