COLLINS: No Use Worrying About College Football Polls
There are a few things just about everybody needs to understand about college football polls, and the first one is this: They don’t matter.
But the really important thing is this: The people who have a significant say in determining who is part of the College Football Playoff know the polls don’t matter, either.
That’s painful to admit, because for the longest time, I assumed otherwise. I assumed that the mere presence of the Associated Press poll and the Coaches Poll would be a prejudicial factor when it came time for the CFP committee to meet and hash out the four most deserving teams to compete for the biggest prize in
college football come late December and early January. But the further we get along in a world where the CFP dominates, the more it becomes apparent that the weekly questions about who will slot in where in the AP and Coaches polls are a monumental waste of time.
Long the driving force that determined the best college football had to offer, their days of relevance, their days as anything more than a conversation piece, are over.
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“Yeah, I see your point. But, do they really?”
A friend and I chatted at the tail end of last week, just after Syracuse shocked then-consensus No. 2 Clemson, 27-24 at the Carrier Dome, about what the defending national champion’s prospects for making a third-consecutive CFP looked like.
He contended they were just about doomed. I responded that the Tigers were still a virtual lock.
My take: The committee will consider the narrative. Clemson is good. The media and the coaches determined as much in the preseason. The Tigers were ranked in the top five of both polls then, and they had been top-three in every poll since. And, in the end, the committee tends to play to the narrative, benefiting a team like Ohio State last season, which clearly wasn’t playing as well down the stretch as the Big Ten champion Penn State, but got the playoff nod over the Nittany Lions because it simply had been thought of as a better team, for a longer period of time.
His take: The Ohio State decision aside, the committee has done a better-than-you’d-think job of ignoring the polls, and if it has a soft spot for anything, it’s big late-season wins; not the supposed starting point for programs.
Clemson, he pointed out, has just one currently ranked team on its remaining schedule: North Carolina State on Nov. 4. That week might turn out to be one of the most compelling of the season, as six other teams currently ranked in the Top 10 will face currently ranked opponents. In fact, with Miami hosting Virginia Tech, it stands to reason that even if Clemson beats the Wolfpack, it still won’t be looked at as the best win in the ACC that week. And, if Miami happens to win, it hands another loss to what likely will be viewed as the best team the Tigers have beaten.
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Truth is, Clemson’s chances probably lie somewhere in the middle of where that debate put them. They probably don’t have the uphill climb being argued on one side, but statistically speaking, they are hardly a lock even if they win the rest of their games.
The first CFP Rankings will be released Oct. 31, and those do matter. And, much will change in the next 12 days until we get there, for sure. But, consider this:
In the initial CFP rankings released in Week 10 last year, 12 of the 25 teams weren’t ranked anywhere in the preseason AP poll. That includes five of the teams in the top 12 — Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Auburn, Nebraska and Penn State.
In 2015, same deal. Only 13 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll wound up in the first CFP rankings. And the top two teams in the CFP rankings that year — Clemson and LSU — both opened the season ranked outside the AP Top 10.
What does this mean? Well, it means everything resets on Oct. 31. That’s when teams like Penn State, entering its toughest stretch of games this season, find out where they stand. It’s when teams like Notre Dame -- criminally ranked No. 13 in the current AP Poll behind six other one-loss teams despite the fact it has a prime win (over No. 18 Michigan State) and just about the most understandable loss on any ranked team’s schedule (by a point to No. 3 Georgia) -- will get placed as high in the rankings as it belongs, certainly set up for a title run.
Debate the polls all you want right now. Just, understand they’re basically only for fun and will be obsolete by Halloween.
Not even the people who could take them seriously then actually will choose to do so.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.