Monday, August 10, 2009

What the Coaches Poll Wrought

It's the first preseason poll of significance, and it's the first element of the 2009 BCS standings to be revealed. So when the USA Today Coaches Poll was released last Friday, it was immediately taken apart and analyzed.

Yeah, it may be a preseason poll, but don't think for a moment that it means little.

While the top of the poll yielded little surprise - defending BCS national champion Florida checked in at No. 1 - it's apparent that Coalition members (i.e. non-BCS schools) will have just about no chance for a spot in the BCS title game, and that one loss will doom their shot at even a BCS bowl appearance.

How can that be so quickly ordained after a short glance of the preseason poll, you ask?

Simple. The preseason poll in college football is a lot like the starting grid in a Formula One car race. There are few opportunities for passes, so where you start often times determine where you'll finish.

Four Coalition teams are in the top 25, led by Boise State at No. 16. This does not bode well for those teams (also Mountain West members TCU, Utah and BYU) to have any shot at the BCS national title game. In the past five years, only teams ranked in the preseason top 10 in the Coaches Poll made it to the BCS title game. This year, 9 of the top 10 teams will face each other at least once before the halfway point of the season, which means even a loss will keep these teams in the top 10, ahead of any unbeaten Coalition teams.

What about Coalition teams playing themselves into national title contention? After all, doesn't BYU open the season at Oklahoma?

Yes, but here's the rub. Even if the Cougars pull off a monumental upset at Norman, will they vault all the way up into the top 5? Not likely, not from where they start at No. 24. And a loss effectively ends BYU's BCS bowl hopes after one game, even if it goes on to win the MWC championship.

Contrast that to the Big East, one of the six BCS conferences. There's not a team from that conference that may even be in the top 10 by the end of the season (the highest preseason ranking is Cincinnati, at No. 29), but it's guaranteed a BCS bowl berth. Of course, based on our own research, the Big East is still well ahead of the MWC in overall performance - but there was little logic to grant the Big East a spot in the BCS for the next five years, as it was done before the start of this season.

Some might be quick to jump on a potential conspiracy by BCS conference coaches to keep non-BCS teams down in the polls to ensure as many BCS teams get the 10 BCS bowl spots as possible. But that link is tenuous at best.

There are 59 voters in the coaches poll and 25 of them (42%) are from non-BCS conferences. That roughly corresponds with the actual proportion of non-BCS teams (54 of 120, 45%) in Division I-A. If BCS conference coaches are keeping the non-BCS teams down in the polls, then the Coalition coaches are not exactly doing a bang-up job of propping up their brethren.

But just how everybody is actually voting? We'll never know. As usual, the Coaches Poll is secret ballots until the final poll of the season. And after this season, they intend to revert back to secret ballots for the entire season, including the final poll, over the protests of the BCS commissioners. So in essence, it remains the most controversial and non-transparent part of the BCS formula, and it accounts for one-third of the total.

There is a simple solution to this. After 2009, the BCS must dump the Coaches Poll.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Several problems with your summation, imo. I'll leave out the one where we disagree on how much merit non-bcs teams bring on a regular basis to a title winning that argument with you. Mainly, I just laugh at the whole "pre-season poll" debate.

I've now watched the Harris poll come out for a couple years after several weeks. Guess what? Just as I predicted beforehand, it is basically a lockstep march with the other polls. Truth is we can shut down polls, but we can't shut down the brains (or lack thereof) of voters for however many weeks you don't want them to vote. Those brains come up with notions before the season, possibly subconsciously, and continue to edit their ideas week after week...even if they don't write them down on paper. And "wala" you get your typical poll.

So I don't care when you decide to make a poll come'll give us almost exactly the same results as what we have now. I think it shows a lack of understanding of basic human instinct to think otherwise.