Between Fresno and Notre Dame? Really?
I'll save everyone the obvious rant here and try to get to the reason I find this so disturbing. This is a screen shot from Mark Schlabach's updated summer rankings. Blurbs are obviously required, but you'll be disappointed if you think they give any insight into his rating system.
The issue here, I think, is that this apparently thoughtless set of rankings is posted on the most visible platform in sports. To say "oh it's just a summer ranking" is partially correct, but when these guys decide to sit down and spit out their own Preseason Top 25's, how do you think they do their research? See where I'm going here?
But so what, right? Even if the AP preseason ranking is way off, won't it straighten itself out? The truth is this: not necessarily. Starting behind in the polls is not that much different than starting behind in a race: you can't win unless the other guys slow down. An undefeated Penn State team in 2005 would have been shut out of the BCS National Championship game, and misguided preseason polls are one of the main reasons that the Auburn Tigers were short changed in 2004 (they started at #17, USC and Oklahoma debuted at #1 and #2).
While I'm not implying that our boy Schlabach gets to declare the BCS finalist in June, I am saying that the least he could do is put some thought into his work. It's especially embarrassing for Penn State when you look at the ridiculousness of the sandwich they are put in. Here are the two teams in all of D1a that Schlabach thinks fall in line next to PSU:
23. Fresno State - Mark says:
With 16 starters back from a team that finished 9-4 in 2007, Fresno State is a popular choice to unseat Boise State and Hawaii in the WAC and contend for a spot in a BCS bowl game.
Even if every starter was returning, a 9-4 record in the WAC doesn't exactly imply they are all of the sudden BCS bound in 2008. Speaking of starters, according to your own website, Fresno is only returning 15 starters, not 16...which makes me wonder why in the world you wouldn't use your own "experts" as a resource. Penn State also returns 16 starters and finished with a 9-4 record in the Big Ten, so naturally they fall behind the Bulldogs.
24. Penn State - To paraphrase, they can't be very good because Paterno is old.
25. Notre Dame - Mark Says:
NBC thought enough of their future to renew its TV contract another five years.
This is simply amazing: They are ranked in his Top 25 because of the extension of a TV contract. It's not very often that I am blown away by the failed logic of the good people at the WWL (I've been conditioned), so congratulations Mark, you are a step ahead of your peers.
I'm left thinking about the other teams that deserve this spot; all the other schools that would be sitting at 25 if only they were named Notre Dame. Teams including, but not limit to: Georgia Tech, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Boston College, Navy and Air Force. All of these teams manged to win more than three games, but apparently don't appear on TV enough to be ranked. Tough luck guys.
I'm not here to say Penn State should be placed higher, or even that Notre Dame doesn't belong, my point is that it's scary how much say reports have in the process and equally troubling how little they appear to care. Or maybe it's something else, I don't know. Regardless of why this happens, here are a couple of things I find totally unacceptable in the poll system:
- That voters justify a high ranking for a team because "they have a soft schedule", as in they will be ranked high because they won't lose much. What the hell is the point of the polls then? Why don't we just use overall W-L if you are going to judge your rankings on pure record. The whole point is to be able to see past the schedule, to take the difficulty of the path into consideration.
- When voters refuse to let a clearly better team jump a higher ranked team simply because both continue to win. Preseason polls are totally unreliable and based entirely speculation, yet most writers refuse to reevaluate their original opinions based on what they actually see on the field.
- That coaches get to vote. No one has more invested in the BCS rankings than these guys and it's crazy that they are expected to not only follow all 120 D1a teams, but also objectively rate themselves and their opponents on a weekly basis.
With all the talk about reformatting the BCS games, I think I might be more troubled by the underlying ranking system. We can add another round of games, or even expand to an eight team playoff, but if we are going to change the format I think the selection process needs to be reevaluated as well.