No. 2 Penn State hockey tied the highest position that it has received in the USCHO.com poll last week when it was voted No. 14. This week the team took a couple of steps forward in the poll, reaching No. 12.
In the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the process that the NCAA selection committee will use to choose the 16-team field for the NCAA hockey tournament, Penn State is currently ranked No. 2. It is the highest PairWise Ranking in program history.
Hockey rankings are similar to football in that there is one computer ranking that matters, one opinion poll that doesn’t matter but is respected, and another opinion poll that is a complete joke and is not worth reporting, yet some still do.
The USCHO.com hockey poll is used by most outlets to represent a team’s ranking. Early in the season, much like the AP Poll for football, it can be more reliable than the computer ranking. The College Football Playoff Rankings are not announced for the first time until more than half of the season has been completed. The PairWise rankings for hockey, which is the equivalent of the CFPR, is announced from the start of the season.
The PairWise will be more accurate than the USCHO.com poll by the time the hockey season has reached mid-February, but at this point it can be off a little. In fairness, the AP football poll and USCHO.com poll are known to be off by a great deal early in the season.
The Penn State hockey team was not ranked by the voters entering the season nor was the football team. Now the voters have each team at No. 12 in the most respected opinion polls. The voters rank each team lower than the more important computer models.
Penn State football is expected to be a few spots higher than No. 12 when the College Football Playoff Rankings for the week are announced on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The hockey team is a full ten spots higher in the PairWise than the No. 12 ranking it has in the voting poll.
The voting polls have no impact on the destiny of a team; they are used to amuse fans, writers, and pollsters. As the season wears on and the computer models become more accurate, the voting polls mimic the rankings of the computers.
Since the CFPR is not released until later in the season it makes sense to go with the next-best thing, the AP poll, in the meantime. Yet the AP poll is wildly inaccurate early in the season as well.
This year Oklahoma was ranked No. 3 in the initial AP poll. Stanford was ranked No. 8, Notre Dame No. 10, and Michigan State No. 12.
So if we were to point a finger at the computer models as being inaccurate early in the season, we would have three fingers pointing back at the voting polls that would show their inaccuracies as well. The thumb is neutral in this scenario.
It’s nice to know that for the Penn State hockey and football teams, the more favorable computers will have the final say. There is little to no chance that the voters will have either team ranked better than the models that select a team’s playoff or bowl destination. And even though the voters have each team ranked a little lower for now, it is still very nice to have such acknowledgement for the success of the two programs.