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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday, August 20, 2006

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Seriously, it's not. Read on.

Clear-headedness reigns, for now, at the brand new Florida State blog The Chop Shop, which delivers the most sensible top 25 24 SMQ's encountered this preseason.

And yo elaborate on the Shop's disagreement with SMQ's feelings on preseason poll etiquette: like Mobius, SMQ believes polls in-season should measure exactly where a team ranks at that point in time, as was written here Friday ("Once the season starts, [the polls] should measure performance"). The key there is "once the season starts." Beforehand, they have to measure expected performance. This is impossible without taking into account strength of schedule, because the level of opponent dramatically influences any perception of a team's strength. If a preseason voter's not predicting how a paricular team's season is going to shape up, what exactly is he predicting? Opponent strength must be accounted for to assess any performance or predicted outcome, and polls consistently show that teams which dominate weak schedules are ranked way ahead of teams that struggle or merely slip two or three times against difficult slates.

How good, for example, was Utah in 2004? It finished ranked fourth and fifth in the "major" polls. Were there really only three teams in the nation - two of them also undefeated - who were actually better than the Utes? Not many people would agree with that. The ranking was fair, though, as far as these things go, because Utah's season-long performance against its schedule was about as perfect as it could have been, and its final "resume" looked better than those of several teams (like California, or Michigan) who probably could have handled Utah. But that's what's there is to go by, the resume - who beat and was beaten by whom, and by how much - not the outright "strength," however that's supposed to be measured. Based on the "evidence," Utah had to be the pick, regardless of the supposed results of a hypothetical head-to-head with a "stronger" team. This happens regularly, year after year. Happened with West Virginia last year (you think the Mountaineers were really better than Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Oregon and Notre Dame? Or Virginia Tech - to whom they lost straight-up? Well, if not, you didn't vote that way). Or like the ditzy girl in class who is nowhere near as smart as you, and you absolutely know this...but she finished with the higher GPA taking easier courses, and gets her diploma ahead of you. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is wins, against anybody.

To get the difference here between resume and strength, think of Tennessee last year: certainly most fans would agree, given their victory over LSU and tough losses to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, the Vols could play with and likely beat, say, TCU, which itself beat Oklahoma but lost to SMU. Most would agree this would be a fairly even match-up, a toss-up kind of game, if UT wouldn't actually be the favorite. Yet nobody at year's end would have ranked the 5-6 Vols within 20 spots of the 11-1 Frogs, because TCU's record of wins was a much more impressive body of work than Tennessee's up-and-down, mostly losing campaign, even if Tennessee might have been the "better" team head-to-head. This has everything to do with schedule strength, which is an integral part of the process of assessing teams and must be accounted for.

On that note, SMQ wonders if Mobius (or anyone else) will rank Texas or Ohio State, off assured beatings of North Texas and Northern Illinois, in his first poll ahead of the Cal-Tennessee and Florida State-Miami winners. If, after all, "teams are ranked solely on their perceived strength at the moment the poll is created," the latter victors should be on top in the short term. But SMQ knows of no one who votes in such an ephemeral way; the near-unanimous mindset is to vote based on an ambiguous sense of "who's better," drawn from mostly historical factors, regardless of what any team has accomplished on the field to that point in the season. It takes playing virtually an entire schedule for the polls to sort themselves out according to the actual "resume," a team's entire body of work; for weeks or months prior to the omniscient view at the end of the season, voters are looking mostly at how they believe a team will finish rather than its on-field performance - this is why the Cal-Tennessee and Florida State-Miami winners, though prevailing over much tougher competition, have no chance of jumping Texas and Ohio State after the first week. There is a sense, based on the recent past (mostly last year) that Texas and Ohio State are "better" than any of the four teams previously mentioned, and this won't be overturned for many weeks of consistent winning by the lower-ranked teams, or until one or both higher-ranked teams lose (one will, obviously, the following Saturday, but that's beside the point, which is that no one bases their rankings strictly on on-field performance until several months into the season; if they did, the results would be utter chaos from week to week). In other words - and this is not news - the playing field, as it were, is not equal until the last few polls, which is why its the clarity of those season-ending polls, and none of the fleeting tumult in the interim, the preseason versions should be trying to forecast.

Because, again, what else is there to forecast before a game is played?

Where SMQ agrees with Mobius (and this was not clear Friday) is that the preseason polls should be immediately tossed out the window once the first games are played. This is why his weekly BlogPoll ballots this season figure to rank consistently on the "Mr. Manic-Depressive" scale, because teams are going to be flying all over the place on a weekly basis: one way or another, the body of work to date, a strictly on-field resume from Day One will be all SMQ plans to go by. Preseason projections and any general notions of "strength" de damned.

Hey, bet there's a formula to be concoted for that process!

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5:09 PM

'Ello... Long-time reader, first-time poster or something like that.


When it comes to Blogpoll, and other voting areas where people think about their votes and make sense (are there any others, besides Blogpoll?), I'm with you on the "prediction" factor when it comes to preseason polls. The problem comes in the polls that count, the coaches and Harris. (Even AP, if you like)

The issue is that those voters are such victims of inertia. If a voter in one of those polls ranks, say, West Virginia No. 3 at the beginning of the year thanks to its easy schedule, there's no way WVU gets knocked down unless it loses. And say they have Florida or LSU ranked 9th or 10th, and one of those teams wins out. I think in a case like this, on the vast majority of AP/Harris/USAToday ballots, the team ranked higher at the beginning of the year will also be the team ranked higher at the end of the year -- regardless of resume.

Thus, I get frustrated when I see inertia voters considering strength of schedule at the beginning of the year. If anything, a voter who is given to inertia should go quite the opposite. The voters who are inclined to keep things the same should rank the teams with tougher schedules higher, giving them a little wiggle room.

-M, primarily baseball blogger and FSU fan.
Thank you, SMQ, for cutting a layer deeper into the poll-meat.
It has been very frustrating to read about all these pre-season polls and if they ought to be predictive of the final poll or something else, when the deeper and much more important question is, "What is a college football poll supposed to identify?"

It seems to me at least, that there are two major schools of thought on this, but with most voters combining the two schools in actuality when they vote.

The first philosophy of voting is to make it a power poll - i.e. the teams are always ranked by who would beat whom in that given week.
The second philosophy of voting is (to borrow your phrasing) the "resume" system, which seems to answer the question, "Who is having (or had) the most impressive season on the field against its opponents?"

If I'm reading you correctly, you seem to fall into the second camp, which I heartily endorse and wish that everyone would.
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