Hello, everyone. My name is Austin Bruce and I am the Co-Editor in Chief of The Spectator. I have started a sports column titled “Austin’s Angles” to give a fresh take on the sports world at large. Everyone has their own angles or views on topics they care deeply about, and this series is aimed to highlight some of my takes on important sports topics.
Today, though, I’ll be talking about a small yet seemingly nonstop debate in college sports: preseason rankings.
Preseason rankings are done for most major sports in college athletics. Yet, the one that almost always stirs up the most debate is college football preseason rankings.
With the college football season days away from kicking off and preseason rankings for all divisions being released, the argument for and against preseason rankings has ramped up once again. A popular argument I have seen is that we shouldn’t have any rankings released until a few weeks after the season begins.
After all, why do we even have preseason rankings? For many, including myself, that answer comes down to one thing: interest.
While fans will choose what teams they root for and what games they’ll watch, preseason rankings help drive up interest for higher profile matchups. That, in turn, increases viewership for those matchups and thus generates more revenue for the networks that televise them.
Still, while recency points towards those points, historically, that’s not necessarily the case. Perhaps the most prominent poll around, The Associated Press Poll first released preseason polls in 1950, well before the emergence of media monopolies such as ESPN and Fox.
During these times, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that it was tougher to know how good a team on the opposite side of the country was due to limited sports coverage. Therefore, a preseason poll that united the opinions of sports media outlets across the country could have helped better inform the general public.
Also, with preseason polls dating back that far, it has become ingrained in us as fans and spectators of sports to expect preseason rankings.
However, preseason polls are notorious for being inaccurate. Just at the Football Bowl Subdivision level alone, there have only been two instances (Florida State in 1999 and Southern California in 2004) where a team went wire-to-wire atop the rankings and only 11 total instances where a team started and finished the season No. 1.
This doesn’t just apply to the highest level of college football, nor does it only apply to who’s ranked No. 1. Just last year, our own Valdosta State Blazers started the season ranked No. 3 in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) preseason poll and wound up finishing 5-6 and missing the Division II playoffs entirely.
Other notable examples include a nearly annual occurrence of at least one top ten team finishing unranked in the AP Poll. Last year, three top ten teams — Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Baylor — all finished unranked, with Texas A&M failing to qualify for a bowl game. In total, 15 out of the 25 teams ranked in the preseason poll didn’t make the cut for the final poll.
Despite all of this, we still find ourselves arguing over the importance of preseason polls. In actuality, they do not matter.
Instead of looking too deep into them, preseason polls should be used a cautionary guide. They’re meant to inform us which teams the media believes could be among the best of the best.
Like so many other sports, college football is always full of surprises. I think it’s part of what makes sports the spectacle that they are: you never know what could happen next.
National champions aren’t crowned in the preseason. That gets settled on the field, on the court, on the diamond, or on any other sporting area. How that gets settled is an argument for another day.
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of VSU.