MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — It took a month, but the voters in The Associated Press college football poll finally erased much of the original sin that is known as their preseason poll.
On Sunday, LSU (4-0) ascended to the No. 1 position in the rankings, a spot it should have occupied after the first weekend of play, which also should have been the first poll.
But every year the AP poll, as well as the coaches poll, skews subsequent polls by establishing a baseline borne of foolishness: voters’ expectations. What the voters — whether they be members of the media or coaches/sports information directors — expect has nothing to do with who the best teams in the country are.
Although voters will adjust their rankings once teams actually start winning and losing games, the adjustments are still tainted by that invalid starting point.
When LSU beat Oregon 40-27 in the Sept. 3 season opener, the Tigers had clearly the most impressive performance of the first weekend and therefore should have been ranked No. 1. But that on-the-field performance, although enough to move the Tigers above the Ducks, of course, and past preseason No. 2 Alabama, wasn’t enough to move them past preseason No. 1 Oklahoma, because, well, some voters’ expectations still carried more weight than the teams’ performances.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide swapped places in the next two polls, Alabama climbing after a win at Penn State, the falling after LSU’s victory at Mississippi State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma remained at No. 1, and the Sooners bolstered their résumé by winning at then-No. 5 Florida State two weekends ago.
But on the last weekend of September, even Oklahoma’s victory against Missouri and Alabama’s rout of then No. 14-Arkansas were not enough to keep the Tigers out of the top spot.
After LSU’s 47-21 victory at then-No. 16 West Virginia on Saturday, finally, perhaps even reluctantly in a few cases, the AP pollsters saw fit to move the Tigers to No. 1. It should be noted that the coaches still have the Sooners No. 1, though they did move LSU into a tie with Alabama at No. 2.
If we didn’t have these counterproductive preseason polls, the voters presumably would simply look at the teams’ résumés from the kickoff of their season opener, regardless of what anyone might have been anticipating in August.
The pollsters could do what even the flawed BCS rankings try to do, which is to wait and make an evaluation simply of on-the-field performances before ranking teams in a process that ultimately will determine who plays for the national championship.
If we didn’t have a preseason poll, any objective voter would have looked at the Tigers’ impressive victory against Oregon in the opener and voted LSU No. 1 after that first weekend. They would have placed little significance in LSU’s 49-3 thrashing of badly outmanned Northwestern State the next week, but still recognized that no one else had a better résumé after two weeks.
They would have seen the Tigers’ methodical victory at Mississippi State as strengthening their grip on No. 1, then the victory against the Mountaineers as strengthening it further.
If we weren’t saddled with preseason polls, today’s headline wouldn’t be that LSU became the No. 1 team in the country, it would be that LSU’s ongoing hold on the No. 1 spot had tightened.
Perhaps Oklahoma or Alabama or someone else could have been just as impressive, or more impressive, had they played LSU’s schedule. But they didn’t.
The Tigers did, and the way they handled it produced unquestionably the most impressive résumé in the country. Not only should they be No. 1, it probably should be unanimous.