Guerry Clegg

Why do we care about college football polls?

Campaign rhetoric, NFL preseason games and Ryan Lochte’s apology. There is the complete short list of recent news items more meaningless than the preseason college football polls.

Yet, for reasons inexplicable, we — that is, college football fans — still peruse these polls and debate them, like it really makes a difference whether Georgia should be ranked ahead of Florida.

The AP released its poll and it was as predictable as Usain Bolt in the 100-meters final. The writers and broadcasters had the same 25 teams as the coaches, whose poll was released a week earlier.

The top four are identical: 1, Alabama; 2, Clemson; 3, Oklahoma; 4, Florida State.

They had the same next eight teams, but with the order flip-flopped in pairs all the way down the line: LSU and Ohio State, Michigan and Stanford, Tennessee and Notre Dame, and Ole Miss and Michigan State.

Then 13 through 24 is where they get jumbled, mainly because the coaches are less optimistic about UCLA, Louisville and Washington. In the case of the first two, you have to wonder if that reflects how the coaches feel about a pair of former Atlanta Falcons coaches, Jim Mora Jr. and Bobby Petrino, who aren’t exactly lovable.

Quick pause on that note. Yes, the ballots are usually filled out by sports information directors. But the coach may look it over and say, “No, move them down.”

The preseason polls are heavily influenced by four things: tradition, last year’s finish, returning starters and the assessment of preseason magazines and websites.

That’s understandable because we have nothing else to go on right now. But none of those things will mean anything come October, let alone December when the four playoff teams are picked.

What most voters don’t look at is teams’ schedules. That is logical in a sense. After all, the poll is supposed to be an assessment, not a prediction. Just because Auburn has a tougher schedule than Georgia doesn’t mean the Bulldogs are better.

But from a practical standpoint, schedules should be given at least some consideration if we are going to assume any correlation between the preseason and final polls.

There are three potentially very good teams in the SEC West — Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. In addition to playing each other, those three also combine to play five other ranked opponents: Southern Cal, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State and Georgia. Only one of those (Georgia-Ole Miss) will be a home game.

So there’s bound to be some attrition atop the SEC West.

If Ole Miss loses to Florida State, Alabama and LSU, the Rebels won’t likely finish the regular season in the top 12 unless there’s just not many teams with two or fewer losses. Even if they beat FSU and lose close games to Bama and LSU, the Rebels probably won’t be in the top 10 until other teams lose their way out.

Every voter looks at it differently. It has been 20 years since I had an AP vote. All I remember doing was applying the King of the Hill approach. Would this team beat all these other remaining teams on a neutral field more often than not?

That’s a lot easier to guess once the games begin. But in August, all you can do is go on returning starters and reputation.

I can think of only two reasons to rank Alabama No. 1. The first reason is Nick Saban. The second reason is the rest of the teams, like Bama, are flawed.

That’s the beauty of the college game. Just when we think we have it all figured out, three of the top 10 teams get upset on the same weekend. And then we rank them all over again.

Here’s my take. The teams set up to fail: Michigan, Tennessee and Washington. The teams that will surpass expectations: Georgia, Auburn and Florida. Trust me. I’ve been reading the magazines.

Guerry Clegg: sports@ledger-enquirer.com, @guerryclegg

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