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Carson: If polls were legitimate

| Monday, October 12, 2015

For some weird reason, Ohio State is the No. 1 team in the country on polls conducted during the 2015 season.


The Buckeyes were very good last year, yes, but they haven’t done much of anything yet this season. Their best win? Indiana, who got knocked around pretty well by Penn State on Saturday.

Of course, the problem of pollsters ranking teams based on their accomplishments a year before goes far past the Buckeyes. Baylor sits second in the polls, despite beating nobody of consequence to this point (sorry, Texas Tech) and TCU sits third, despite struggling in games against the same Red Raiders squad and Kansas State.

Throw in Michigan State sitting at No. 4 in the Coaches’ Poll (and still receiving a first-place vote), and you’ve got the makings of a pretty terrible characterization of how teams have actually performed this season.

The Coaches’ Poll is, generally speaking, a disgrace to the sport. Conducted often enough by interns in the sports information department, it typically offers a rushed, misguided characterization of the teams. The Spartans sit at No. 4, yet Utah sits at No. 7? Florida State, at No. 8, is three spots ahead of in-state rival Florida?

No way.

The AP poll is better, but it’s far from perfect — it shares the same top three as its counterpart — and still has that inherent bias of last season evident in its rankings.

So I’ll propose something: An actual ranking of the top four teams this year (because that’s all that really matters) based on, well, doing things this year.

No. 1: Utah (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12)

How anyone could submit their ballot at this point and not have the Utes at the top is, quite frankly, beyond me. Granted, 16 AP pollsters have the surprise team of the year sitting there right now, but the number should be much higher.

The Utes have, by far, the most impressive résumé in college football to this date. No two ways around it. They’re one of two teams with a pair of wins over top-25 squads (Northwestern the other) after wins over now-No. 12 Michigan and No. 23 California, and the win in Eugene, Oregon, that broke the Ducks remains a good one, despite Oregon’s subsequent collapse.

There are tons of question marks left in their season in a tough conference, but they’ve been the most impressive team this year. So they sit at the top.

No. 2: Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC)

File this one on the list of things I didn’t expect to see this year.

It took a bit of a magical escape to top Tennessee a couple weeks ago, but the Gators are playing some of the nation’s best football. If you buy the idea No. 10 Alabama is good, which I do, then you have to buy Florida being for real (at least at this stage), after the Gators walloped No. 13 Mississippi, 38-10 in The Swamp, a couple weeks ago.

While the transitive property isn’t the greatest thing to use when comparing teams, it’s important to use this early in the year. Outside of Utah, Florida might have the best win in college football yet this year.

They were tested and needed some fortune against the Volunteers, but a trip to LSU this week should provide the marquee game the Gators need to properly push their way in or out of the discussion.

No. 3: Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC)

Clemson looks really, really good. The Tigers have all the makings of a championship contender — they have an offense that can put up points, a defense that can shut teams down and one of the best home-field advantages in college football.

That benefit given to them in Death Valley could be particularly important when they host No. 11 Florida State on Nov. 7 in a game that should determine the destiny of each team.

The Tigers already have a signature win, over No. 14 Notre Dame, and they trounced a now-broken Georgia Tech team this weekend. Of all the teams in the running, the Tigers might have the easiest path to the final four — will they take advantage of it?

No. 4: LSU (5-0, 2-0 SEC)

So we’ve run out of undefeated teams that have wins over top-25 teams, so it comes down to the eye test.

Can anyone stop Leonard Fournette? The Tigers have the best player in college football. That’s huge. So give me them at that fourth spot, at least until we see what happens this week in the other Death Valley against the Gators.

The winner will have the inside track to the playoff.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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