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Sports Authority

Carson: Pay attention to on-field results

| Monday, November 16, 2015

What’s the point of playing games if nobody’s going to pay attention to the results?

I’m looking at you, AP poll. You got a lot of things wrong this week.

Go down the list of tiebreakers in most major sports, and the one we default to is an intuitive one: head-to-head. It makes sense — if two teams have similar résumés, we should break the tie by prioritizing the team who won the game between the two.

There shouldn’t be any grey area after a decisive result, right?

That is, unless you’re an AP voter.

I don’t have my eyes set on tearing apart No. 3 Alabama being ahead of No. 25 Mississippi, or even No. 8 Florida being ranked above No. 17 LSU, because both those rankings make sense, even if they go in the inverse order of the result.

But the problems lie throughout the rest of this week’s poll.

Think back to the opening week of the year, on a Thursday night, when Michigan traveled to Utah in what was, at the time, an innocuous game between two unranked teams.

The Utes won that game 24-17, and today, both teams sit at 8-2, fully worthy of inclusion in the top 25.

Michigan, however, is No. 14 this week. Utah is No. 18.

It’s not like Michigan has a sudden slew of good wins to boost its mark either — Northwestern is the Wolverines’ only top-25 win, while Utah has that dismantling over Oregon, who’s back in the top 25, to add to its win over Michigan.

There’s no particularly sensible universe where we should be arguing the Wolverines deserve to be ahead of Utah in this week’s rankings.

And that’s not the only example.

Let’s go back to Northwestern, who sits at No. 20 in this week’s AP poll. The Wildcats, now 8-2, vaulted into the national picture after a win over Stanford to start the season, who is also 8-2.

But the Cardinal sit at No. 15, five spots ahead of the team that beat them on the field.

And sure, some might argue opening-weekend games don’t properly tell the story of the season. There’s a case there, but I don’t like it. Why don’t we just add an exhibition game to the schedule in that case — like most teams essentially do anyway — rather than opening the season with a meaningful contest?

Until that change is made, we can’t simply disregard September results because they don’t fall in line with what we think the narrative is at this point.

Let’s go to a couple more examples, ones from later in the year. Oregon, who comes in 7-3 and 5-2 in the Pac-12, sits at No. 23.

Washington State, who comes in at 7-3 and 5-2 in the Pac-12, with a win over those same Ducks, is a spot behind at No. 24.

Or Ole Miss, who weighs in this week — somehow — at No. 25. The Rebels have three losses, one of which is to an 8-2 Memphis team.

Never mind that the Tigers’ losses are to No. 13 Houston and No. 19 Navy: They are unranked this week.

Wait, what?

I’d love to get into the mind of any AP voter who placed the Rebels ahead of Memphis this week, despite a decisive victory for the Tigers four weeks earlier at the Liberty Bowl.

Seriously. If you’re not going to base your rankings off what actually happened on the field, why do you have a ballot in your hands in the first place?

Granted, we’re well past the point in college football where the AP poll means anything, but it still shapes the narratives we discuss every week. Does Alabama really have good wins? Does anyone have good wins? Should the Big Ten get a one-loss team in the playoff, and what do we make of the Big 12?

Even if they wipe the slate clean each week, it’s irresponsible to think the public perception generated by the AP and coaches polls doesn’t have some level of the effect on the College Football Playoff committee, which ultimately rules everything in the sport.

It’s not a hard fix.

Just pay attention to, you know, the games.

Isn’t that what voters are supposed to do?

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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