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Padanilam: Get rid of the AP Poll

| Wednesday, September 7, 2016

This past weekend saw the opening of the college football season.

And man was it a good one.

ESPN spent the last several weeks hyping it up, dubbing it the “Best College Kickoff Weekend Ever” in their advertising campaigns. And despite the incredibly high expectations for the weekend, it might have surpassed them in the level of excitement, number of upsets and quality of football we saw.

Well, unless you were USC and had the pleasure of opening against Alabama.

We saw Wisconsin surprise LSU at Lambeau Field. We witnessed Houston prove its remaining doubters wrong with a big win over Oklahoma. Texas and Notre Dame battled in a double overtime affair that ended with the Longhorns reasserting themselves on a national stage. Then, freshman quarterback Deondre Francois seemingly grew up over the course of a half, leading Florida State to a 22-point comeback against Ole Miss.

That’s not to say, of course, there were not less notable outcomes that weren’t also exciting and shocking. Take Mississippi State, who fell to South Alabama after missing a 28-yard field goal that could have won it the game.

And after all the excitement and thrills, we get the culmination of it all in the form of a meaningless AP poll.

Wisconsin’s win over LSU was impressive, but why did the Badgers jump out of the depths of the unranked pool to become one of the nation’s 10 best teams at No. 10? The Longhorns were impressive in their win over the Irish, but they didn’t look like the No. 11 team in the country they are now ranked as.

Conversely, the losers of those high profile games saw significant drops in the AP, as Oklahoma, Notre Dame and LSU fell to Nos. 14, 18 and 21, respectively. Tennessee even dropped eight spots to No. 17 after struggling against Appalachian State. And now the perception, for all of these teams, is that they are on the outside looking in.

Yet there’s no way to know that for sure at this point in the season. Remember when Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in the opening weekend of college football in its national championship season just two years ago? It only goes to show that the college football season is unpredictable.

But, for some reason, we still waste our time with an AP poll that can create perceptions and rush to judgements on all these teams when it’s simply too early to tell.

The only poll that ultimately matters is the one released by the College Football Playoff committee halfway through the season. Yet, the fickle nature of the AP poll can shape the way the committee’s voters look at these teams and, more importantly, the strength of the schedule they face. After all, the CFP voters are just as human and prone to recency and projection biases as the AP voters. And while they have standards that are supposed to limit the effect of those biases, those standards — such as strength of schedule — are still not capable of sufficiently removing those biases.

So what can we do to ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Well, the clearest answer is to get rid of the AP and Coaches’ polls. While they’re handy tools for the media, they are ultimately meaningless during the season outside of presenting distractions and potential biases to the voters of the poll that does matter. As radical or as strange as it might sound, it might ultimately be the best move for college football going forward.

We’ll still know which games are important and which ones will be exciting. So why do we need a meaningless poll to tell us that?

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

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin