Tuesday, August 22, 2006

BlogPoll Roundtable, Week 1

The first official roundtable of the 2006 season has been posted, and it's up to me to provide the correct answers to the House Rock Built's queries. With no further ado:

1. What's the biggest ripoff in this preseason poll? Either pick a team that's offensively over or underrated, or you can rag on a particular voter's bad pick (hey, we're all adults here, we can handle it).

Look no further than the BlogPoll's number eleven team, the Louisville Cardinals! WHAT?! Yeah, Brohm's good. We know. We've been hearing it ceaselessly, and no doubt we'll all be sick of hearing it as the season wears on and even more sick of it from February through April, when the Mock Drafts reign supreme. But the guy is coming off of surgery, and the offensive line that protected him has departed. They'll rack up a ton of points and double-digit wins, but that will happen against a bunch of impotent nobodies. They might even make a BCS bowl, but only because the contracts were signed before all the big boys defected, leaving the Big East look like the MAC Senior. I'd like to single out Tomahawk Nation and Rakes of Mallow for special excoriation, as the proprietors of these two sites ranked the Cards #3. Must be some sort of cry for help.

2. What shold a preseason poll measure? Specifically, should it be a predictor of end-of-season standing (meaning that a team's schedule should be taken into account when determining a ranking), or should it merely be a barometer of talent/hype/expectations?

One of the reason people love sports -- and college football in particular -- is because of the possibility of wacky upsets. They happen every week. One pesky team defies expectations and knocks off the powerhouse. Maybe it's on a last-second field goal. Maybe they come out of the gate firing, shellacking the hapless favorite who only then realize that it was a mistake to look past these should-be chumps. As such, I don't feel that a preseason poll should be an prediction of how the teams will finish at the end of the season. I also think it's important to filter out the hype.

A preseason poll should answer the following question: "Who do you think is the best team right now?" You answer that, and then answer the question: "OK, if team number 1 was out of the picture, who would be the best team remaining?" And so forth. When you rank your teams, you should expect team #1 to beat #2 and #3 and #4 and so on. You should expect #18 to beat #19. #19 to beat #20.

This is why we drop teams when they lose. Coming off a loss, chances are they're not the best team right now. They need to regroup. They need to decide whether to stick with their strategy or manipulate it. If they manipulate it, how much do they change? And what do they change? And to what degree? Sunday through Friday (in most cases for most teams) are a chess match. You lose, and you're no longer the best team. Someone else is. The question is, can you become the best team again?

3. What is your biggest stretch in your preseason ballot? That is to say, which team has the best chance of making you look like an idiot for overrating them?

I believe I may have overrated the fine lads of Arizona State. At #13, their ranking isn't so high as to be unreasonable, but after Dirk Koetter went from "this is my starter" to "go ahead and transfer" in under 24 hours, well ... let's just say I'm not comfortable with that ranking anymore.

Still, I think they're bound to be the surprise team out of the PAC-10, and a BCS berth isn't unreasonable if USc slips and Cal proves to suck as much as I think they will.

4. What do you see as the biggest flaw in the polling system (both wire service and blogpolling)? Is polling an integral part of the great game of college football, or is it an outdated system that needs to be replaced? If you say the latter, enlighten us with your new plan.

Polling is great. It's an activity that combines results and opinions, the two concepts that make sports worth watching year in and year out. With that in mind, to think that any one person would ever know enough to truly rank the top 25 teams out of 117 in an accurate and unbiased fashion is preposterous. Every pollster relies in very large part on the opinions of other people, so no ranking is truly one's own. If you consider that the average college football fan knows a lot about his team, and quite a bit about his conference (or, in the case of Notre Dame fans, not much about either), plus a fair amount about the marquee teams of the day, that still leaves him with a good five to ten teams about which he has very little knowledge to round out a field of 25. So that's the shortcoming of polling; nobody's knowledge is complete enough to really do it well.

5. You're Scott Bakula, and you have the opportunity to "Quantum Leap" back in time and change any single moment in your team's history. It can be a play on the field, a hiring decision, or your school's founders deciding to build the campus in Northern Indiana, of all godforsaken places. What do you do?

Fortunately, my school's not in northern Indiana, so I'm not saddled with that downer. But I'll tell you what I'd change: the result of the 1998 Michigan game. The Badgers lost 27-10 in Ann Arbor, Ron Dayne was held to a measly 53 yards, and the loss put the lone blemish on the Badgers' amazing Rose Bowl season. A win there would've kept the Badgers in national title conversation and would've been a signal moment for the team and its fans. So, I don't know how to improve that scenario by simply changing "a moment." Maybe I'd have stayed up all night knocking on Tom Brady's window so he couldn't sleep or something. Or maybe I would've given Ron Dayne some of those pills truckers take. Who knows.