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Beware The Polls

   by Larry Ness - 08/25/2014

The 2014 college football season opens August 28 and sports bettors everywhere are chomping at the bit. However, a word to the wise, just like the famous line from The Wizard of Oz warned (note: The Wizard of Oz opened nationally Aug 25, 1939, making Monday its 75th anniversary), “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” I say “beware of the preseason polls.”

Preseason polls do serve a purpose. They allow us to argue, compare, protest and maybe most importantly, to fill time before the games begin. In fact, they are part of the American sports fan experience. However, for the first time, the polls will have little to no bearing on shaping college football’s national championship race. That HAS to be a good thing, right?

Do you really think the coaches have much of an insight? Consider this. Alabama's opponent in the 2012 national championship game was an undefeated Notre Dame team, which barely made into the coaches’ preseason top-25 at No. 24 (AP preseason poll didn’t have the Irish ranked at all). Florida State's opponent in the 2013 national championship game was Auburn, which was unranked in EITHER poll. By the way, the Seminoles (who finished 14-0 SU & 11-3 ATS) were only 11th in the AP preseason poll and 12th in the Coaches' poll. So much for "insight."

Want more proof the polls (especially in the preseason) are irrelevant? Auburn finished No. 2 in the final Coaches' poll, Michigan St at No.. 3 and Missouri at No. 5. Those three schools combined for a 37-5 record (not to mention going 32-8-2 ATS!), yet all three opened the 2013 season unranked. UCF and Baylor met in the Fiesta Bowl where the Golden Knights (as 17-point 'dogs) shocked the Bears 52-42. UCF finished 12-1 (8-5 ATS) and Baylor 11-2 (9-4 ATS) yet BOTH opened the season unranked.

Again I say, "so much for insight from the writers and coaches." Let's hope that luminaries like Condoleezza Rice (my favorite), Mike Tranghese, Pat Haden, Tom Osborne, Tyrone Willingham and Barry Alvarez will do better after watching all season. Maybe the likes of Oliver Luck and Archie Manning will gain some valuable insights from their NFL sons, Andrew, Peyton and Eli? The above group are part of the 13-member selection committee (replacing the Bowl Championship Series) which will decide the four schools that make it to the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Defending national champion Florida State is No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason college football poll, as the Seminoles open the season No. 1 for the sixth time and first since 1999 when they became the first team to hold the top spot for the entire season. The AP preseason poll started in 1950 and since then, only 10 preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to finish the season ranked No. 1, but FSU fans will take delight in the fact that their Seminoles did it twice (1993 and '99).

Then again, I'll remind FSU fans that only ONCE in the last seven years has the AP preseason No. 1 team been in the top-four to finish the regular season (that was Alabama in 2013, which was No. 3 before losing to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 7). Adding more fuel to the fire of just how useless preseason polls are, I'll note that there has been only one year in the last seven (2011) in which more than two of the AP's preseason top-10 teams finished the regular season ranked in the top four. Three of the eight teams to finish the regular season in the AP top-four the over last two seasons were unranked in the preseason poll. Just TWO of the eight were ranked in the preseason top-10 (Alabama in both 2012 and 2013).

This year's selection committee will deliver us four teams for the first-ever College Football Playoff. With that in mind, if one were to look at the AP’s top-four teams to end the regular season since 2007 (that's 28 teams in all), more of them have came from outside the preseason top-10 than from within it. The breakdowns are; 13 teams from inside the top-10 (seven, inside the top-four) and 15 from outside the top-10 (four being unranked!).

So how much can we draw from preseason rankings as handicappers and bettors? The answer is not much. Check back Wednesday for Part 2 of my CFB 2014 preview, "Streaking into the Season."

Good luck...Larry

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