Don’t Believe the NCAA Coaches

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

The preseason ESPN Coaches’ College Football poll gets a lot of attention. These are the men who know the game the best, right? They’re the pros, not a bunch of pretty boys on camera, loud-mouth wannabees with mikes on the radio and rumpled computer jockeys, right?

The college coaches are serious, well-informed men without agendas.

Well, yes . . . sometimes, but more times than not the answer is no.

I’m not here to defend the media or computer polls. They’ve obviously got plenty of problems. But are they less insightful, less honest and less bias than the coaches’ poll? Absolutely not.

Preseason polls – no matter who is voting – are nothing more than flawed people practicing the art of guessing.

First, few coaches actually vote. Most coaches will make a few decisions – vote so-and-so No. 1, include so-and-so in the top 10 and make sure to include this school and that school in there somewhere — and then have their sports information directors fill in the blanks.

Don’t think for a moment these coaches are without agendas.

The coaches like to include their friends to give their programs a boost. (The fan base is restless, contributions are down and ticket sales are lagging and a preseason ranking can help all of them.)

The coaches like to include their enemies to put heat on them. (Nothing fires up the fan base and administration more than an underachieving team. “Coach, you were ranked No. 11 in preseason and won five games. What happened? Maybe it’s time for a change.)

The coaches like to include their conference teams, particularly their rivals. (A conference well represented in the preseason poll indicates a difficult schedule and, thus, a built in excuses for the coaches. “We will be tested this week by the No. 15 team in the nation. They’re a great team,” laments Coach Whatshisname. It also hypes up the schedule, which is good for ticket sales and early season TV appearances. And, of course, it’s a good for recruiting.)

I’m not suggesting we get rid of preseason polls. I love them as just as most college fans. It does bother me such guesswork can have a major impact on the end of the season. Unranked teams are all but eliminated from consideration for the BCS Championship Game. For this group almost any loss totally eliminates them from consideration. On the other hand, a high preseason ranking is like giving a runner a big lead before the race even starts.

There is no solution. College football loves the hype, and rightfully so. The media love the manufactured story lines. The fans can’t get enough college football.

I do wish the people doing the voting – I used to vote in the media poll but haven’t for 25 years – would make some changes in the way they think.

In no particular order, allow me to offer some suggestions.

Tradition should play a role simply because it is reasonable to think traditionally successful programs recruit a lot of good players. But how big a role? In the current coaches’ poll, the bottom two spots are No. 24 Texas and No. 25 Penn State? Think there’s a chance most voters simply looked at their ballots and saw two of the biggest name schools missing and so they added the Longhorns and Nittany Lions? Texas was 5-7 last season and Coach Mack Brown overhauled his staff? Are the Longhorns better than 97 other major college teams? Penn State has been slightly better than average in recent years. Are the Lions truly worthy of being ranked ahead of Utah? West Virginia? Arizona State? Miami?

Ohio State has a great program, but the Buckeyes go into the 2011 season with major problems. NCAA violations cost their coach his job and forced their star quarterback to leave school. Several players have been suspended for the first five games. They have an interim head coach. But they’re ranked 16th.

Then there’s Notre Dame. Talk about being average. But the love-hate relationship most voters have with Notre Dame makes the Irish a lock to be ranked (18th this year).

Some voters subscribe to the theory that a champion remains the champion until proven otherwise and, as a result, vote on last year’s results. But unlike at the professional level, college champions often lose many of their best players. I agree with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski who never refers to his current team as defending champion. “They’re different teams,” Coach K will tell you. “These players aren’t defending anything.”

Auburn is an example of this theory in the coaches’ poll. The War Eagles, reigning BCS champs, lost megastars, including QB Cam Newton and defender Nick Fairly. They are predicted to finish 5th in their own division, the SEC West. But the coaches have them No. 19.

Lack of tradition also plays a major role in the voting. It took Boise State six years of success to simply make the top 10 in preseason polls. Now the Broncos are a fixture (7th this year).

You also need to know how voters define the top 25. Are they trying to identify the best 25 teams or how the final poll will look? Does the SEC really have eight of the top 23 teams in the nation? The coaches have that many in their poll, Florida at No. 23 being the lowest ranked SEC team.

When all the regular season games are played the final poll won’t have much in common with the preseason poll. For the record, Texas and Florida were in the top 5 preseason poll last year. The Gators finished 8-5 and unranked. The Longhorns didn’t qualify for a bowl game.

Another example of the coaches not being honest in their voting is the fact that Coach Steve Spurrier always voted for Duke in the preseason top 25 until a list of the voting coaches became public knowledge. Spurrier admitted he included Duke because his fondness for the school that gave him his first college head coaching job. Duke, of course, has one of the weakest programs in the nation.

Many argue the preseason polls would not be a factor if major college football had a playoff. Although I’m not in favor of a playoff — a topic for a future column – I can’t argue with that point.


  1. Steve Williams says:

    Wow, Lamm has been relegated to being a utility host and penning articles on the 1010 website.

  2. Wyman Stewart says:

    Dave’s realigned his career to a demographically more astute sports fan. This sport’s fan has the agility to balance a magnifying glass properly, to enlarge and read clearly, every word of Dave’s WordPress bloggings, inane or not. This sport’s fan brings a trained ear to the radio, recognizing, “IT’S LAMM’S VOICE!” popping up, on whoever’s program needs a ratings boost at 1010XL (everyone). This sport’s fan’s instant memory of Lamm, when the Metabolic commercial runs, is Lamm At Large, standing short but HUGE, while now, he’s enviously svelte compared to most of us. GRRR!

    There’s only one demographically astute sports fan like that: The DINOSAURS! You don’t relegate us and we ain’t utility anything. We can talk baseball, football, basketball, and other sports, while today’s talking heads, spin their wheels pretending they know, while outside their sport specialty. Old sports guys never die, we just fade away. You will miss us. Carry on, GURU! I’m all ears…wait, let me turn my hearing aids on first. Okay, now…go ahead, make my day.

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