The Psychology of the Pre-Season Poll Debate – Don’t Predict the Future

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that pre-season polls should be constructed with the end of the season in mind.

Guys and gals, when we starting talking about pre-season polls, you know college football season is approaching.

Bleacher Fan poses an interesting question for us. Basically, I must get into the mind of a college football pollster and decide what the best mind frame is when constructing a pre-season poll. Should a pollster vote with the end of the season in mind, or should they vote based on how good they think a team will be at the beginning of the season? Without a doubt, the pollster should vote based on the beginning of the season.

Bleacher Fan alluded to this in the intro, but I want to take it a step further. Georgia was the pre-season number one team last year, and with good reason. They returned pre-season Heisman contenders in quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knoshown Moreno. Georgia ended the previous season by whipping a hapless Hawaii team 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl. Coming off the season they had in 2007, Georgia deserved to be ranked number one during the pre-season. The consensus was that it would be extremely difficult for Georgia to finish the season as champions. When prognosticators were giving their BCS Championship predictions last July, Georgia was rarely mentioned. Why, you ask? Because the schedule was absolutely daunting! Road trips to South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU, and Auburn added to home games against Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. Not to mention the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party down in Jacksonville against the mighty Florida Gators (politically correct or not, that’s what everyone in the South still calls it). That still leaves out a possible SEC championship game. Looking at that schedule before the season, most folks outside of Athens – and even some of in Athens – agreed that it was going to be extremely difficult to finish number one. But, going into the season, based on how they finished the previous season and who they had returning, Georgia was a very deserving number one in the pre-season.

As Bleacher Fan said, circumstances often come up that change how the best football team is determined, or even how a mid-level team is perceived. Maybe injuries pop up. Maybe the quarterback gets kicked off the team for not “earning” his money at his “job” (see Rhett Bomar). Maybe a star player gets a DUI and his playing status is thrown into question (see Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon). These things are absolutely impossible to predict. There’s just no way. If a pollster really knows for certain who is going to be number one at the end of the season, please send them to my home. I’d love to have a chat with them. I’ll even give them a dollar to go buy me a lottery ticket. As my father likes to say, “I don’t have to win the lottery but one time, you know!

I also like to know that if my team finishes the previous season well, I’ve got a pretty good chance to see them in the pre-season rankings. It seems like every year Clemson would be ranked in the pre-season thanks to a strong late season push. But, that would be followed by a mediocre start to the next season (sorry, Sports Geek!). At least they had the pre-season polls to look forward to every year.

The bottom line is that pollsters should vote based on the here and now. They can’t read into the future, no matter how smart they think they are. There’s no sense in even trying!

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