The Psychology of the Pre-Season Poll Debate – What is the Function of a Pre-Season Poll?

Read Sports Geek’s argument that a pre-season poll should forecast how the season will end and Loyal Homer’s argument that it should provide a real-time snapshot of the best teams in college football.



Football is just around the corner. As we wait with bated breath for the release of the college football preseason top 25 rankings, questions abound regarding where the each team will fall.

Florida is a likely candidate for the number one spot, but what about Texas, or Oklahoma? Where does the Pac-10 or the Big Ten come into the equation? How do you rank Southern Cal and Ohio State when they will be playing each other early in September?

With all the speculation swirling around, it makes me wonder how to interpret the pre-season polls once they are released. For example, if Florida does in fact receive the number one ranking, does that mean that the pollsters feel that the Gators are pre-season favorites to win the BCS National Championship, or does it mean that they are just ranked as the best team TODAY, and we’ll have to wait and see if they still are the best team tomorrow?

For the 2008 season, Georgia was named the pre-season number one team, but they finished the season without even making a BCS appearance, instead facing Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Does that mean the pollsters were wrong when they filled out their pre-season ballots, or were the Bulldogs in fact the best team in the country at the time of the polling?

In fairness, no one possesses the clairvoyance of Carnac the Magnificent, so predicting the future is impossible. Does that mean that the pollsters get a bye if their preseason pick for number one loses the first three games of the season?

It is for this reason that I look to my esteemed colleagues for assistance.

What is the better philosophy to employ when a developing a college football pre-season poll?

Obviously these are consensus polls, so opinions will differ from one voter to the next. However, shouldn’t the general principle on who to vote for be the same, regardless of the person voting?

With that thought in mind, Sports Geek will argue that the best philosophy when constructing a pre-season poll is to rank the teams in order of which is most likely to win the National Championship. After all, isn’t that who the number one team is at the end of the season?

On the other hand, Loyal Homer will argue that the best philosophy is to vote based on the current state of the teams. Rather than attempt prognostication, a pollster should rank the teams based solely on who they feel the best team is TODAY, understanding that circumstances arise which may change the status of who the best team is TOMORROW.

As I gaze into my crystal ball, I see… a bicycle in the basement of the Alamo! No, wait, I see the winner of this debate. And it is…

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