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College Football Polls, and Other Societal Flaws

Well, I was all set to provide a dissenting opinion to Eric on how Maryland belonged in the top 25, but after looking more closely, I'm not sure which ranked team you can argue the Terps are decidedly better than. Eric and I agree that rankings should be based on teams' bodies of work, not merely on adjustments from the previous polls. In some ways, preseason polls are the single biggest thing wrong with college football, because they provide a completely arbitrary starting point from which the rest of the rankings derive. For example, if Maryland had been ranked in the preseason poll in the 17-25 range, the Terps likely would be there again. Of course, they would have fallen out after the loss to Middle Tennessee, but the two wins over top-25 competition since would have gotten them back in. So the difference is not in what they've done but in how they were perceived without having ever played a game. (As an aside, the coaches' poll is usually much more flagrant in this regard than the AP poll; but in either case, how can anyone argue that what Oklahoma has done so far this season is more impressive than Alabama?)

Anyway, back to Maryland. All that said, it's not as easy to become exorcised over the Terps' exclusion as I thought. Let's compare the bodies of work for the teams ranked 21-25 in the AP poll.

25. Wake Forest (3-1): The Deacons' win over Mississippi looks better than ever, and even their win over Baylor trumps beating Delaware or Eastern Michigan. Their loss was at home but to a respectable opponent in Navy.
Bottom line: Close call that will be settled on the field later this month.

24. Connecticut (5-0): Lots of close wins over respectable but not overwhelming competition (Temple, Baylor, Louisville) and blowouts of I-AA (Hofstra) and woefully undermanned I-A (Virginia) teams.
Bottom line: Huskies don't have a win as impressive as either of the Terps' best two, but they have been consistent enough to avoid any embarrassing slip-ups.

23. Oregon (4-1): Doesn't have a win as impressive as either of the Terps' top two. (Maryland has beaten a better Pac-10 team than the Ducks have so far.) Loss was at home to Boise State, but the Broncos are far more impressive than Middle Tennessee. Looking forward, the Ducks have quarterback issues that dwarf anything the Terps have had to deal with, which likely will be an issue with USC and Arizona State on the horizon.
Bottom line: Somewhat justifiable to this point, tho if the teams were to play today with their current health status, I'd favor Maryland

22. Fresno State (3-1): This is the biggest mystery to me. The Bulldogs are ranked based on, near as I can tell, a road blowout of a Rutgers team that has been proven not to be very good. Its other two wins are in double-overtime over Toledo and by five over UCLA (memo to voters: just because they're in the Pac-10 doesn't mean they're good.) Fresno's loss was at home, though forgivable: 13-10 to Wisconsin (though the Badgers could be six days away from back-to-back losses).
Bottom line: This is poll inertia in its clearest form: Voters assumed the Rutgers win justified ranking the Bulldogs, which seemed logical at the time, and then ignored the eroding value of that win in the weeks ahead. Fresno has a special place in Prisbell's heart, but I'd give Maryland a slight and easily debatable edge.

21. Oklahoma State (4-0): None of the Cowboys' wins blow you away, but they just got done drilling a much better Sun Belt team (Troy) than the one Maryland lost to, albeit in Stillwater.
Bottom line: When you've lost to Middle Tennessee, it's tough to lobby against a team that took care of its middling competition.

So I guess it's not that huge an injustice after all, and obviously a lot of poll aberrations correct themselves over time. I'd just like to see more voters base their decisions on what teams have actually accomplished, rather than on adjustments from what people thought they would accomplish.

By Matthew Rennie  |  September 29, 2008; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Football  
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Next: Terps Ranked? Not So Fast


Good post, and as far as being a Terp fan, I'd rather the Terps remain unranked so they can continue flying under the radar. That said, they should creep in after beating UVA and then be somewhere in the 20s entering the big game at Byrd vs. Wake.

Posted by: Fredneck | September 29, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

It is absolutely ridiculous that these teams are ranked over UMD. None of these teams have beaten two teams that are the caliber of Cal and Clemson. Maryland beat Clemson at Death Valley which is hard to do even if Clemson is having a down year. Of these teams, not one has had a victory that is even remotely close to either one of ours. What makes me the most angry is the media's love affair with Jim Grobe and Wake Forest. UMD had three years of 10 win seasons and I don't remember the media having the same jones as they have for Wake(not to mention Rutgers). These polls are absolutely ridiculous. Well, I guess there is only one thing we can do: CRUSH Virginia then DESTROY Wake.

Posted by: V | September 29, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, and not one of those teams lost to Middle Tennessee State University either.

I agree with the crush-Virginia-and-destroy-Wake plan, though.

Posted by: Lindemann | September 29, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to see the Terps ranked but I'm happy to wait a week. The best way to screw around and lose to UVA would to be ranked for the first time all year and look at Duke 31 UVA 3 and forget to try in a road game vs a rival.

and honestly if I had a ballot I would be getting down to 24 25 and considering wake and MD and look at the schedule and then say "whatever they'll play in 2 weeks anyways i'll just stick with Wake until them"

Posted by: Lee | September 29, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Rankings are meaningless. Just win games and get to Tampa.

Posted by: virtueandvice | September 29, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Pre-season and early-season rankings are one of the biggest problems with the BCS system. I think Fridge said it at one point and I agree, that there shouldn't be ANY rankings until the 5th or 6th week of the season.

Then at that time people have a better picture of how they should rank teams.

Posted by: Sam | September 29, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

But Sam if that was done the perpetually overrated Big Ten, Pac 10, and Big 12 would always be left out of the title game...

Posted by: Lee | September 29, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse


Virginia -- 27
Maryland -- 10

Maryland will finish with a 5-7 record.

I am happy that Maryland is no longer recruiting Tavon Austin.

Jelani Jenkins, Travis Hawkins and Isaac Holmes will be signing with the University of Florida.

Go Tar Heels !

Posted by: Gary | September 29, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

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