Chaos abounded this week, as 6 of the 23 ranked teams that played falling prey to the upset bug. Or the flu bug perhaps. Or maybe even more accurately, they fell victim to the #1 cause of early season upsets; Preseason-itis.
To understand what Preseason-itis is, you must first comprehend what an upset is. On its most basic level in college football, an upset is when a game occurs wherein a ranked team loses to either a lower ranked team or an unranked team. Well, duh. You see, I have to elucidate this point because otherwise some people may not comprehend why a game like Ole' Miss losing to South Carolina was a huge upset. The #4 team in the country losing to an unranked team that had already lost once this season? Huge upset, right?
Two pesky things get in the way of calling the Ole' Miss loss an upset; facts and logic. These two teams played last year, returned all of the same core players (minus Ole' Miss losing two first round NFL draft picks), and the result was exactly the same as it was last year; a one score South Carolina victory. So if this same Ole' Miss team lost to this same South Carolina team, why was there such a huge disparity in their rankings?
My number one pet peeve in college football is early season polls. With the presence of these polls, voters will fall victim to one of three basic human instincts in their voting, which completely skew having an accurate poll early in the season:
1. The Desire to be Right: Filling out a ballot is a significant investment of time and reputation for a voter. So when someone goes out and puts a team like Florida #1 on their ballot in the preseason, naturally they will want to keep them there until they lose. Even if after 4 weeks it is obvious to everyone in the country that this is not the same Florida team as last year, and that Alabama is going to steamroll them by four TDs in the SEC Championship Game. (Purely hypothetical of course) This is the same kind of thinking that is occurring right now to fantasy football owners; I am certain that there are those of you out there that are holding on to LT right now, even though every logical bone in your body is telling you he is not going to do anything this year, because dammit, you spent a 3rd round pick on him and you don't want to look like an idiot.
The symptom that arises from this aspect of Preseason-itis, is the gradual creep of unworthy teams up the polls, sometimes to absurd heights. This year has seen three such instances already. Ole' Miss had ZERO reason for being ranked #4 in the country, Penn State had no business being #5, and LSU has no business being #7, much less getting moved up one or two spots this week because the two aforementioned impostors were exposed ahead of them this week. All three of these teams were able to attain these heights though, because for voters to drop them while they were winning would be to admit the one thing nobody likes to admit; that they were wrong.
2. Pack Mentality: There is a certain magic to poll voting in college football. Somehow the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, the Harris Poll, and heck, even the "Blogger Poll" on CBS Sportsline, look stunningly alike. Why is that? Did all of these diverse groups of people make the same mistake of putting faith in Ole Miss? In Oklahoma State? In Penn State? In some ways yes, put in one big way, no. They made a different mistake; they wanted to be like everyone else. So they look at the other polls from the week before and they slot winners up (even if they looked bad) and slot winners down (even if they looked good), because that is what the group-think decrees. The reason for this is because going out on a limb is scary, and people tend to point and laugh when you do. For example, Doug Lesmerises was killed in the media this week because he casts a daring, reactive ballot in the AP poll. He committed such acts of blasphemy as ranking Florida #5 (gasp!) and ranking USC as #25 (the horror!). Funny thing is though...want to know two of the teams Doug had ranked lower than almost anyone? Penn State and Ole' Miss, who coincidentally both got "upset" this week. Mr. Lesmerises isn't looking so dumb now, is he?
3. Voting for the Story: Ah, now we are on to the big elephant in the room. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows it. Nobody wants to admit they are going it though. Why is Boise State ranked 8th in the country? Why was a garbage Notre Dame team ranked 18th earlier this year? Why was USC ranked 3rd earlier this year, after losing their starting QB, top 2 two WRs, and almost their entire linebacking corps from last year? Simply put, voters vote for the story many times, not for the teams. Non-BCS team making noise? That's a story. Perennial power rising in the rankings coming off a bad year (Notre Dame, Michigan)? That's a story.
Now here is a story nobody is talking about; for all intents and purposes, as a result of Preseason-itis, Boise State has already clinched a BCS berth. What? Boise is already solidly within the top 12, and does not have a single scary opponent left on their schedule. So on the strength of beating one ranked team (at home mind you), Boise is going to go to a BCS Bowl. The only worse case of this phenomenon was in 2007, when Hawaii went to a BCS bowl in a year when their best non-conference win was against a 4-9 PAC-10 team. Yes, that actually happened.
You see, voting on Boise this year has exhibited all three symptoms of Preseason-itis. They were ranked 14th going into the season, so they have moved up because people want to be right. They are staying in the top ten because of the pack mentality. And they are most clearly a result of voting for the story (you don't think voters aren't thinking of that Orange Bowl upset every-time they vote for Boise?), because their ranking falls victim to one huge logical flaw; they should be ranked behind TCU. Why? Well, TCU was ranked higher than Boise at the end of last year, and in fact BEAT Boise just 9 months ago in a bowl game. Yet somehow both teams are undefeated, but Boise is ranked 7 spots higher. Why? They are a better story than a TCU team that the country is not familiar with, that's why. The real problem is that if TCU does go undefeated, they would have a much stronger resume than Boise (@UVA, @Clemson, @BYU, and vs. Utah), but would fail to get a BCS bid due to poor voting habits. And that would be a true shame.
Unranked Victims of Preseason-itis:
To stay on the theme, here are four teams that should be ranked, but are being held out of the polls:
1. Iowa: While Iowa will probably be ranked by the end of the day due to their upset of Penn State, they should have already been ranked, and ranked highly. Why? Take a look at their schedule. They are 4-0, with wins over Penn State, Iowa State, and Arizona. Ok, who cares about Iowa State and Arizona? Voters should; the four teams that Iowa has beat this season are a combined 12-0 this year against teams not named Iowa. Now there is some food for thought.
2. Auburn: Auburn is 4-0, with a trip to Tennessee this week that should be another easy victory. So far this season they have defeated two BCS teams (Miss. State and West Va.), and have shown an explosive offense that has gone for totals of 37, 41, 49, and 54 points so far this season. You are telling me this team isn't better than Nebraska or UNC?
3. Wisconsin: Wisconsin always plays ugly football. They play defense, and grind it out on the ground on offense. As a result, voters never think of them as a sexy pick. The Badgers stand at 4-0 this year, playing their typical brand of un-sexy football while beating Michigan State and Fresno State already this year.
4. South Carolina: The other USC's only sin this season has been a 4 point loss on the road to a pretty good Georgia team. Other than that, they have beat a better than you think NC State team on the road, as well as "upset" #4 Ole' Miss. How are they not ranked?
On the Field Heisman Rankings:
Oh how the mighty have fallen. A big shakeup in the rankings this week, as Jacory Harris and Jahvid Best both had disastrous days in upset losses to fall out of the rankings. The real story in the Heisman race however, is that there is no story. Nobody seems to want the darn thing this year. Colt McCoy keeps throwing Interceptions. Tim Tebow has not had a single Heisman worthy game. Sam Bradford has missed to much time already to even be considered. So who is left? Tony Pike actually, the only man in the country that has looked like a Heisman winner every week thus far:
1. Tony Pike, Cincy: Pike's resume gets stronger and stronger every week. Adding to his 300+ yard, 3 TD performances over Rutgers and Oregon State earlier this season, Pike put in another outstanding performance against Fresno State. Pike passed for 300 yards and 3 TDs and added another 22 yards on the ground.
2. Case Keenum, Houston: Things didn't look too good for Case, down 28-23 to Texas Tech in the 4th quarter last night. Keenum didn't crack under pressure though, leading the Cougars on a game winning drive late in the 4th to pull ahead 29-28 against the Red Raiders. Keenum put up his typical video game numbers (457 total yards, 2 total TDs) and now has two big time performances against Big 12 teams on his resume.
3. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: You might be shocked to see Williams here, but the numbers don't lie; in three games against ranked opponents so far this year he has put up 412 total yards and 5 TDs. Pretty good for a Freshman that only got the job due to an injury to the incumbent.
4. Greg McElroy, Alabama: McElroy is ranked 3rd in the country in QB rating (first amongst BCS QBs) and has looked deadly for what I believe is the best team in the country. With wins against Virginia Tech and Arkansas on his resume, he is looking as good as any QB in the country.
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