There are very few things in college football sillier than the polls. I'll be honest though, I love lists and rankings. Every time VH1 has some show on of Rock Music s 25 Best Haircuts or whatever, I'm glued to my TV, and then inevitably outraged by the results. Ranking things is silly, but like most silly things, also fun.
We like to pretend there is some science behind the act of rankings teams. People have their resume tests and power polls or if you are Phil Steele, multiple power polls. There's nothing wrong with trying to apply some rigor to your method ranking teams, but let's not pretend we're getting anywhere near accuracy. It's a well-informed guess.
The major problem is the statheads favorite one, a small sample size. Football seasons are really, really short and it's hard to make evaluations based on twelve games, much less six. Even worse, there's just not a whole lot of crossover between the major conferences. There's the occasional UCLA-Nebraska or Clemson-Georgia, but it's pretty hard to make evaluations of relative conference strength off of a handful of games.
NCAA football is not one giant league of 120 teams. It is a confederation of ten quasi-independent conferences. It is far more akin to European soccer than the NFL. Sure, Real Madrid might be better than Manchester United, but at the end of the day, they play in different leagues. Putting out a poll of the best European club teams would be fun, but fairly meaningless at the end of the day. College football is a lot like that.
Which brings me to Pollspeak's fourth weekly champ of Bad Voter of the Week, Jon Winer. Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army also took him to task for submitting a whack ballot. Look, I get it. He's way out of step with the norm in his ballot, and that opens a guy up to all sorts of criticism. To his credit, Winer does defend his own ballot and explains his rationale.
I come not to bury Jon Winer, but to praise him. First and foremost, the idea that a ballot is bad because it disagrees with the general consensus is just an awful, toxic idea. We need people who challenge the consensus, and are also willing to defend their unique view. Rankings teams is absurd guesswork, and I find it more disturbing that so many people's guesses are so similar.
Also, even if his ballot is simply west coast homerism, so what?
The whole point of inviting a bunch of different writers from all over the country to vote is to balance out the biases. We all have bias, whether we want to admit it or not. As long as he's not intentionally trying to muck up the poll with a fraudulent ballot, which there's no evidence of, one writer's biases will be balanced out by another writer's biases. Or, in this case, every other writer's bias. We need some guys championing west coast football and guys in the Midwest championing the Big Ten. Let every voice sing. More voices, especially ones that disagree, are what we need in the national conversation.
Do I agree with Winer's ballot? Not particularly, but it's his ballot, not mine. His ballot gives voice to his opinions and it's not completely unreasonable. He states it clearly:
...Pac-12 teams receive the same ballot premium this year that SEC teams have received in past seasons (and this season).
That means the top teams don't get downgraded as severely for losing to unranked conference opponents as teams from other leagues might in the same situation.
The premium is rooted in results: The Pac-12 earned it with a strong non-conference performance (6-3 vs BCS leagues).
In my view, the SEC and Pac-12 are several levels above the Big 12/ACC/B1G, more because of the quality depth than strength at the top.
What's wrong with this? Hell, I agree with the basic principle at work: the Pac-12 and SEC are head and shoulders better than the other conferences this year (though I'd give some consideration to the top tier of the ACC). A 4-2 Pac-12 team is probably better than a 5-1 Big Ten team, all things being equal. And he ranks accordingly.
The general consensus even agrees with him, halfway. There are eight SEC teams currently ranked in the top 25. Eight. I think jumping on a guy for thinking 4-2 Washington is a top ten team is pretty bizarre in light of the fact that a majority of writers seem to believe the eighth best SEC team is in the top twenty percent of teams in the nation.
I don't want to defend every single one of Winer's bucking of the national consensus, but I'll tackle a few them.
UCLA is 4th, Ohio St is 6th
Honestly, so what? OSU beat Northwestern and Wisconsin, while UCLA beat Nebraska in Lincoln. Wisconsin lost to Arizona St, and that's OSU's best win. Does anyone else think OSU is playing Murderer's Row this year? UCLA beat a Utah squad that showed its quality against Stanford. UCLA's two wins are just as good as Ohio St's two wins, especially if you consider the Pac-12 as truly elite. And it's not like he put the Buckeyes in the teens.
Louisville 14th, Florida St 15th
I'm not on board with his FSU ballot, but outside of their thrashing of Maryland, what have they done? Beat Pitt and BC? Big whoop. I think they've looked pretty impressive, but it's not like you can't justify a low ranking of FSU prior to the Clemson game. As for Louisville, we're talking about a team that struggled with Rutgers and looked uninspired against Kentucky. And these are their best wins. Louisville looks like a #14 team with an insanely easy schedule. That's not so far out of left field.
Texas Tech 19th, Baylor 20th
Here's a guy not buying the Baylor hype. And why should he? Baylor has played a horrible schedule, so some skepticism is warranted. They didn't look like the insanely dominant team once they had to go on the road to play a mediocre Kansas St team. Texas Tech is also likely an illusion of a backloaded schedule, and their best win was a highway robbery against TCU. Let's also not gloss over the fact that the Big 12 looks awful this year. The first place team in the conference is a Texas squad that lost to BYU and one of the few SEC teams that isn't ranked.
Northern Illinois 18th
OK, that's way too high for the Huskies, but they do have four road wins and they are a defending BCS bowl team. They have two Big Ten wins and hey, I like anybody who supports the little guy. This is probably too high, but it's not like there's no case to rank an undefeated team.
Is his ballot unorthodox? Sure. It's an indefensible? Absolutely not. In fact, we could use more Bad Voters like him. Then again, at the end of the day, the AP poll is as meaningful as one of those countdowns on VH1 anyway.