Originally, this started as a reply to Poseur's post saying LSU should be No. 1. However, then I got really worked up and it turned into a five(ish)-paragraph essay about my disdain for how the polls function.
First and foremost, this is the 2008 football season. The latest poll released was a 2008 football poll. It ranks 2008 football teams. None of any of those things is somewhat close to being in the neighborhood of possibly relating even remotely to anything that happed in 2007.
It drives me absolutely bat$#!+-insane when I read or hear about a team that has won 19 in a row (or whatever it may be), so they should be ranked No. 1. No, this year's team is 7-0 (or whatever it may be), the same as all the other teams that is 7-0. Last year's team won 12 in a row. Last year's team isn't playing this year unless we've transformed college football into a wacked-out version of EA Sports NCAA 2008 and unlocked all the great teams from the past. In that case, I vote Notre Dame No. 1 because they've won the most national championships all time. Or maybe Texas No. 1, because I think the mascot team of all Bevo's would kick the crap out of any other team out there.
Then there is the esteemed Richard Pittman's article about his hatred for preseason polls. I'll steer clear of his analysis of games being decided by an inch here or an inch there (which I could easily tackle from both angles of the premise). I'll stick with his thought's on preseason polls.
Richard believes they're built on expected performance instead of percieved ability. I'll agree somewhat. There are roughly 70 voters in the AP Poll and 65 in the coaches poll. They all vote on different rationals. Some vote on expected performance. Some on perceived ability. Some probably on Poseur's theory.
The biggest problem with the preseason poll isn't the preseason poll itself. It's what it turns into. For most voters, I contend their preseason rankings (and for that matter the ballot they turned in the week before) create a rigid format for each ranking used throughout the year and ultimately the final one, which in the coaches poll actually matters.
How many times have you heard, "Team A hasn't given me a reason to move them down." Maybe not, but Team B might have given you a reason you are ignoring (because of your preseason poll) to move up. For example, last year LSU absolutely demolished No. 7 Virginia Tech. The Tigers remained No. 2 behind USC, who had exactly one win, an unimpressive one to open the season. What those voters are saying is, "my preseason predictions are more important than what I've seen on the field." In that case, preseason polls are destructive.
How many times have you heard, "Team A was my pick at the beginning of the year, so I'm sticking with them." This may be the dumbest rational for anything. Team A was your pick four months ago when you knew very little about teams. There have been 11 games, injuries, players stepping up, players slacking off, etc., since then. Maybe you should, I don't know, study that and make an informed decision. It's absolute lunacy and it's what decides the national championship participants. In this case, preseason polls are destructive.
Polls should be fluid and reflect what has happened over the course of the year. They should reflect the fact that, Team A had a great performance against Team B and Team A should be rewarded. However, after six weeks and Team B is 2-4, maybe we should look back at Team A and say, "you know what, they really haven't beaten anybody" and re-evaluate its ranking. Or maybe Team B is now 5-1 and beaten two other very good teams. Hey, "Team A has a really good win on its resume now" and re-evaluate its ranking.
Unfortunately, that will likely never happen because A) there's not enough time before Sunday morning to get your ballot turned in. B) most voters, while they do put forth some effort, don't want to research it to that degree.
Personally, I wouldn't mind keeping the polls and taking them for what they should be worth, a grain of salt, just like college basketball. Then, once we get the Plus-One (please, please, please, get the Plus-One), have a selection committee to pour over RPIs and good wins and bad wins and home wins and road wins and everything else. Then pick four teams and play it out.
I'm not for getting rid of the polls. I'm for getting rid of the inherent idiocy in them.