Because this issue has kicked up discussion about this very issue in Year2's Ole Miss-Mississippi State post from earlier today, let's talk about the title that leads off all of our ranking posts on the front page of the site: "Polls Still Matter." They do.
Yes, the polls no longer strictly dictate who goes to the national title game or, in this day, the playoff. But they shape the narratives of the season in a hundred different subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
What was one of the reasons that this past weekend was seen as such a big deal for the SEC? Because there were three games featuring match-ups of Top 15 teams. If you were on Twitter at all last night, you probably saw one of the tweets that went out ticking off how many ranked teams lost -- a sign, we all agreed, of how crazy the night had been. It was a huge day in the Magnolia State because Ole Miss and Mississippi State both knocked off Top 10 teams. Etc.
Part of this is a useful shorthand for discussion. It's a bit unwieldy to say "when was the last time that Ole Miss and Mississippi State both beat teams that the national college football audience perceived to be among the best in the land." But the rankings also help provide context to what's going on; the polls have never really determined who goes to the NCAA basketball tournament or what seeds teams get when they arrive, but those polls are still calculated and discussed.
And as for the selection committee itself: I hope they are watching the games that are being played. And if they're watching them live on the networks, some teams have numbers to the left side of their names and other teams don't. If you were a selection committee member, would you have been more likely to tune into LSU-Auburn or Miami (FL)-Georgia Tech last night in the 7 p.m. ET hour? LSU only had one fewer loss than Miami, after all, and both Auburn and Georgia Tech were undefeated. I also hope that the selection committee is reading a variety of game stories and box scores, many of which faithfully note the rankings of each team.
We still think of games between ranked teams as big games, and which games get endlessly chewed over and how they get discussed are still largely based on the rankings. Almost no one outside of the West Coast saw it because it was on the Pac-12 Networks, but there was a wild game between Cal and Washington State last night. How much ink has been devoted to that? Not much, despite the fact that Cal currently leads the Pac-12 North due to that win. But they're not ranked, so it's a footnote for the moment.
There is no way to know in the short-term how much the rankings are going to influence the selection committee, and it might be impossible to ever know in an definitive way. (Making it harder is that some members are going to be rotated on and off the committee every year; for as much as we talk about the "the selection committee" in a monolithic way, it's not going to be a static panel from year to year.) If we're regularly seeing the fifth-, sixth- or seventh-ranked teams get in ahead of some of the Top 4 in the polls, that will tell us that the polls aren't a mirror image of the selection committee, but we're still not going to know with any certainty that the rankings played no role in those decisions.
The rankings aren't irrelevant, and even in the tragic case that college football decides to expand to a playoff larger than the rankings, they still won't be meaningless. They might matter less than they once did, but the polls still matter.
|1||Florida State (35)
||Florida State (44)
|3||(3t) Mississippi St. (2)||Baylor (1)
|4||(3t) Ole Miss
|6||Notre Dame||Mississippi State|
|8||Michigan State||Michigan State|
|14||Texas A&M||Texas A&M|
|15||Ohio State||Ohio State|
|16||Oklahoma State||Kansas State|
|19||East Carolina||East Carolina|
|20||Arizona State||Arizona State|
According to the NCAA's count, four teams dropped out of the polls this week, which is not as surprising as it might seem at first blush. When there's as much bloodshed as their was Saturday, everybody tends to look so bad that the voters are more forgiving. Also, teams that could have made a case to jump into the rankings either didn't help their cause (South Carolina) or played in obscure games or after some voters went to bed (Cal is actually an interesting case, having lost to Arizona by just four but beaten Colorado and Wazzu by a combined total of four).
Florida State picks up first-place votes for the first time in a couple of weeks, gaining eight in the AP and retaking No. 1 in the coaches poll while collecting 18 more top ballots than the week before. Because pistol-whipping perhaps the worst team in the FBS is just that impressive, I guess. (Yes, Vanderbilt would probably beat Wake Forest. Maybe by double digits. The Deacons are that bad.) Auburn, which got a grand total of zero first-place votes last week, picks up a combined 39 in this week's polls and moves into second place.
The AP splits the difference on the Mississippi teams, while the coaches continue to be a bit more cautious about the Bulldogs. That means Mississippi State moved up nine spots in the AP, compared to eight in the coaches poll, and Ole Miss jumped eight spots in both.
Alabama drops down to No. 7, meaning that the SEC West has four teams in the Top 10, up from three last week. I don't subscribe to the theory that there's some sort of pro-SEC conspiracy among poll voters, but I can understand how results that like could fuel those theories.
Georgia is now a Top 10 team in the coaches poll, and if you said you saw that coming last week, I'll call you a liar to your face. That gives the SEC five overall Top 10 teams in the coaches survey. The Dawgs stay at No. 13 in the AP poll, which might or might not be the more defensible position. Really, who knows this year?
Texas A&M is the consensus No. 14 team, because apparently no one watched the South Carolina-Kentucky game last night, and Missouri reappears in the coaches Top 25 and moves up a spot in the AP poll, because apparently no one watched the South Carolina-Kentucky game last night. The loss of LSU in both polls, paired with the appearance of Missouri in the coaches survey, puts the SEC at seven teams in both sets of rankings.