Our pal Bud Elliott recently released his preseason composite poll, combining the Associated Press and Coaches Poll rankings, and he made the argument that putting 25 teams in the rankings makes less sense in a fall where a big chunk of the sport isn’t playing.
Respectfully, I disagree with Bud entirely.
The preseason AP Poll included nine teams in the top 25 in conferences that have already canceled their seasons. They had 21 teams in the Also Receiving Votes category; of those, six don’t have a fall schedule. That leaves 31 teams who a) got a vote in this preseason poll and b) will be attempting to play a modified season shortly.
If including teams that aren’t playing strikes you as weird (and it very much is), the AP’s already clarified that, after this poll, only teams with a fall schedule will be eligible for voters to select. As of the preseason poll’s release, that’s projected to be around 76 FBS programs according to the AP. And 31 of those 76 – about 40% of the fall teams – already appear in this poll in some form. Why not just rip the bandage off and make this a ranking of every FBS team?
That would immediately give the audience a framework for every game that happens this season. When Miami opens the year hosting UAB, viewers won’t have to guess how much better one team is. Based on the preseason AP Poll, that game becomes the #45 Blazers versus the thirtieth-ranked Hurricanes! And, when Miami loses, previously unsaid sentences will emerge, like “how did the Canes only drop to 38th?”
With far fewer games being played, the voters can’t credibly claim there are just too many teams to watch, especially in the early weeks when SEC play hasn’t yet begun. (Does this mean you should vault a bunch of Sun Belt and AAC teams ahead of all the SEC teams stuck on 0-0? Yes, it does.) Even in the current setup, they’ll need to watch those Group of Five games to avoid leaving out worthwhile candidates from those leagues in favor of mediocre Power Five programs.*
Ranking all the teams also eliminates one of college football’s most tiresome metrics: ranked teams faced/beaten. Last year’s final AP Poll had UCF and Texas in spots 24 and 25. Texas A&M, the first team out, finished with the same record as Texas. Florida Atlantic went 11-3, won their bowl, claimed a conference title, and wound up second in the Also Receiving Votes category behind the Aggies. Why should a theoretical 2019 schedule with UCF and Texas on it be worth that much more than one with A&M and FAU? If we’re ranking every team, that hollow argument goes away.
It’s not as though the AP Poll’s never changed. From 1936-1961, only 20 teams were ranked. That dipped to 10 teams from 1962-1967, went back to 20 in 1968, and expanded to 25 in 1989. Ranking 76 teams is merely the next step in that evolution.
Is this a silly plan? Yes, but it’s no sillier than a poll which has no bearing on who gets a playoff spot continuing without any changes while a big chunk of FBS sits out this fall. At least in this version, we’ll get to argue about how the voters got the 57th spot completely wrong.
*Yeah, I know. They’re gonna do this anyways. Congratulations to the sub .500 Power Five team that finishes ranked while some nine win Group of Five program gets two votes.