Let’s talk a little about polls. This week, Texas fell to number 17 in the Associated Press (AP) College Poll. But how can that be? you ask. How, indeed. Texas came in ranked 15th by preseason polls, and had a decent showing last week. Other teams (*cough*Oklahoma*cough*) didn’t do so well, yet didn’t suffer in the polls. The heck? It comes down to human beings, folks, and all our fickle foibles. The AP College Poll compiles rankings from sportswriters all across our great country, meaning each sportswriter brings his or her own prejudices and preferences to the table. “His or her”—who am I kidding? We all know it’s a bunch of dudes. Because, womenz are all unpredictable and emotional, and their ladyparts cause thinking problems, and bring me the fainting couch.
Moving on! Each dude provides his own top-25 list. Then, using some kind of secret formula known only to the Freemasons and the Illuminati, the rankings are born and published. Then come the cries of “WHAT” and “NO WAY” and “DID WE WATCH THE SAME GAMES.” That may or may not be what I said. No way to confirm.
The AP College Poll is the granddaddy of all polls, having its beginnings in 1934. This purpose was to have the #1 and #2 teams play for a championship. It didn’t always work that way, especially since there is no playoff system in college football. In 1997, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created and EVERYTHING WAS MAGICALLY FIXED. Wait, no, I was thinking of something else.
Never fear, gentle readers, we will talk about how the BCS came in and ruined everything and wrecked your car and stole your boyfriend and wore your best dress without permission and hid the chocolate. There are tons of polls out there. Some of them are taken more seriously than others. If you want to learn all about every poll there is, I would like to introduce you to my very smart friend. Her name is “Google.”
For our purposes, I’m focusing on the two polls that have the most impact, and therefore cause the most ulcers, alcoholism, loss of faith, and trichotillomania. When the BCS system was implemented, it was meant to unify all this various and sundry poll data and provide a “real” national champion. I’m pretty sure the folks who thought this system up first ate some bad takeout or went “mushroom hunting” in the woods, ifyouknowwhatimean. For BCS rankings, different sources of data are mashed together: human-generated polls and computer rankings. A computer, named HAL (not really), assigns values depending on various factors such as the difficulty of a team’s schedule, how many points they scored in a particular game, and how cute the cheerleaders are. I might have made up that last part. Those values are combined with the human-generated polls, secret formulas are used, and the BCS rankings come out on the other end. The BCS system was criticized almost from its inception, and no one really likes it much. For now, it’s what we have.
When HAL becomes sentient and joins Skynet, we are all doomed. Until then, he will keep on cranking out random, baseless numbers, which are used to rank our beloved college teams and cause us to gnash our teeth and rend our clothing. Unless our team is #1, in which case we say, “Hey! Finally got something right!”
Ultimately, the BCS rankings are used to determine eligibility for one of the prestigious top-5 bowl games at the end of the season. But, no playoff. Last year, if you recall (I CERTAINLY DO), two teams from the same conference played for the national championship. To me, that was like staring at an eclipse, or crossing against the light, or telling a cop to go eff himself. It’s just not done. But there you have it, it happened, and we are the poorer for it. I’m not saying Alabama and LSU aren’t good teams, because obviously. But really? REALLY? The only parts of the country that were truly happy about this were the swampy places with alligators.
Remember how the BCS is a big old mixture of information? Like, a nice spicy gumbo, all stirred together and perfect? The AP poll was part of our gumbo (say, the okra) until 2004. That year, we still had gumbo, but it was cooked in a porta-potty. No amount of cornbread could fix that mess. And who caused all the problems? OKLAHOMA. That’s right. Auburn and Utah finished their seasons at 12-0, but were left out of the race for the championship game in favor of OU. Who proceeded to get their collective clocks cleaned by USC (which also burns a lot). The AP members called it a fiasco, especially after their votes were made public. Because then no one from OU would sit by them at lunch. So they broke from the BCS and continued as an independent poll.
But soft, what solution through yon window breaks? In 2014, college football will have a playoff system! And that’s good news for all of us, especially because it means a much slimmer chance of another SEC vs. SEC-induced trip to the hospital.
No polling story would be complete without some fun facts from one of my favorite championship games of all time: the 1969 contest between the Longhorns and Razorbacks. Texas won, 15-14, in a nail-biter witnessed by President Nixon and other various dignitaries like George H.W. Bush. Because Arkansas is what it is, there were no fields large enough to land Air Force One, the President was forced to land on the team’s practice field. And interestingly, this was the last championship game played between two all-white teams. Think about that. This occurred in my lifetime, and seems hardly conceivable.
Until next time—Hook ‘em!