The Fifth Down

One writer's take on voting in the Associated Press poll

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

In this issue of The Fifth Down:
President's column
One writer's take on voting in the AP poll
Reflecting on McGrane tributes
Meece Scholarship nominations are open

In my third year of voting in the Associated Press poll, I've chosen to judge teams almost strictly based on what happens on the field while following the first guideline listed by the Associated Press: "Base your vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation." And, for a while, I became the "crazy" voter.

Who knew facts could be so controversial?

My goal is to treat every team as Team X, ignoring reputation, conference affiliation and preseason standing. No team, including No. 1, owns it spot from week to week, so no holding your place as long as you win. Teams are constantly building their resumes over the course of the season, and those resumes need to be reevaluated with a fresh eye each week. And my ballot is a reflection, not a prediction. So no gloating/embarrassment after a team wins/loses, thereby either proving your brilliance/idiocy.

So I won't bring up, for instance, that Ole Miss was No. 4 in the AP poll, No. 5 in the coaches poll but only No. 24 on my ballot when the Rebels lost to unranked South Carolina in the season's fourth week. Or that, for instance, Houston was No. 3 on my ballot, but no higher than No. 12 in a poll, when the Cougars lost to 1-3 UTEP in week five. That's not the point.

Too often, I believe voters, particularly in the Harris and coaches poll, cast ballots they can't back up. Why is Florida No. 1? Because the Gators were No. 1 the week before. But that rationalization leads all the way back to a preseason poll that was based on preseason magazines published in the summer.

I know some people want to do away with preseason polls, but fans need something to talk about, something to provide a context early in the season. No. 5 Alabama beating No. 7 Virginia Tech to open the season is much more exciting than Really Good Alabama beating Almost As Good Virginia Tech. But every voter should be smart enough to pack those preconceptions away once the first ball is kicked off.

Fans of non-BCS schools especially seem to like this theory, and I had Boise State higher than most voters for several weeks. But I've also ranked Miami, Michigan and Auburn much higher than the overall poll at times. Ignoring the preseason is equal opportunity.

I'm not saying my way is the only way, or even the best way, but I can back up every vote I cast. And I never rely on the "what would happen on a neutral field" argument when assessing teams.

Heck, what do I know? I was the moron that actually picked Ole Miss to play for the national title this season. I don't trust myself. So I'll vote based on what actually has happened, not imaginary future showdowns.

At the start of the year, that made me an oddball. At this point of the season, my ballot looks a lot like all the others. At least I know the teams on my ballot earned their spots.

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