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Meeting of the Minds: Do preseason polls matter?

The Associated Press preseason top 25 was released over the weekend, placing the USC Trojans in the pole position for the national championship race, just ahead of defending BCS champion Alabama and runner-up LSU. This year's poll reignites a conversation that seems to take place every August, which is just how much emphasis should we give the preseason AP and coaches polls, and any other poll worth noting? Because nobody has taken the field for a game yet, should these preseason rankings be viewed more as a predictor for how the season will end?

Andrew Coppens: The only thing I look for are teams getting ridiculous votes, i.e. Michigan receiving a 1st place vote in the AP Poll this season. I will say that I think the importance these polls play is in the fact that they can hold a team back from getting to the National Championship game. It doesn't always happen, but for a lot of teams starting the season ranked in the 20-25 range and ending the season undefeated makes it's a hard slog to get to the title game.

Otherwise I could care less about where a team is ranked until we finally have a few games worth of on the field results and tape to go by.

Aaron Torres: Frankly, I've been arguing for years that we should do away with preseason polls, and not start ranking these teams until right around October 1 of the season. Because while they make great debate for people like us (who are looking for something to talk about), they serve no true functional purpose. Simply put it doesn't matter where virtually any of the top teams start (with the rare exception of a Boise or other non-power conference team). As the system stands now, if LSU, Alabama, USC, Michigan, Texas or whomever else wins all their games, they'll be playing for a national title. If they don't, chances are they won't be. Therefore, ranking them in mid-August is kind of irrelevant. 

And with that, the biggest gripe that I have (and it's something that I've talked to actual pollsters about) is that no one knows exactly what they're voting for. Is it the team that is best in mid-August? The teams that they think will finish the best by mid-January? The most talented team? Nobody knows. 

Personally, I would be perfectly fine without the poles all together. 

Dave Singleton: I used to be of the opinion that the polls shouldn't start until October 1.

Then I reconsidered and thought that a preseason poll is fine, but it would need to be more explicitly defined as far as what the parameters and objective were to be. Then hold off until after Week 4 or 5 to vote again once a quarter to a third of the season had been played.

Now? I really don't care all that much. The polls are what they are: a subjective attempt to quantify an unquantifiable aim for much of the season due to the lack of inconsistent variables, incomplete data, a sample size problem and observer bias.

The AP Poll, in particular, is meaningless since it only matters after the final game has been played if they decided to split a title, which has happened once in the BCS era (and only twice since 1997).

The Coaches Poll is such a festering, simmering brew of conflicts of interest, unknowledgable voters and absentee ballots filled out by SIDs I've questioned it usefulness for over a decade.

Because let's be fair: these coaches are so laser focused during the season on their own teams, and each week on gameplanning for their upcoming opponent, explain to me how they are supposed to, in the span of about 12-36 hours, turn around and submit a ballot that demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of the status of the top 25 (out of 124) teams in the nation.

Pretty challenging, to be sure.

But we are far afield of one of the original questions, so I will briefly address it: If you're going to maintain a poll week after week, then you should be voting on who you think the best teams are that given week. That should hold for the preseason as well. I don't think, logically, that you can vote on the best team each week but use, as your basis, who you think the best teams will be at the end of the season. That is too inconsisent.

Allen Kenney: The idea that you're trying to predict in a preseason poll where teams will end the year in the rankings makes no sense to me. I don't know how we're supposed to look at preseason polls, but I know that I base my preseason rankings strictly on pure team strength – how I'd rank the teams if they're meeting on a neutral field right now. Once the season starts, I go purely based on body of work.

Truthfully, I don't see any harm in starting the polls in the preseason if voters are willing to shake up their ballots more than they do. Instead, it kinda turns into this weird game of king of the mountain.

Kevin McGuire: The preseason poll actually is a predictor for how everybody will be stacked up at the end of the season, so perhaps the phrasing of the question was odd. Will the absolute best team in the country finish the season number one, or will someone else lay claim to the crystal ball at the end of the season? By all accounts, Michigan may not be close to the best team in the country this season, but could they win the national championship? Maybe.

Regardless, the problem I have with the polls remains something that has been brought up time and time again here and elsewhere. Nobody has played a down yet against opposing teams, so how we can actually evaluate teams and say who is the best seems sort of ridiculous to me. But it makes for good conversation and debate, and isn't that what college football is all about after all?

I am a fan of the idea of holding a preseason poll, but then not holding another until the first week of October, after we have seen four or five games and have enough to form general opinions on the best teams out there.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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