Sometimes they matter. Sometimes they don’t. When a team starts the year in the top two of the national rankings and then they win out, yeah, in those cases it’s going to matter quite a bit. And that’s what we’re seeing in the national polls.
The USA Today Coaches’ Poll — still part of the BCS system — begins ranking teams in the preseason. And this past August, the coaches (or their SIDs) voted Ohio State #2 in the nation behind Alabama. Florida was #11. The Seminoles, obviously, have jumped the Buckeyes into the top slot in the current poll. But for teams starting outside the top 15, the top 25 or even the “others receiving votes” category, climbing isn’t so easy.
Back in August, Auburn was coming off a 3-9 season and did not receive a single vote in the Coaches’ Poll. Neither did Missouri as Gary Pinkel’s team came off a 5-7 season. (Laughably, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas all got at least one vote, which shows how silly preseason polls really are.)
The Harris Poll — the other human part of the BCS equation — doesn’t begin compiling rankings until Week Eight of the season. At that point, Alabama was #1 followed by Oregon, Clemson, Ohio State and Florida State. Missouri had climbed to #14 with a 6-0 start. Auburn was still way down in “others with votes” group.
Yesterday, as you surely know by now, Ohio State held onto the #2 slot behind Florida State. Auburn is third, Alabama is fourth, and Missouri ranks fifth. Most pundits believe we’ll have an FSU/OSU clash in Pasadena if the top three teams win out.
Unfortunately for Alabama, they lost in the last week of the season rather than in the first week so their hopes are kaput, barring a Michigan State win over Ohio State and a Duke win over Florida State.
Missouri is not a traditional power but the Tigers have lost just one game this year in overtime to a top 10 foe. If anyone should feel passed over it’s Mizzou.
Now, the fact of the matter is, we’ve seen he voters back last-minute adjustments before. In 2008, the BCS rankings had Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida ranked one through four in the next-to-last week of the season. Then Florida beat Alabama and leapfrogged Texas to get the BCS title game berth. The voters could have set-up an OU/UT rematch but they did not.
In 2007, the top seven teams going into conference championship weekend were Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio State, Georgia, Kansas, Virginia Tech and LSU. After a series of upsets, Ohio State moved to #1 and two-loss LSU jumped past Virginia Tech, Kansas and Georgia to grab the #2 slot. That was a choice by the voters. They could have picked Tech or Georgia (with two losses) or Kansas (with one loss). They chose the preseason #1, LSU.
In 2006, same thing. Ohio State and Florida finished 1-2 in the BCS standings and met for the national crown. Michigan was #3. But a week earlier, the rankings had been Ohio State, Southern Cal (who lost), Michigan and then Florida. The voters could have created a rematch between Ohio State and Michigan, but they chose to go with Florida instead.
Those are just three recent examples of final-week flip-flops. So the SEC’s run of seven straight national championships isn’t completely finito just yet. But Ohio State’s strong start in the human polls months ago sure would seem to make title #8 a longshot.