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A Midsummer Night's (Top 25) Teams: Preliminary Notes on a Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

It’s getting to be that time of year once more. It is mid-July; only six Saturdays stand between us and college football season. The preview magazines are on the newsstands, Sunday Morning Quarterback’s assessments have moved from the absurdly premature through the reasonably anticipatory to the somewhat obligatory, and the time for making firm (if somewhat less than altogether sound) judgments is fast upon us.

The latter fact was brought home to me when I saw that MGoBlog’s Brian Cook is soliciting applications for spots as BlogPoll voters. The new description of the BlogPoll differs from the previous description, but the changes have been for the better:

WHAT IS THE BLOGPOLL? It's basically the AP poll except with bloggers. It's a poll and so fall prey to all the things that polls fall prey to, but if you're so inclined these are the reasons the BlogPoll might be superior to other polls out there. . . .

Biases are disclosed and closely monitored. Every voter has to have a favorite team; voters without are laughed at and told to watch something soulless. The poll closely tracks each voter's level of bias and uses stern disapproval to keep would-be homers in check. (Would-be negative nancies are not quite so easily dissuaded.)

The poll's goals are clearly stated. The AP poll is full of voters who vote team X super high in the preseason because of its schedule; this is strongly discouraged by the BlogPoll. Preseason polls are supposed to be exclusively about how good a team is thought to be, and postseason polls are supposed to be exclusively about how much a team has accomplished on the field. . . .

It's weirder. The poll has some definite wackos in it, but they are relatively few and act as a net positive, forcing more mainstream voters to argue things like "Kansas probably shouldn't be #20 at 11-0" or "why rank Hawaii at all?["] . . .

It's more fun. No one really cares, so we can just vote and not have garments rent.

This, from where I sit, is good news. I quite agree that, at the end of the day, it isn’t that big a deal, but I do my best to be conscientious and thorough when casting my ballot (even though I’m pretty sure I’m one of the "definite wackos" Brian has in mind, though this misperception of Brian’s is due partly to the fact that he, like another fellow who went to engineering school, occasionally forgets how to count to four).

Although I have always tried to handle Brian’s and my myriad differences of strongly-held opinion with courtesy and class, my recent participation in comment threads, both at Roll ‘Bama Roll (in with whom I am lumped in some odd ways) and at MGoBlog, likely has done little to ameliorate my reputation with a Big Ten fan who roots for Auburn. Consequently, despite my having been a BlogPoll voter since September 2005, there are times when I suspect that my electoral privileges couldn’t be hanging by a thinner thread unless I had cast a ballot without knowing which teams won, so, here on the eve of primary day in Georgia, I wanted to take a moment to write about how I plan to vote when casting my vote. (I’m talking about my college football poll ballot, not my actual primary ballot, although, if you’re a Henry County voter, I would encourage you to vote for Keith McBrayer for sheriff.)

A little under a year ago, Mike of Black Shoe Diaries offered his explanation for why he was adopting the resume ranking approach. As an advocate of this method, I was happy to welcome him to the club, but I was impressed by this trenchant comment from a Black Shoe Diaries reader:

I think you need to use both methods and switch the emphasis as the season wears on. For instance, before the season startes you can only use the theoretical head to head matchup. Then, as games are played and more info becomes available, slowly shift to resume. By week 7 or 8, you can use resume exclusively. But above all, use the rule of reason. Step back, take a look, and ask "Does this make sense?"

That’s a reasonable question, and one I try to ask even---especially---when, quite frankly, it appears to me that others may not be (as when the conventional wisdom heaps praise undeservedly on Hawaii, Kansas, Ohio State, and Texas Tech or fails to give adequate credit to Boise State or Penn State). However, Mike’s commenter makes a fair point when noting that resume ranking only becomes tenable after enough teams have played games; otherwise, the Tennessee-U.C.L.A. and Alabama-Clemson winners would have to be ranked in the top five, if not the top two, after Labor Day weekend, which would be indefensible.

As the season goes on, however, I will shift more and more from what I supposed to be the case in the summer---a good 50 per cent of which will turn out to be wrong, and a good 25 per cent of which will turn out to be wildly wide of the mark---and more and more towards what the teams have proven on the field against the competition they have faced. (The qualifier "against the competition they have faced" is an important one, as it explains why I gave so little credit to the Hawaiis and Kansi of the world.)

When employing the resume ranking approach, though, one must always bear in mind such quirky realities as these:

One of the strengths of what I've always termed the "resume" system of ranking teams is that it also is driven more than anything by the determination to not be a sucker. Which, if you think you can order teams according to some abstract assessment of inherent strength, a la "Who would win on a neutral field," you most certainly are. You might perceive Southern Cal to be an immovable force fortified with the marrow of a champion, until – black swan time – its billion-game home winning streak is detonated by Stanford. The Trojans are not smaller, weaker or slower, just as LSU isn't smaller, weaker or slower after losing to Arkansas or Kentucky, but they didn't earn the result you predicted. And if your ballot is based on that prediction – assuming the ranking matters, as it does for voters in the AP, Harris and Coach's polls in determining a mythical champion, and for members of the BlogPoll, in our own, self-centered way – its validity, like the white-swan-only theory, is detonated by the appearance of a big, black bird you never imagined.

The smart, fair ballot takes into account such eccentricities by treating the season like an extremely fluid game of merit-based musical chairs, with expectations of black swans aplenty: the teams left for the championship at the end aren't necessarily the biggest, fastest or most intimidating. They were just in the right place when the music stopped.

In boiling it down to its essence, one might put it this way:

Pick the best teams based on accomplishments on the field. Heavily prioritize schedule difficulty, especially in the nonconference. Treat close losses to quality competition as evidence of suitability. Look past the number in the loss column.

That is it precisely, which is why I am looking forward to another year of the back and forth of the BlogPoll, even if my sanity occasionally (O.K., more than merely occasionally) is called into question.

By the way, I was just kidding when I wrote that I was worried that Brian would kick me out as a voter. For all the hard time I give him, Brian actually sent this e-mail to someone who had called him a coward and a liar only a couple of days before:

You can tell me to go to hell if you want, but: both of your blogs obviously meet the requirements for the poll and if you would like to participate the poll would be better for it. I'd like the poll to be a community exercise that encompasses the best of the college football blogosphere because I think it helps all of us.

Such is the curious camaraderie of the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere, which is one of the reasons I am most looking forward to compiling, submitting, and defending another autumn’s worth of BlogPoll ballots, beginning just a few weeks hence.

Although I already know which team I’m voting No. 1, the rest of the spots in my preseason poll are up for grabs, so your suggestions are invited in the comments below.

Go ‘Dawgs!