Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Throughout the 2011 season, our own Bryan Fischer has been skewering the vagaries and missteps of AP poll voters in his weekly Poll Attacks. And though it's sometimes said that the media poll no longer "counts," it's still the method by which half of college football's national championship, so, yeah: it counts.
However, since 2005 it does not count as part of the BCS standings. That job has, of course, been passed onto the Harris Poll, a body of 115 pollsters "comprised of former players, coaches, administrators and current and former members of the media who have committed to submit rankings for the top 25 college football teams each week." You can view the results of 2011's final Harris Poll here and looks at their individual ballots here (both links PDF).
And looking at those results and ballots ... yeesh. How many things are wrong with this picture? Let us count the ways:
1. Oklahoma State ranked sixth ... three times. We won't wade into the "Alabama vs. Oklahoma State" debate here, but at least we can agree -- when looking at the Cowboys' resume before they drubbed Oklahoma and claimed the outright title of the deepest league in the country this year -- that the Tide and Cowboys should have been No. 2 and No. 3 in some order, right?
Not if you ask former Iowa administrator George Wine, former Notre Dame wideout Derrick Mayes, former Hawaii coach Bob Wagner, who each had the Cowboys sixth. Wine went with Houston, fresh off their 49-28 beatdown at the hands of Southern Miss, at No. 5; Mayes went with Mountain West runner-up Boise State fifth; and Wagner ranked Boise No. 4 and two-loss Oregon fifth. All together, 15 voters placed the Cowboys fourth or lower. (The good news, Cowboy fans? That didn't cost you the title game.)
2. Virginia Tech three spots ahead of Clemson. If the Hokies and Tigers had played a single close game, you could forgive voters for ignoring the head-to-head result, particularly this late in the season. But after Clemson's 38-10 slaughtering of Tech in the ACC championship game, the two teams played twice and both games were lopsided blowouts, one of them in Blacksburg. Yes, Clemson has one extra loss, but we'll attribute that to the Tigers playing a legitimate out-of-conference opponent like South Carolina as opposed to Appalachian State, Marshall, East Carolina and Arkansas State.
So how do you wind up with the Hokies 11th and Clemson 14th? How do former SMU quarterback Lance McIlhenny and former Troy Trojan Eric Mizell place the Hokies 12 places ahead of Clemson? We don't know.
3. Rampant bias. It's not quite as much of a problem here as it is in the Coaches -- where giving coaches like Nick Saban a say in whether their own teams go to the national championship game (or sneak into the BCS at-large pool) is probably the single most preposterous thing about the entire BCS system -- but bias is an issue in the Harris, too. For instance, as pointed out by our Bruce Feldman, former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer crammed all five SEC teams in the poll into his top 11.
4. Just plain silliness. Arkansas pounded South Carolina a few weeks back, remember, and they have the same record. So of course former Texas player Tony Jones has Arkansas 19th and Carolina 8th. Remember Georgia pummeling Auburn? The aforementioned Mr. Mayes has Aubun 18th and Georgia unranked. Michigan has the same number of losses as Wisconsin and finished second in its division while the Badgers won the league, so they clearly finish behind Wisky, right? No: three voters had it the other way round, with former Army player Bob Anderson having not just the Wolverines (at No. 13) ahead of the Big Ten champion Badgers (at No. 17), but the Michigan State team they just defeated. Oh, and all five SEC teams are in Anderson's top 9.
Of course, the BCS's real problem isn't the Harris poll itself; no matter how you construct a poll like this one, there's going to be strongly-held biases and blatant stupidities. The issue is that using a poll like the Harris (or Coaches, or AP) ensures that -- when the margin for error in selecting a playoff that includes only two teams is so thin -- those biases and stupidities are magnified and multiplied. Push the playoff to four teams, and it won't matter if a few outliers put the Cowboys sixth; reward merit over (purported) fan support, and no one will care that Virginia Tech gets so much benefit-of-the-doubt.
We don't hate the Harris Poll, really. But we do hate that college football's system for selecting a champion has to resort to putting something like it to use.