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Problematic poll

A flaw with AP voting, Mailbag Crush update and more

Posted: Wednesday August 23, 2006 12:14PM; Updated: Wednesday August 23, 2006 2:16PM
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Does West Virginia really deserve consideration as the best team in the country?
Does West Virginia really deserve consideration as the best team in the country?
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There weren't a whole lot of surprises when the AP preseason poll was released last Friday, but one little thing did catch my eye: Besides the top three (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas), the team that received the most first-place votes was West Virginia, with six. This was six more than the Mountaineers received in the coaches' poll -- and three more than USC.

If these six AP colleagues of mine truly believe West Virginia is the best team in the country this season, then more power to them. I suspect, however, there's another factor at play, as does John of Mission Viejo, Calif.:

When did AP voters start attempting to predict what the final poll will look like rather than basing their preseason ballots on what they actually believe the relative strength of teams to be? I've read that some voters voted West Virginia No. 1 because of its soft schedule. Isn't that a totally invalid consideration? Shouldn't they essentially be "power rankings"?

Yes, they should. In fact, this is something that's been troubling me for several years now. If you're going to treat preseason rankings as a prediction of the final outcome, then why should we play the season at all? If you really think the Mountaineers have the easiest road, why would you go and make it even easier for them by giving them "pole position"? It's like holding the Kentucky Derby and saying, "This horse has a better jockey than everyone else, so let's give him a two-furlong head start."

The difference between the AP and coaches' preseason polls from those of Sports Illustrated, Athlon or any other publication is that the former actually crown the official national champion(s) at the end of the year. We saw that two years ago when USC's and Oklahoma's preseason positions basically excluded Auburn from consideration. So while it's fine and dandy for, say, Street and Smith's to come out and say, "This is the order we see the teams finishing," the AP and coaches' voters should really be treating their ballots as a starting point. For instance, I've gone on record as saying Florida's schedule is too difficult to contend for a national title. But I still think the Gators, as of today, have one of the seven or eight best teams in the country, and I ranked them as such. To penalize them before the season even starts for something so intangible would be plain unfair.

Just as it is to reward West Virginia simply for the fact that it plays in the Big East.

Before we move on to other football topics, I need to take a moment to address an issue of concern regarding the Mailbag itself. It was brought to my attention over the weekend by reader Chris of Spartanburg, S.C.:

Does the following quote from Jenna Fischer (Esquire, p. 146, Sept. 2006 issue) change her status as the Mailbag's Celebrity Crush?:

"You know what's really gay? Football. Instead of watching it, just have sex with another dude once a year. Get it all out of your system at once."

You can't begin to imagine my reaction when I saw this. Shock. Anger. Heartbreak. How could our beloved Jenna -- so sweet and demure on The Office -- make such a crude and vile statement about the very thing the Mailbag audience holds sacred? I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. I'm no baseball fan, but I'd imagine it was a lot like finding out your favorite slugger has been on 'roids all along.

After taking a moment to collect myself, however, I realized that: a) Jenna Fischer is most likely not on steroids, and b) there's probably more to this quote than meets the eye. So I did a Google search and found the article in question -- a surprisingly raunchy (so much so that I can't link to it here) and hilarious piece entitled "10 Things You Don't Know About Women." So maybe her comment was just part of the joke. But how could I find out for sure?