There are two of them, twins in a way, one published by the Associated Press, the other by United Press International, and they appear in the sports section of your newspaper on Monday evening or Tuesday morning throughout the college football season. They are the AP and UPI polls, and they rank the nation's Top 20 teams each week. The rankings are derided and cheered, deplored and cherished. They are almost wholly subjective and often based on ignorance and prejudice, and it would be easy to dismiss them as a waste of time except for one thing. Whereas basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, track and field, cross-country—in fact, any other NCAA sport you care to name—settle their national championships on the field, court, rink, track or fairway, the polls, and nothing else, ultimately determine which college football team is No. 1 in the country.
The AP poll, which was started in 1936, is compiled this year from the votes of 69 newspaper writers, television reporters and radiomen; the UPI, 14 years younger, reflects the opinions of 42 head coaches. Not only do these 111 men—and they are all men—rank the teams during the season, but they also cast their ballots in preseason polls, which, in effect, establish the morning line in the four-month race for No. 1. As we shall see, of all the polls, the preseason one, which is the most subjective, is also one of the most significant.
And how, you might ask, can anyone tell how strong a team is before it has even played a game and whether or not it is stronger than another untested team 3,000 miles away? What infinite knowledge do the voters possess? What rare insights? Let us see.
"Hey, Coach," says State's sports information director, "UPI's on the phone. They want your preseason picks."
"Handle it, will you? I'm getting ready for the opener."
"You know UPI doesn't like that, Coach. If they find out, they'll drop you."
"O.K., let's see. I want us somewhere in the top five and USC on top. Right on top. Put the monkey on their backs. Then put down Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State...."
"Coach, Coach, don't you think that's a little heavy on the conference?"
"All right, take out Kansas State, but leave Kansas in there. They're tough. We only beat 'em 35-6 last year. Besides, their guy always votes for me."
"Who else, Coach?"